(The following article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Golf Canada magazine)
Summer jobs for teenagers usually don't come with many perks. Fast-food servers, store clerks, amusement park attendants, camp counselors and babysitters often put in long hours for little pay and no benefits. But Jihun Yu found one that includes almost unlimited free golf at one of Canada's best and most prestigious clubs. Not bad for a 15-year-old in his first summer job.
Jihun is a caddy at Beacon Hall Golf Club in Aurora, Ont. He was hired last year for the club's 12-member caddy team and returned again this summer.
"I heard if I took this job I would have the opportunity to play and practise whenever I wanted," says Jihun, whose mother learned of the caddy program from a club member she knows. "I was really excited to take this job. Who wouldn't be?"
Who wouldn't be, indeed.
The job requires normal caddy duties – slugging around a bag, on foot, through Beacon Hall's rolling, tree-lined front nine and its open, links-style back nine.
But it offers far more in return.
The teen caddies at Beacon Hall not only get a modest $30 fee for each round and a $1,000 cheque for their education at the end of the summer, but they enjoy, in essence, a free junior membership.
They're able to use the range and golf course whenever they're not working, with very few restrictions, even on weekends. (With its membership of about 250, Beacon Hall's first tee is almost always open.)
They also get a Beacon Hall golf bag and instruction from any one on the professional staff, including director of golf Phil Hardy, who created the caddy program five years ago.
"Mr. Hardy told us to consider ourselves junior members," Yu says, "except when we're caddying."
The intangible benefits may be even richer. The teen caddies rub shoulders with Beacon Hall's well-heeled members, developing connections that could last a lifetime, and they learn the value of manners and communication in an adult setting.
"For teenagers, it is not easy to have an opportunity where you can learn to be courteous and formal to older people," Yu says.
Hardy conceived the idea of a caddy and sponsorship program about 20 years ago. He not only wanted to extend a service to club members and keep alive golf's caddy tradition, but he foresaw giving something back to the community and helping build the game at the junior level.
He also hoped it could be a model for other private clubs to follow.
The members had reservations back then. But five or six years ago, as walking and pull carts became more a part of the conversation at the club, Hardy was asked to dust off his caddy proposal.
This time, it flew.
"My thinking was, if we're going to bring them in," Hardy says, "we want to give them something so that there's mutual benefit and kids have more interest in being here than just carrying a bag around for a small sum of money."
The program started with six caddies and has grown to 12.
There have been a few "casualties" along the way, but for the most part the program and the kids have blossomed, Hardy says. "It's fun to see kids hang around a club and develop."
The caddies have become an integral part of the club, fi tting in with the other 25 junior members and the overall membership at large.
"Not everybody uses a caddy," says Matt Reeves, a 16-year-old who started caddying this year. "But for those who do, they definitely buy into the program. They're not only there to play golf but they're there to benefit you as well."
Since the caddies are mostly high-school age, experience isn't required. Neither is golfing ability, for that matter.
Yu candidly admits he had neither when he started last year. He had been exposed to the game through his golf-loving father but considered himself a beginner with an estimated 30 handicap index. After two summers at Beacon Hall, he's down to 17 or 18.
That said, some of the caddies arrive with impressive golf skills that they hope to sharpen even further.
Reeves has already nudged his index to 4 from 6. He says he's become golf's version of a rink rat.
"I come here a lot," says Reeves, who heard about the program from two friends who were caddies in previous years. "On days I am working, I am here all day usually – maybe caddying in the morning, playing in the afternoon. Even if I'm not working, I come here and play and practise."
Reeves says he had job opportunities at other clubs, most of which paid better. But the chance to be part of Beacon Hall, which has been recognized as one of Canada's 10 best courses since its opening in 1988, was too good to pass up.
"Playing this course as many times as I have, that's worth tons of money right there," says Reeves. "I think this was the biggest and best opportunity I had."
Hardy says the only true prerequisite is enthusiasm. Caddy skills can be learned but an eagerness to serve the members and be "mini-ambassadors" for the club with guests is more important.
"It's got to be the right person," Hardy says. "First and foremost, they have to endear themselves to the membership. That's No. 1. They have to be a favourite of the members and enjoy looking after whomever they're caddying for. It doesn't matter how good a player you are. But you need to be in demand."
Showing initiative – like buffing the electric carts and helping out the back-shop staff during down time – might be No. 2.
"You get out of it what you put in," says Reeves, who hopes to return next year and further improve his game as he strives for a golf scholarship when he goes to college.
He doesn't necessarily want to be a golf pro, but sees his future somewhere in the industry.
Others have used the program as a stepping stone already. Alina Rogers is heading to the University of Missouri on a golf scholarship this fall. She was the first female caddy, had an index of 14 when she started and has been with the program since 2008. Former caddy Jack Sedgewick is attending Binghamton University.
From the club's perspective, the caddy program is an excellent training ground. "You have a core group of 12 caddies," Hardy says. "You get to see them in action. This becomes the training ground for future back-shoppers and other roles (for those kids who want them)."
One of the two friends who referred Matt now works in Beacon Hall's back-shop. (The other has moved to the National Golf Club of Canada in nearby Woodbridge to caddy.)
Melissa Bromley started caddying three years ago and now, when she returns from her studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology each summer, she works in the pro shop and has become invaluable in helping the club organize big events.
"We've been called an elitist organization," Hardy says. "Private courses are often referred to that way. But here's a way to say to the community that we want to help.
"We're giving something back. If you see a kid with his lights on, we're going to give him more and more and more chances."
For teens like Jihun and Matt, they'll take those chances