Writer Shannon Severson // Photography by Carl Schultz
When a professional golfer strides onto the course, a trusty caddie is right alongside — quick on the draw with just the right club; handy with a ball marker and divot repair; and knowledgeable about the nuances of the course and wind speeds that can affect the final score.
These are all skills honed over many years, but they’ve got to start somewhere. That “somewhere” for the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholar Foundation scholarship winner Jeremy Dreher is Desert Forest Golf Club in Carefree.
“Desert Forest Golf Club is one of the biggest hidden gems,” says Dreher, a 17-year-old Moon Valley High School senior. “I’ve caddied there with the junior caddie program since 2019. The members really like the youth caddies and the board members are so helpful and supportive of the Western Golf Association and Evans Scholars Foundation. I received the letter stating that I’d won the scholarship on Christmas Eve day and it was the best Christmas present ever.”
Dreher hopes to attend University of Colorado at Boulder but also has his eye on Penn State. He plans to major in business and finance. The Evans Scholarship covers full tuition and housing for all four years. While he finishes up his high school year, he’s receiving plenty of pats on the back out on the green.
“I get congratulations all the time now,” he says with a joyful smile. “It feels good that all the members feel just as good as I do about the scholarship.”
Dreher began golfing in sixth grade and has played on his high school golf team all four years. He points out, though, that junior caddies don’t have to be golfers or have an encyclopedic knowledge of golf to join the program. The scholarship winner credits head professional Brandon Rogers and his team for educating and making all the youth who participate feel welcome no matter their background.
“Brandon Rogers is probably one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met,” Dreher says. “He and my caddie master, Connor, were a big encouragement to me from the beginning. All the trainers want you to succeed; they are really friendly and the training gave me a lot of confidence.”
Rogers oversees and trains 90 caddies who completed 600 loops in 2021 — young men and women whose participation puts them in the running for a full-tuition and housing college scholarship and soft skills that last a lifetime. They learn etiquette, tips on how to connect with members and how to read the green.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Rogers says. “I try to build a ‘this is for anyone and everyone’ program. You automatically have a team and a group of friends. No matter what is going on in life, this is a place where they can come and be around other buddies. When you’re caddying with other caddies, you’re a team. You exist to help the golfers and give them the best experience.”
Caddies of the Future
Dreher’s win this year makes him one of the back-to-back winners from Desert Forest Golf Club after Evan Johnson was awarded the scholarship last year. Needless to say, Rogers’ junior caddie program — which began in 2015 — is soaring.
“Over the years, members talked about how they got started in golf by caddying as a kid,” Rogers recalls. “It dawned on me — that generation’s experience wasn’t possible anymore, at least in Arizona’s current culture and climate.
“I decided I wanted to do a caddie program just for kids and I would structure it around weekends since, unlike other states, our members mostly play during school months. I didn’t fully realize all the benefits that came with junior caddies but now I’ve gone from growing caddies at Desert Forest to trying to figure out how to grow caddies across all of Arizona.”
Rogers says it starts by educating members and encouraging them to support the caddie program. The member response has been overwhelmingly positive. Connecting across generations is good for all involved and advances the future of the sport.
“I educate my members and encourage them to support the caddie program,” Rogers explains. “They don’t come out like a pro-caddie right away, but with some training from Western Golf Association and some that we have developed ourselves, they learn a lot of tips and tricks.”
Rogers adds that Desert Forest Golf Club is a walkable course with greens and tees that are close together.
“The junior caddie program is a great way to exploit the benefits of walking and it helps out a deserving kid,” he says. “It also elevates the level of the golf experience. It’s not charity. These kids are highly trained.”
Rogers calls participants of the program the caddies of the future.
“There’s a ton of technology now that they can learn about,” he says. “When you’re trying to help your golfer and making a quick assessment, how can you actually help them lower their score? Everything done on the golf course to manage your game comes with understanding percentages.”
Rogers gets feedback from members and does his best to pair up caddies and golfers who are a natural fit. Reading the personalities of members and learning how to relate, even if a youngster is on the quiet side, are important skills they’ll take with them into adulthood.
Rogers is now brainstorming ideas for a caddie summer camp at a higher elevation that will allow for training and life skills.
“That’s my next phase,” Rogers says enthusiastically. “The caddie camp concept is really taking shape and I hope it takes off. They can learn to do things beyond cleaning clubs. Even the mental side of the game is a big deal; You can train a caddie to say phrases to add value to a player’s game, whether they know it or not. Junior caddies can get a bad rap that they don’t have much to offer. I’m setting out to prove that wrong. I’m always finding ways to improve and grow.”
Leaders of Tomorrow
The Evans Scholars program is for hardworking caddies like Dreher and Johnson who demonstrate financial need and have outstanding academic and leadership records. It is also one of the golf community’s favorite charities since its founding in 1930.
Over the life of the program, there have been 11,500 Evans Scholars, making it not only the nation’s largest scholarship program for caddies but also a favorite for golfers who want to donate to a cause after their own hearts.
“We believe that caddying provides an incredible opportunity to bring new people and groups into the game of golf,” says Amy Fuller, vice president of communications for Western Golf Association. “To that end, Western Golf Association oversees and establishes many youth caddie programs across the country. Particularly in Arizona, it has been exciting to see the growth and momentum around youth caddying.”
Those caddies who are lucky enough to earn the Evans Scholarship go on to excel in college and beyond.
“Our Evans Scholars are truly the leaders of tomorrow,” Fuller says. “Our alumni go on to become community leaders and are successful in every industry imaginable. They also give back more than $17 million each year to the program that they love.”
This past year, the BMW Championship — a PGA Tour FedEx Cup Playoff event — raised a record $5.6 million to benefit the Evans Scholars program, which costs about $27 million per year to operate.
The value of a four-year Evans Scholarship is estimated at more than $120,000. Scholars attend 21 leading universities where they live and work together, with an impressive graduation rate of 95%.
This fall, Dreher will join those ranks and he couldn’t be more excited or grateful for the opportunity. He feels acutely how Rogers, his trainers and club members have truly invested in his success and it has bolstered his ambitions for the future.
“I need to give a lot of credit to Desert Forest Golf Club,” Dreher says. “They are amazing. I feel that they care about me at Desert Forest. I believe they actually do care. They see me as a person. They’ve really helped me and given me the greatest appreciation of golf. One of my goals, when I grow up, is to be a member at Desert Forest. I’m so excited for what the future holds.”