Considering he was receiving a golf-related award on Sunday evening, Armando Duarte didn't used to have the most positive attitude about the game.
"Before I started (caddying), I never knew anything about golf," the 15-year-old sophomore from Regis Jesuit High School said. "I thought golf was the most boring sport ever. Now, I'm back to playing it. I tried out for my high school team. I didn't make it but I'm still playing. I think it's a great thing to do. I got all that from caddying."
And, specifically, from doing so as part of the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy, which on Sunday celebrated its seventh season with an awards barbecue at CommonGround Golf Course, the CGA-owned facility where the Academy started in 2012.
Over the seven golf seasons since, the Solich Academy has put together some impressive numbers:
-- Now with three sites for the program around the state -- CommonGround, Meridian Golf Club in Englewood and Lincoln Park/Tiara Rado in Grand Junction -- the Academy has produced more than 8,500 caddie loops over the seven years. That includes a record total of more than 1,500 in 2018, with 46 caddies participating. There were 888 loops at CommonGround, 419 at Meridian and 215 in Grand Junction.
-- This fall, a record-tying four Solich Academy caddies became Evans Scholars -- three at the University of Colorado and one at Northwestern -- after being awarded the full tuition and housing scholarship earlier in 2018. All told, 17 Solich kids have earned Evans Scholarships, almost all at CU.
-- Then there are the 10 key elements of the "Code of the West", which are key parts of the "leadership" aspect of the Solich Academy: 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 on Sunday, at the season-ending awards barbecue at CommonGround, nearly 150 people showed up for the festivities -- caddies, their families, and supporters and organizers of the program.
That included one of the two people who lent their name and foundational support to the Solich Academy -- brothers George and Geoff (Duffy) Solich. Both caddied themselves as teenagers -- at The Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs -- and subsequently were awarded Evans Scholarships at CU. They've long been successful Colorado-based oilmen and philanthropists.
"What always stands out to me is the family support these kids have," Duffy Solich said after Sunday's festivities. "It's really cool to see all these people here."
Indeed, the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy continues to blossom. The program promotes the use of caddies by paying their base fees through an educational grant, with participating golfers having the option of adding a tip.
And, as noted earlier, there's also a hearty leadership aspect to the Academy. Each youngster who participates not only caddies but is required to attend weekly leadership classes and do community-service work each summer.
"I think it's an amazing program," said CGA co-president Joe McCleary, who has regularly helped train some of the Solich Academy caddies over the years. "It's just a great program for the kids. It provides a lot of learning opportunities and I think it'll make a difference in their lives.
"I've said it before: The golf course (at CommonGround) is a laboratory for a variety of programs, and this is one of those perfect programs that fits right into the laboratory."
And that lab has produced kids like Duarte, who on Sunday was named "Caddie Leader of the Year" at CommonGround for 2018.
"I get discipline out of the program," he said. "This is pretty much a first job for a teenager like me. It teaches us how it is to have a job.
"Many of my golfers really gave me confidence to open myself up more to new people because I was a really shy person. That was really good for me."
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 raised almost $40,000 for the Solich Academy this year through two trips that were generously donated by the Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon -- with one being raffled off and the other being awarded through an auction.
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 used it at their facilities, with tweaks as necessary.
"There's room for people to take the ball and run with it" regarding expanding the program's concept, Duffy Solich (left) said.
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 area such as those at Cherry Hills Country Club, Denver Country Club, Lakewood Country Club, etc.
"It's so gratifying to go to these other courses and see caddies who have graduated from here thrive at these other courses," Duffy Solich noted.
Meridian came on board by establishing a Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy chapter four years ago. And now the Englewood-based club is up to 11 caddies who this year produced 419 loops, a season-high for the course. Paul Lobato, the longtime PGA head professional at Meridian, has shepherded the program at the club, and is trying to take it up a notch or two. Lobato and his team at Meridian spend 10 hours working with the kids before ever sending them out to caddie.
"I think we're holding the kids to different expectations -- that we expect them to get better each time out -- to raise the level from being just bag carriers and sherpas to being more of a true caddie," Lobato said.
Lobato finds it very gratifying to see the results -- not only at his course, but for the Solich Academy program in general.
"It seems that caddying is very much back in vogue," he said. "People are requesting them, people are interested in them. They're interested in kids not only as caddies but as golfers and students and things like that. It is fun to see the growth of it.
"Caddies only used to be at certain places, but now they're becoming a lot more common around town. Everybody is kind of getting their foot in the door. We just need to bust the door open and get stronger caddie programs with better caddies and people requesting them more."
Here are the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy awards that were presented on Sunday:
Caddie Leader of the Year
CommonGround -- Armando Duarte
Meridian -- Tara Simone
Grand Junction -- Chloe Manchester
CommonGround -- Anthony Montoya-Olivas
Meridian -- Kimberly Helfer
Rookie of the Year
CommonGround -- Lindsi Reyes
Meridian -- Antonio Vasquez
Most Improved Caddie
CommonGround -- Jaziel Guerrero
Meridian -- Aidan McMahon
Grand Junction -- Kalea Potter
3D Award (Dedication-Determination-Desire)
CommonGround -- Simon Seyoum
Meridian -- Logan Douglass