Youth on Course
The Youth on Course caddie program provides youth with access to networking and mentorship opportunities, first-hand money management education and first-time job experience. If qualified, caddies may earn $50 per loop into a college scholarship fund through the Youth on Course Caddies to College program. Photo: Youth on Course

National Golf Day took place May 1 at the U.S. Capitol.

A coalition of golf industry leaders known as WE ARE GOLF puts on the event and it’s primarily a time for these leaders to meet with lawmakers about the positive economic, social and environmental impact the golf industry has on the country.

Attendees of National Golf Day are encouraged to meet with their local lawmakers as well.

This year’s 12th annual event marked a record 244 meetings with members of Congress who represent 41 total states.

Youth on Course Caddying

One attendee from last year’s National Golf Day — Michael Lowe, Program Director for Youth on Course (YOC) — met with about 10 lawmakers and enjoyed sharing his perspective on youth’s involvement in golf and, specifically, caddying.

The social opportunities that come through caddying is something that resonates with WE ARE GOLF Chair Jay Karen, who’s also the CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association.

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“As a 17- or 18-year-old kid, you sit next to a stranger at a baseball game for four hours and you’re probably not even going to talk to them,” Karen said.

“The stranger to your left might be the CEO of a tech company, but you have no idea because you’re not talking to them. You get out on a golf course together and if you’re caddying for these people you’re going to talk, chit-chat, and get to know each other and build something if you’re good at relationships and friendships. And to me, there’s nothing better than golf –caddying in particular –that would allow this to happen.”

It has happened, specifically for a teen involved with Northern California’s YOC Caddie Academy. Lowe describes a unique moment that occurred during a summer round at Sequoia Country Club in Oakland.

“The first loop there ended up being a young woman who went through our program and one of her goals was to become a judge,” Lowe said. “Well, she ended up just randomly getting paired with the then-president of the club who was a local judge, and a woman at that. So, you talk about under-represented communities in golf. And I’m sure the female to male numbers in the justice system are disproportionate.

“But for those two to get to spend four hours on the golf course together just walking and talking, even if it’s just one loop, those types of opportunities can change a life.”

The YOC Caddie Academy is a caddie program open to teens 14-18 that started in 2014 and begins each summer with a caddie orientation, where players learn the most important aspects of looping. A byproduct of the program is this opportunity to be around successful people.

“That’s a huge part that makes this job opportunity for young people so unique,” Lowe said. “You think of the typical teenager jobs of fast-food restaurants or at the mall. Sure, who knows who you are going to encounter, but the relationships and opportunities for mentorship and networking opportunities that caddying provides at these primarily private clubs where successful people are members of, that’s a huge component of it.”

The program offers opportunities for students of many backgrounds, including one in particular from Mongolia.

Chingun Baatar immigrated with his parents and two brothers from Mongolia in sixth grade when his mother won a green card lottery. Baatar, now a senior at Alameda Community Learning Center charter school, didn’t set foot on a golf course until caddie orientation the summer prior to his freshman year.

Baatar dealt with language and self-confidence barriers early on, but within a couple years caddying at Claremont Country Club in Oakland, he got offered a job there as a lifeguard as he continued caddying for four straight summers of high school.

“The Academy’s given me a lot of opportunities, including self-confidence and it’s helped my (English) public speaking too, because to be honest I’m a really shy person and I don’t really open up with people,” Baatar said. “But with members, they open up to me and we talk about life and I’m able to make a connection with them.”

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Baatar had the amazing opportunity to caddie for Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson in a celebrity tournament a couple years back at his club.

“It was really exciting,” Baatar said. “A once-in-a-lifetime experience for me that was really a lot of fun.”

Like the other members he caddies for, Baatar remembers Thompson opening up with him and asking him questions about his life.

Baatar’s life is about to change drastically. He’ll move across the country to attend American University in Washington, D.C. this fall.

The 18-year-old will major in Political Science and attend with the help of a Youth on Course scholarship he was awarded in April that covers $25,000 of his tuition.

He’s been able to save $1,000 from his loops in the past couple years through a savings account, and he also receives $50 per loop scholarship assistance from YOC.

Youth involved in the YOC Caddie Academy make a minimum of $50 for each loop — not including tips — and are hired through the CaddieNow app, a major partner of the program. Half of the $50 is paid by the club member while the other half is paid by Youth on Course. Those caddies with financial need make an additional $50 per round that goes directly to their scholarship fund for college.

“To see the resurgence of the caddie programs through these apps (CaddieNow) could be really meaningful to golf,” Karen said. “We want the younger generations to look at golf and see things that are attractive in golf. There’s this desire to say ‘Hey, (the golf course) is where you go to unplug and get away from technology,’ but that’s just not the way most of the world works. They want to see really interesting technology that improves experiences in almost everything that they do. Golf should be no exception, and so to see that part of the experience where you can download this app and have a caddie, that’s great.”

The YOC Caddie Academy is mostly at private courses in Northern California and started at San Jose Country Club with around 15 youth in 2014. In the past five years it’s grown to 220 youth at 18 clubs in the region, which includes San Francisco’s Bay Area, Fresno, Sacramento and the Monterey Peninsula.

The Kentucky Golf Foundation and Youth on Course in Kentucky just launched their caddie program this month at three private courses.

“Giving our youth a chance to earn money and scholarship dollars while exposing them to the game is a win-win for golf in our state,” Golf House Kentucky Executive Director Brent Palladino told the Richmond Register in March.