At age 15, Karah VueBenson didn’t see golf caddying as anything more than a promising summer job opportunity.
Now, VueBenson is entering her final semester at the University of Minnesota, thanks to a scholarship from the Evans Scholars Foundation.
VueBenson is one of just eight women in the 56-person Evans Scholar house this year at the University, which is home to the recipients of the scholarship.
The Evans Scholars Foundation — a national scholarship program for mid- to low-income golf caddies — is 25 percent female, while just 2 percent of all caddies in the U.S. are female.
In contrast to the other 18 Evans Scholar houses nationwide, the number of women scholarship recipients is particularly low at the University’s house, despite national efforts to recruit more diverse caddies.
Because caddying has been a predominantly white and male-dominated occupation, the Western Golf Association — which oversees the Evans Scholars Foundation — has implemented a series of initiatives in recent years to improve diversity, said Amy Fuller, WGA’s vice president of communications.
“We’ve found that for young students of color, there are several barriers to entry for caddying,” Fuller said, which could include proximity to golf courses, lack of transportation and unfamiliarity with the sport and its caddying opportunities.
VueBenson, who is female and half Hmong, grew up in St. Paul and heard about caddying through her high school.
Minnesota Evans Scholar Chapter President Jon Delaney said he thinks the diversity rates at the University might be lower compared to other houses because nationwide diversity efforts from the WGA don’t affect all houses equally.
The WGA’s Caddie Academy, a summer program for high school students nationwide, is 90 percent minority individuals and many students are accepted into Evans Scholar programs at participating universities.
The diversity seen in the Caddie Academy isn’t evenly distributed across the 19 universities, since placement relies on a variety of factors including location, financial need and finding the right fit for each student.
Natalie Burg — an Evans Scholar at Northwestern University and the outgoing vice president of communication for her house — said many of her female friends and about a quarter of the girls in her house learned about caddying through the Caddie Academy, adding she thinks it’s improved the gender gap within the Evans Scholars as a whole.
Burg said the house dynamic at Northwestern is respectful of women, who have a larger presence than at the Minnesota house.
“I’ve never felt less a part of the house because of my gender,” she said.
Burg said half of the current executive board at the Northwestern Evans Scholars is female, and many women in her year have taken on leadership positions during their time in the house.
And despite the change of environment from her hometown, VueBenson said she feels safe and comfortable in the house of predominantly men, and is grateful for the program.
Alyssa Gohr, a graduate resident adviser for the Minnesota Evans house, said other houses typically have four to five women per grade, while the Minnesota house has only ever had eight to 10 women at a time.
“I’d love to have more girls,” Gohr said. “In the house … I think we’re at a disadvantage.”
Despite the low number of women in the house, Gohr said she feels the organization is doing a better job in terms of gender diversity than the caddying and golf world as a whole.
“I think it’s a really great scholarship, and I’d love to see more activity with it and especially with girls, especially here,” Gohr said.