When 14-year-old Michael Ryan wanted to make some money, his father suggested caddying at Rolling Green Country Club in Springfield, Pa. “My dad said my uncle caddied there a long time ago,” says the Wilmington, Del., native.
Thanks to the J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Trust, Ryan also ended up with $40,000 toward tuition at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Since 1958, it has provided caddies with more than $23 million in grants for college. It’s sponsored by the Golf Association of Philadelphia, which has 78,000 members and 300 member clubs in eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and southern and central New Jersey.
Ryan’s parents could swing his tuition at Salesianum High School. But with two daughters at Padua Academy, they needed some help paying for college. Thanks to his grant, Ryan graduated from La Salle University debt-free. Now a 25-year-old CPA and investor, he serves on the scholarship fund’s board. He’s made lifelong friends while picking up loops at Rolling Green—most of his wedding party was comprised of people he met there. And he’s forever grateful to Chris Hoyle, the caddymaster at the club who helped him through the Platt application process. “I’ve been out of college for two years, and I’ve been able to enjoy a little bit of success in the business world,” Ryan says. “That’s in part due to the people I caddied for at Rolling Green and the scholarship.”
Founded in 1897, GAP is the oldest state or regional golf association in the nation—only the United States Golf Association is older. Unlike the Philadelphia PGA section, whose members are club pros, GAP draws its participants from the ranks of those who play the game. It sponsors amateur tournaments—about 150 a year, starting at the beginner’s level—and provides educational opportunities for member clubs. The GAP team matches bring together 360-plus clubs in a round-robin event each April and May.
The Platt Scholarship was named for J. Wood Platt, who won six Philadelphia Amateur Championships and was so talented that the trophy given to that tournament’s winner is named for him. “He’s maybe the greatest amateur golfer in Philadelphia history,” says Mark Peterson, GAP’s executive director.
In 1955, Platt won the inaugural USGA Senior Amateur Championship, and his advocacy for caddies earned him a spot in the Caddie Hall of Fame. Funds are raised in a variety of ways, including a program in which GAP members donate up to a certain level, which earns them a tag for their golf bags. “It’s a way for the donors to show they’ve participated and a chance for the scholars to thank them,” Pederson says.
In addition to the money, the Platt Scholarship also offers a resource base of contacts to help students navigate the world during and after college. “It’s not just the financial component,” says Peterson. “This is a network, and it’s up to them to utilize it. It has a lot of advantages.”
The scholarship’s application process isn’t demanding, but it is designed to favor those who are serious about their studies—and caddying. Those interested must be regular caddies who complete at least 30–40 loops a year. They must fill out an application form that includes information about high school GPA and standardized test scores. There are also a few short essays about their hopes for the future and what caddying means to them, and candidates provide financial aid information. The final component is an interview with board representatives who are members of the clubs where they caddy. Over the years, the school most represented by Platt scholars is Penn State University, but there aren’t any restrictions on the institutions a student can attend.
“In addition to the money, the Platt Scholarship also offers a resource base of contacts to help students navigate the world during and after college. “It’s not just the financial component,” says Peterson. “This is a network, and it’s up to them to utilize it. It has a lot of advantages.”
The average award is $8,275 per year, and the maximum annual grant is $10,000. Students must reapply each year and continue to demonstrate need. They must also keep caddying during the spring and summer months, unless they get an internship out of town. During the 2020 fall semester, Michael Reilly was able to get out four or five days a week, thanks to the flexibility of online classes. Reilly’s father— also Michael—is GM at Philadelphia Country Club, so it was almost preordained that his son would be picking up loops somewhere. “I started caddying [in 2012] because my parents said it was time for me to get a job,” says Reilly, now a junior at Villanova University. “My dad suggested caddying, because he said it was a great job and he knew I’d enjoy it. Once I realized I had to put my head down and work and grind at it, I started to love it.”
Reilly is studying economics at Villanova, with an eye on a career in finance. “Obviously, college isn’t cheap,” he says. “Going to Villanova was always a goal, but I always had to think about the financial situation. I’ve taken away a lot from caddying, besides developing a good work ethic. My social skills have grown, and I’ve had a chance to interact with a lot of people.”