Katya Tulak was six when she immigrated from Indonesia to the US, her parents deciding to pursue a better education for their three children.
Tulak will soon be studying nursing at the University of Washington, and, like her sister before her, will have the support of a tuition and housing scholarship.
In part, that’s thanks to the game of golf.
Since 2012, the Western Golf Association (WGA) has been running a program that gives young people, specifically teenage girls from underprivileged backgrounds, the chance to work as golf caddies during summer vacation.
Those enrolled in the Caddie Academy have the opportunity to apply for the Evans Scholarship – a full tuition and housing scholarship for the duration of their time at college.
Most of the girls at the Academy have never caddied before in their lives, and many will never have stepped foot on a golf course.
“My first day of caddying was definitely nerve-wracking,” Tulak tells CNN. “I didn’t want to do the wrong thing.
“It’s funny because I’m not a big person and the golfers were saying, ‘Oh, you’re carrying two bags! You don’t have another caddy to help?’
“Some days I find very tiring due to the humidity and the hot weather, but I always told myself the end goal is to get the scholarship.”
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‘A great summer job’
The program, which today hosts 90 female and 11 male high school students from across the US, is based at 14 different golf courses in Illinois and has grown considerably since the inaugural class of 12 caddies took to the course six years ago.
Participants in the Caddie Academy come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, have demonstrated an excellent academic record or live in an area where they would be unable to otherwise caddie at a WGA-affiliated golf club.
“We think caddying is a great summer job,” explains Mike Maher, the founder of the program.
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“In our opinion there’s not nearly enough women and girls caddying and experiencing the benefits of a stepping stone job for really big things later on in life.”
Days at the academy are long, typically starting at 6 am with caddies hitting the course six days a week.
As far as Maher is concerned, the seven-week program is about more than just learning the ins and outs of caddying.
“It’s about how they use caddying and the benefits of that, in terms of time management, money management, dealing with different personalities,” he explains. “You get a different boss each day.”
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Learning the game
The WGA raises funds through professional tournaments, notably September’s BMW Championship, one of four PGA Tour events in the FedExCup.
As a result, it has paid $20 million in scholarship costs during the 2017-18 academic year and has contributed $365 million throughout its history.
Yet despite connections with elite tournaments, most of the girls have no experience of golf prior to joining the academy.
The intention is not necessarily for the girls to fall in love with the game of golf – rather, to use it as a platform for academic, personal and professional development.
But for Alzberta Nei, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, it was enough to catch the golf bug just slightly.
“I had very little knowledge of golf at all, I really knew nothing,” she explains. “But on our days off on Mondays we had golf lessons twice throughout the whole program. Not a full 18 or 9 holes but we played a couple just for fun.
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“Now I’ve caddied for so long, why not try to take up the game in the future?”