The turnout on Sunday evening for a season-ending awards barbecue at CommonGround Golf Course was a testament to the ongoing success of the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy.
A large event tent was full of caddies and their families, program supporters and organizers, and all the adjacent tables outside were occupied, while another group of people were standing as they took in the festivities. It was one of the most well-attended season wrapups for the program that was founded in 2012.
"After six years you'd think coming to these barbecues would get like, 'Ho, hum.' It's not. It's the same excitement as the first year," said Geoff (Duffy) Solich, who along with brother George lent their name and their support to the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy. "There's great turnout. Probably 80 percent of the kids and their parents are here. You don't see that in many programs."
And what's not to like? Six seasons after the unique program made its debut, it has produced about 7,000 caddie loops for Colorado kids. It's given them continual leadership training and guidance as an integral part of Academy. It's provided various clubs in the Denver metro area with well-trained caddies. It's had 13 of its best caddies go on to earn full-tuition and housing Evans Scholarships at the University of Colorado. And, perhaps most importantly, in some cases it's helped turned sometimes-aimless boys and girls into highly motivated young men and women with high character.
"The uniqueness of the Leadership Academy here is what I think makes it special," Duffy Solich noted after the barbecue. "I played nine holes before coming over here today and I had a (caddie) who was a CommonGround kid (from the Solich Academy) who has spent two years at Cherry Hills and is applying for the (Evans) Scholarship. I said, 'OK, tell me what was the most memorable thing from all the time at CommonGround? What stuck with you the most?' Without skipping a beat (he said), 'I love the Leadership Academy. I learned so many things there.' It wasn't about caddying or getting a hot dog at the turn. That's what got his attention. That's a unique difference that this has that others (caddie programs) don't."
Indeed, there are things that set the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy apart. Notably, it promotes the use of caddies by paying their base fees through an educational grant, with participating golfers having the option of adding a tip.
But don't get the impression that the word "Leadership" in the academy title is a mere afterthought -- a throw-in to make it sound better. Each of the caddies who are part of the program are required to attend weekly leadership classes and do volunteer community-service work each summer. Included is learning the key elements of the "Code of the West": 1) Live each day with courage; 2) Take pride in your work; 3) Always finish what you start; 4) Do what has to be done; 5) Be tough, but fair; 6) When you make a promise, keep it; 7) Ride for the brand; 8) Talk less and say more; 9) Remember that some things aren't for sale; 10) Know where to draw the line.
And, of course, the teenagers further learn life lessons through caddying itself.
"The two years you spend here learning character traits, learning the Code of the West, learning how to get up early and learning how to work hard are invaluable," George Solich told the caddies and their parents. "The 'want to' is what really counts. We've all got to have that 'want to'. We've all got to make as much effort as we possibly can. Caddying really taught me early on that if you're going to put in a day, you might as well get up early and get going. Not only did it teach me how to love the game of golf, but it taught me hard work."
George and Duffy Solich were both caddies at The Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs as teenagers. They both earned Evans Scholarships at CU and have become successful oilmen and philanthropists. (In photos congratulating the caddies, George is pictured at left and Duffy at right.)
The Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy has been such a success at CGA-owned-and-operated CommonGround Golf Course that it has expanded and become a model for other programs to emulate. Meridian Golf Club launched a chapter three years ago, and Grand Junction (at Lincoln Park and Tiara Rado) did this year. And more expansion may be on the way in coming years.
At all the Colorado courses, the Solich Academy is a flagship program for the CGA, which devotes considerable resources in nurturing and managing it. CGA executive director Ed Mate, like the Soliches, attended CU on an Evans Scholarship. Also playing key roles in the Academy's success from the assocation are manager of caddie development Emily Olson, director of youth programs Erin Gangloff and director of development Ryan Smith. The CGA held a Bandon Dunes raffle this year that raised about $31,000 for the Solich Academy. BMW, a presenting partner of the CGA, is also the exclusive partner for the Solich Academy at CommonGround.
Besides CommonGround, Meridian, Lincoln Park and Tiara Rado, courses in southeast Wisconsin and in Oceanside, Calif., have taken the Solich Academy template and run with it.
"It's the system that works," George Solich said. "We've put together a really good system and organization."
The normal pattern in the Denver metro area is for Solich caddies to spend two years at CommonGround or Meridian, then graduate to other programs around the metro area such as those at Cherry Hills Country Club, Denver Country Club, Lakewood Country Club, etc.
"The top caddies at Cherry Hills all came from here," said George Solich, a member at Cherry Hills. "The training really works well. By the time we get done with them, they've got 75-80 loops and a little more confidence. They've gone through the leadership (training). They've got a little more swagger than they used to have. That's what really makes it work."
This season, 35 caddies finished the year at CommonGround, chalking up 959 loops, a total which may increase the remainder of this month. At Meridian, where PGA head professional Paul Lobato has been a driving force for the program, there's 13 caddies who did 391 loops this year. And in the first year in Grand Junction, four kids accumulated 130 loops.
At Meridian, the loop totals are up more than 15 percent compared to 2016.
"Probably the best part of my job -- the part of the job I have most fun with -- is to see kids (progress)," Lobato said. "That first day of caddie training, we can barely walk down the fairway with a bag on our shoulder. Kids are very meek, very quiet (and) hardly will even say hello to you. Then midway through the summer you can see them getting better and more confident, coming out of their shells a little bit. So it's very gratifying."
Likewise at CommonGround, which sits in a diverse area at the intersection of Havana and 1st Avenue.
"What I really love about CommonGround in particular is we're able to take kids from walks of life that have never been on a golf course and change their lives -- either through the (Evans) Scholarship or otherwise," George Solich said. "Not even 10 percent of the kids in this program are going to get the scholarship, so the goal is to impact the kids that don't get the scholarship AND the kids that get the scholarship. Impact their work ethic, their character, their understanding of how to communicate and deal with adults -- all the stuff we all learn from caddying.
"It's really cool to be able to see how much impact (the program) has. ... It's exactly what we hoped."
Notable: During Sunday's festivities, the CommonGround Men's Club presented a contribution to the Solich Academy -- via the Colorado Golf Foundation -- for $3,600. Giving the check to Mate was Andy Harwood from the Men's Club, a CU Evans Scholar alum. (They're pictured at left.)
"In the six years this program has been around, I don't think George or I or Ed or Emily or Erin could have ever envisioned the amount of support and backing (we've gotten) from a lot of friends in the Colorado golf community. It's really taken off," said Duffy Solich. ...
Quincy Slaughter of Aurora, a veteran of the Solich Academy, caddied over the summer at the Sankaty Head Caddie Camp in Nantucket, Mass., which was the inspiration for the creation of the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy after George Solich read about it in a magazine. Sankaty Head has operated since 1930. Caddies who are selected from all over the U.S. and abroad to come to the camp spend part of each day caddying at Sankaty Head Golf Club. They bunk at the campgrounds, located between the 11th, 12th and 13th holes at the course. ...
As part of Sunday's barbecue, caddie award winners for 2017 were announced:
Caddie Leader of the Year (CommonGround)
Caddie Leader of the Year (Meridian)
Congeniality Award (CommonGround)
Congeniality Award (Meridian)
Rookie of the Year (CommonGround)
Rookie of the Year (Meridian)
Most Improved Caddie (CommonGround)
Most Improved Caddie (Meridian)
3D Award – Determination, Dedication, Desire (CommonGround)
3D Award – Determination, Dedication, Desire (Meridian)