By Josh Bootsma
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. (April 16, 2021) – For some caddies, walking hundreds of miles in a summer while carrying 30-pound golf bags is more than just a job — it’s a potential gateway to a full-ride college scholarship. That’s why Freedom Church Pastor Thaddeus Searcy wants to connect youth in his congregation with Jim Salvatori and the caddie program at Olympia Fields Country Club.
Training to be a caddie
On Thursday, April 15, at the direction of Caddie Superintendent Salvatori, caddie trainees split into two groups at the prestigious Olympia Fields Country Club to learn and practice caddie skills. Roughly a dozen of those trainees were connected to the program through Searcy.
The multi-hour training on Thursday afternoon was one of several throughout the week. It gave the aspiring caddies, some of whom are middle school age or younger, a chance to start learning the duties and best practices of being a caddie. One of the two training groups practiced their skills on the south course of the club, caddying for Salvatori, Searcy, and Jon Zolecki, owner of One Real Estate Chicago.
Salvatori started caddying at Olympia Fields when he was 13 years old, and continued into and after his college years. He knows the ins and outs of caddying, and he’s served as Caddie Superintendent at the club since 2010. Salvatori also understands how the unique job of caddying at a distinguished country club like Olympia Fields — which hosted the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship in 2020 — can be lucrative short-term and long-term. The best caddies have a chance to receive the Evans Scholarship.
Started in the 1930s, the Evans Scholarship is a four-year full-ride scholarship offered by the Evans Scholarship Foundation. According to the website of the Western Golf Association, which oversees the Evans Scholarship Foundation, applicants for the scholarship “must have a strong caddie record, excellent grades, demonstrated financial need, and outstanding character.”
Over 800 caddies applied for the national scholarship in 2019, and 285 scholarships were awarded for the current school year. Caddies who are awarded the scholarship must attend one of roughly 20 colleges and universities across the country. University of Chicago, University of Notre Dame, Northwestern University, and University of Illinois are on the list of approved schools.
Opening doors by carrying golf bags
The caddie program led by Salvatori at Olympia Fields Country Club does its best to set up its caddies for success when it comes to the Evans Scholarship. That’s what Searcy wants for the youth he enrolled in the program.
“When I see something of tremendous value, my brain tends to focus on it,” Searcy said. “If there’s a way I can love people way outside of my own capacity, it drives me to wake up and do it.”
Searcy said he’s spoken to parents in his church who are going through tough times. This opportunity for their children is important to them.
“To have a single mom call me whose husband died, … and to have somebody outside of that say, ‘Hey, I think I found a way where your child can go to college for free.’ And to hear their voice and to hear them say, ‘I can’t believe it.’ … It’s such a powerful thing,” he said.
“For some people, this is a summer job. And for other people, it’s a game-changer,” he added.
Searcy said Freedom Church has already been using golf as a way to reach kids in the congregation. The caddie program at Olympia Fields Country Club is another way to help set kids up for future success.