This Kansas golfer is on a mission to make the caddie community more diverse
University of Kansas graduate student Anh-Dao Do turned her experience as a caddie into a way to pay for college. She wants to help others do the same, and help revive a dying skill in the process.
Watching Anh-Dao Do hit golf balls at a driving range, you wouldn’t guess she used to not like the game. Her movements with the club are smooth and natural, and she’s analytical about why her ball may have pulled left or pushed right.
“At first I didn’t enjoy it at all,” Do recalled about her start in golf, “because I’m hitting a stick that hits a ball — a small little ball in the ground!”
She took up golf at the age of 10, through the First Tee of Greater Kansas City youth program. Do, who grew up in the Piper area of west Wyandotte County, learned the game at the Sunflower Hills course in Kansas City, Kansas.
With time, Do came to enjoy the game — so much so that she found a way to make it pay. This summer she was named Co-Scholar of the Year by the Evans Scholars Foundation, an organization based near Chicago that awards college scholarships to high achieving caddies.
It “is a really big deal,” she said.
But caddie programs that give young people the skills and experience to win these kinds of scholarships are dying out. While they have thrived elsewhere, caddie programs have dwindled in Kansas City, where only two golf clubs offer them.
If Do’s experience is any indication, the programs also often suffer from a lack of diversity.
‘I just try to make an impression’
Do’s work as a caddie began when she was a teen, while she was a member of the Piper High School girls’ golf team.
Do approached First Tee organizers about possible job opportunities. They steered her toward Indian Hills Country Club in Mission Hills. Along with Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Missouri, it’s one of only two courses in the area where young people can learn to be caddies.
To maximize her earnings, Do would sometimes work two 18-hole rounds — or “loops” as caddies refer to them — in a day.
“We’re essentially high school students, middle school students, maybe college students, striving to just make cash,” she said.
Still, as a caddie, she wanted to excel.
“I’ve always worked my hardest on how I am with my golfer, how I interact with golfers in his group,” said Do. “I just try to make an impression.”
But what remains of the Kansas City caddie community lacks diversity, Do said. She’s done what she could to get the word out to her friends in Kansas City, Kansas.
“I told them my story and I told them, ‘You should consider caddying,’” she said.
That leadership is part of what earned her Co-Scholar of the Year this summer, and a spot in the Evans Scholars Foundation house at the University of Kansas for three years running.
The foundation was established in 1930 by the late Chick Evans, who, in 1916, was the first person to win the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur golf championships in the same year. He was also, in his youth, a caddie.
Evans Scholar houses are spread out on 19 campuses around the country, including at the University of Missouri.
Apart from the big green logo on the front, KU’s Evans Scholars house, off the school’s Lawrence campus, resembles just another apartment building. It’s home to about 45 students from around the country — all have earned scholarships as golf caddies.
‘I was the odd one out’
Despite the students’ shared background, Do said her first year in the house was uncomfortable at times.
“Being an Asian American student, I felt as if I was the odd one out,” she said. The fact she was one of very few women in the program didn’t help either.
It’s why Do is still looking for ways to make change.
“What am I going to do to leave my legacy?” She recalled thinking at the time. “I thought I would want to incorporate more diversity, not just with the Evans Scholar community, but within the caddie program as well.”
Do acknowledges there are many challenges, especially for prospective caddies with fewer means than she had access to, including having appropriate footwear and attire, and transportation to courses or clubs, which are often difficult to get to using public transportation. Do's parents frequently drove her to and from golf courses.
But there are some small signs of progress. Do said a few people from underrepresented backgrounds who she has talked to have taken up caddying. And this fall, there are three freshmen women from the Indian Hills caddie program entering the Evans Scholars house at KU.
“That’s amazing,” said Do. “I think that’s a record amount of girls from Indian Hills.”
Even if caddie programs do manage to increase their diversity, there are other forces working against them.
Former club pro Gary Clark, who worked at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, said one reason for the decline is the cost of insurance required to keep caddie programs legal.
One other big reason: the motorized golf cart.
“You have no choice,” Clark said. “They’re in the (membership) fee, which is a lot. So people are taking carts more.”
Do remains undaunted.
While she continues her studies at KU — she’s already earned a chemistry degree in three years, and is now working on a Master of Business Administration before embarking on medical school — Do said she’ll keep pushing for more diversity among caddies, and advocating for a vanishing skill.