Like his two sisters, Tommy Makela of Grafton is getting a free ride to UW by excelling as a golf caddy
The Makela family is paying for college thanks to golf, but none of its four children play the game.
The oldest three received the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship, which pays for their tuition and housing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Recent Grafton High School graduate Tommy was the latest to receive the scholarship that his two older sisters won years ago.
Notification came via letter.
“I think we all screamed and jumped and cheered,” their mother Lynn said.
“I think that was mostly you,” Tommy told his mom while the family discussed their scholarships at their home in Grafton.
“We’re pretty happy because we weren’t in position to contribute to their college,” Lynn said. “I think that we’ve got some pretty great kids. They all deserve it.”
Shannon and Hailee’s caddying careers began when they were in middle school. Hailee wanted a source of income, and older sister Shannon determined, “She can’t make more money than me,” so their dad, who caddied when he was young, drove them to area golf courses. Since it was late in the golf season, North Shore Country Club was the only one accepting caddies.
The girls learned how to do the job, quickly picking up not to step into people’s line on the green and where to stand adjusting for sunlight.
“Your shadow can’t be in the ball at any time,” Shannon said.
Hailee said she enjoyed interacting with some of the social members of the club, but caddying was hard work.
“The bags were so big. Some of the bags only had one strap or wouldn’t stand up,” she said.
Girls make up nearly a quarter of all Evans Scholars, but Shannon and Hailee were the only two consistent female caddies at North Shore.
“Most (players) would say, ‘I give you credit because my daughter wouldn’t do this,’” Shannon said.
Once Tommy started caddying, the three could carpool if they caddied in the same group or if their tee times were close together.
Tommy said he noticed the difference in players’ behavior when he caddied with girls.
“They don’t swear around girls on the course,” he said.
Tommy said players also expected more from the boys, whether it was reading greens or recommending clubs.
Shannon and Hailee said they got to know some of the players well after caddying for them several times, but Shannon still had a strategy.
“Let them know early on I don’t play golf,” she said.
Caddying is a unique job in that the Makelas didn’t have to sign up for shifts and could have off when they needed it.
“It was so flexible,” Hailee said.
“You’re done by noon most times,” Tommy said.
They had to get up early, around 5:30 a.m.
At least they worked outside and could get a tan on the five-mile walk. But the girls ended up with triangles on their upper chests and farmer’s tans. Their socks and Capri pants gave their legs bizarre lines.
Terrible tans,” Hailee said. “That’s what every caddy will tell you, bad tan lines.”
They didn’t like their feet getting wet, either, which was nearly unavoidable given early morning dew and golf course sprinklers.
“Your feet are soaked,” Shannon said.
“Your socks turn brown,” Hailee said.
A short rest may have helped, but caddies are not allowed to sit down during the round.
“If I could have gotten those five minutes of relief while they’re hitting their balls, it would have been much more enjoyable,” Hailee said.
They did acquire their share of hilarious experiences with golfers. Hailee said one player came running out of the bathroom with his pants halfway down after being scared by a squirrel that found a way into the facility.
Shannon said she learned not to look for a player who has gone missing for a few minutes. He is usually going to the bathroom and appreciates privacy.
Tommy said he had a hard time holding in laughter at times. Some members would talk trash to each other, followed up by a drive that traveled five feet. Others would take five shots to exit a bunker.
Shannon said someone once hit a drive that landed in the wastebasket of the women’s tee box.
They mostly caddied for men.
“We tried the women. They go even slower,” Shannon said.
But Tommy said women players often commented on how tired he looked and bought him candy bars and soda.
Skill ran the gamut, regardless of gender.
“You’ll have the 30-handicappers that take about seven times to get to the green and you’ll have the scratch golfers,” Tommy said.
He had a way of knowing for whom he was caddying before the round started.
“The good players had the light bags,” he said. “The bad players had 40 balls, two pairs of shoes and seven jackets.”
None of the three caddied for any celebrities, but they have seen Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks at the club. Tommy caddied for the doctor who delivered him.
Hailee witnessed a hole-in-one by a player in her group. Nobody could see exactly where it landed, and everyone spent five minutes looking for the ball before finding it in the hole.
None of the three are interested in chasing their own glory of scoring an ace. Caddies at North Shore may play the course on Mondays, but Shannon said after carrying bags on the weekend she had no interest in walking the course again and carrying their own.
Tommy said the game looks too frustrating. Hailee said it’s pricey. She tried it a couple of times and at least looked sharp.
“Yeah, it’s a good swing but I didn’t hit the ball,” she said.
But the three excelled as caddies and in the classroom. Criteria for Evans Scholarships include a strong caddie record, academics, financial need and character. Applicants also need recommendation letters from their clubs and high schools.
Recipients live in the Evans Scholars houses at their universities. UW-Madison has a three-story home housing about 60 students. Girls bond quickly since there are few.
Shannon received the scholarship in 2011, graduated and just completed her first year teaching kindergarten in Sun Prairie.
Hailee received the scholarship in 2013 and is majoring in human development and family studies and general women’s studies. She is hoping to become a physician’s assistant.
Tommy plans to study financial planning and investments.
The three double their family’s Evan Scholarships. Their cousin, uncle and aunt each won scholarships.
Another may be on the way. Kaelyn, the youngest Makela at 12, may start caddying when she is 13.
“We want to get her the same deal we’ve got going,” Tommy said.
For more information on the Evans Scholarship, go to www.wgaesf.org.
Image Information: Tommy Makela with his sisters Shannon (left) and Hailee. Photo by Sam Arendt