Twelve golf caddies, all of whom are Minnesota high school students, have received a full tuition and housing scholarship to University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. The Evans Scholarship, which is valued at more than $100,000 over four years, is exclusively awarded to caddies with demonstrated financial need and strong caddie record, academics and character.

Two of those caddies, David Sheldon of Minnetonka and Ben Katona of Golden Valley, are seniors at Hopkins High School. They will begin college in the fall and live at the Evans Scholar House, a three-floor coed residence near campus, with about 50 other caddie scholars.

Sheldon and Katona are two of 270 caddies entering college this year through the program, which was started by amateur golfer Chick Evans in 1930. They will join 965 current scholars who study at 19 universities across the country and more than 10,600 alumni.

Both Sheldon and Katona come from families of caddies.

“It was in my blood,” Sheldon said of following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father and two older brothers. He’s caddied for more than five years and has worked at Oak Ridge Country Club in Hopkins and Interlachen Country Club in Edina.

Katona, who worked at Golden Valley Country Club, also had older siblings who caddied.

“Seeing them during the summer pushed me to start caddying as soon as possible,” Katona said.

Cash may be what initially attracts some caddies to the job, but the opportunity to receive a full ride to college is never far from the mind.

“I went into it with the mindset of making money, but as I progressed through my caddie years, I found out that the scholarship was a huge opportunity, so I kind of switched my mindset there. I could go to college for free if I amped my game up,” Sheldon said.

There are three levels of caddies: B, A and honor. Sheldon described B caddies as “sherpas” and honor caddies as “professionals who go down south in the wintertime so they can caddie year-round.” Sheldon and Katona were A and honor caddies respectively.

Katona said his dedication is what set him apart as a caddie.

“What really made the difference was that I wanted it more,” Katona said. “I woke up earlier than everyone else to get to the course and always gave my all. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. during the summer to go work is not on most people’s minds, especially teens. The extra commitment was hard, but sure paid off in the end.”

For Sheldon, it was learning how to read greens, which involves crouching down to detect the ground’s slope, with precision and how to keep golfers’ spirits up with advice and support, especially to players who are new to the course or frustrated with their game.

“Golf is a mental game as well. We’re there for moral support, too,” Sheldon said.

Apart from the sport, networking on the golf course can be one of the most valuable takeaways for a young caddie.

“If you’re not a D1 athlete or an insanely smart student, this is just an outstanding way to put yourself though college and relieve financial strain from your family. Parents who have younger kids who don’t really know what to do, maybe push your son or daughter to go caddie. Not only are you building their character, they’re building money and making contacts. Many caddies get job offer after job offer. Even if you don’t get the scholarship, you’re making contacts,” Sheldon said.

Although scholars are required to caddie their first summer, post-college plans don’t have to involve caddying.

“I’ll be working in the areas I’m studying. I could always go back to caddying while I’m looking for a job. Unless it’s caddying for [pro golfer] Dustin Johnson,” Sheldon said.

The Western Golf Association has supported the program since its inception. Additionally, there are 383 member clubs and 26,000 golfers across the country that support the scholarship, making it among the nation’s largest privately funded scholarship programs.

“Without the members and country clubs paying it forward, so to speak, none of us would have the opportunities to go to college for free,” Sheldon said.

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