By Jim Walsh
Rob Rashell didn’t object when his mother heard about a generous scholarship program for golf caddies and gently suggested that he start toting bags at Everett Country Club outside of Seattle.
Rashell was about 13 and he loved golf, so caddying immediately appealed to him. What he never imagined was how looping bags would become a springboard to not only a free education via the Chick Evans Scholarship for Caddies, but a long career in golf that would include a stint on the PGA and European tours.
“I would say it absolutely changed my life,” Rashell says about the Evans Scholarship, which provided him a four-year free ride to the University of Washington. “It was a fork in the road in my life.”
Rashell now is director of instruction at TPC Scottsdale in the Airpark, where he heads the juniors program, and where the Waste Management Phoenix Open is played this month.
His name might not have the same ring as Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods — Rashell, 41, happens to have the same birthday as Woods — but he played in two U.S. Opens, in 2005 and 2008. He made $85,000 on the Tour.
“You don’t know this as a kid, but you are spending a lot of time around successful people,” he says of caddying. “You see how they interact and treat other people.”
Rashell recalls learning the value of calling people by name, looking them in the eye while speaking to them and shaking hands with them. It was an education in how to deal with people in a respectful manner.
“It goes with you for life,” he says.
Rashell walked on to the golf team at Washington, defeating seven other players to win a spot. It was all a bit of a surprise to him.
“I played better than expected,” Rashell says. “The coach loved me.”
Evans scholars like Rashell tend to become high achievers in life. There are about 170 Evans alums in Arizona, including Stephen Peary, 68, a Scottsdale attorney, and Breana Prince, 27, of Phoenix, who holds a doctorate in physical therapy – often helping golfers conquer maladies so they can return to the game.
The Evans Scholarship program has a goal of 1,000 scholars, with a staggering $16 million a year tuition bill.
The program is geared toward high school students caddying in the summer. Evans scholars must log two years of caddying, have at least a “B”grade-point average, perform community service and demonstrate financial need.
“This is a carrot out there if you are caddying all the time, that you could get it,” Rashell says. “It was something at the end of the rainbow.”
Program officials hope to recruit more applicants from Arizona, a golf mecca, and from the western U.S., according to Vanessa Staublin, a spokeswoman for the Western Golf Association, which administers the scholarships.
But in Arizona, there is a catch: There are few caddies because most golf courses are designed for golf carts, a necessity when greens and tee boxes can be far apart in desert layouts. The harsh summer heat also is not the caddie’s best friend.
Rashell is working with another pro, Brandon Rogers at Desert Forest Golf Club in Carefree, to revive caddying in Arizona. Teens at Desert Forest are paid $35 a round and work on weekends during the school year to log their hours rather than during the summer because “caddying in Arizona in the summer is just not feasible,” Rashell says.
Rashell also hopes to start a teen caddying program at TPC.
The scholarship program represents the legacy of Chick Evans, who won the U.S. Amateur Open in 1916. Evans recorded golf lessons and donated his royalties to launch the caddie program. Scholarships are for full tuition and housing, renewable for as many as four years.
Since 1930, when the first two Evans recipients enrolled at Northwestern University, more than 10,400 scholarships have been awarded. Twenty-four percent of the recipients have been women, including Prince.
Most recipients attend one of the 15 universities where the Evans Scholars Foundation operates a Scholarship House, where students live and work together. Each chapter elects officers, runs social and service activities and participates in campus programs. The Evans Scholars chapters have earned a reputation for scholastic achievement and excellence in community service.
Because there is not an Evans Scholarship House in Arizona, students may apply to any of the universities that have one, the closest being the University of Colorado in Boulder, which Prince attended.
Prince did her caddying at RedTail Golf Course, a public facility in Portland, Oregon. She was 13 and would rake sand bunkers and mow greens early in the morning before the course opened.
After completing her normal duties, Prince would walk up to the first tee and offer her services as a caddie. She says it was a great investment, even if some people didn’t pay her. The Evans Foundation awarded her a scholarship worth about $60,000 a year to the University of Colorado.
Prince went on to physical therapy school and earned a doctorate at age 23.
Prince says she moved to Arizona with her father and brother while in high school. She says she would have struggled to afford going to Arizona State University until she received the Evans scholarship.
“It was my dream to go to a four-year university,” Prince says. “I was bawling, I was crying, I was so excited. I will always be thankful.”
While at Colorado, Prince says she lived in the house with 40 other students, all of whom were from economically-deprived backgrounds and hungry for success. They would motivate each other, passing out certificates yearly for high grade-point averages.
“You don’t want to be disrespectful, wasting their money,” Prince says.
She considers herself an “Arizona liaison” for the program, noting that her caddying was in Portland, where she also captained the Wilson High School girls’ golf team.
“I would like to help more kids in Arizona get a scholarship,” Prince says.
Peary grew up on the south side of Chicago in a tough neighborhood during the 1960s. He would take the train to one of the nation’s most prestigious golf courses, Olympia Fields, where he would step into a different world.
Peary took the advice of golfers at Olympia Fields and pursued an education. He went to the University of Illinois, where he made lifelong friends at the Evans House. They still get together once a year, decades later.
Once, Peary, while in the United Kingdom. was playing a course used for the British Open and noticed three golf bags on a rack with Evans Foundation bag tags. He went inside the clubhouse and met the owners.
“It was like we’ve known each other forever,” Peary says. “It’s a spectacular program. It changed my life.
“Everything in my life, I can make a connection to the scholarship program.”