Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Caddie Scholarship Foundation
This story will appear in the winter issue of New Jersey Golf Magazine, scheduled to arrive in mailboxes in mid-December.
What began in 1947 with $8,000 to cover four $500 scholarships for four years has grown into one of the nation’s top Caddie Scholarship programs. Seventy-five years of generosity has helped countless lives and multiple generations to the tune of more than $17 million in financial assistance to over 3,100 New Jersey youth caddies. The founders, Dr. Stephen G. “Gerry” Lee and Nestor J. MacDonald, likely never anticipated the far-reaching impact of their gift to thousands of families: The NJSGA Caddie Scholarship Foundation (CSF).
Gerry Lee was the President of the NJSGA in 1946-47 when he first presented the idea of a caddie scholarship program to the NJSGA’s Executive Committee. The idea was based on the longtime success of the Western Golf Association’s Chick Evans Scholarship Fund and a feeling that the NJSGA should do something other than run tournaments. Lee’s plan was to create a similar fund that would award college scholarships to youngsters who caddied at NJSGA clubs. At the time, only a handful of state championships constituted the NJSGA’s offerings, and this new effort would provide an important service to the game.
Lee, who was first a member of Essex Fells Country Club and later Baltusrol Golf Club, felt strongly about what would become the bedrock of the foundation: He believed NJSGA Caddie Scholarships should be for a complete, four-year college education. This was different from the Evans Scholarships, which were available only for one year at a time. Lee easily convinced Stephen Berrien and Martin Issler—at the time the NJSGA Vice President and Treasurer, respectively—and from there, the proposal carried unanimously among the NJSGA board.
Nestor J. MacDonald, a war veteran and highly successful electronics executive who held memberships at Baltusrol Golf Club, Rock Spring Club, and Canoe Brook Country Club, co-founded the fund with Lee in 1947. MacDonald was referred to as a “powerful force” by his NJSGA peers, and worked diligently with Lee in implementing, growing, and continuing the program. Ultimately, the Lee-MacDonald tandem provided the necessary leadership for the fledgling foundation.
In 1947, when the four scholarships were promised, they were limited to those who would attend Rutgers University, at which matriculation was required until 1979. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association assisted with solicitating donations, but the early efforts were a struggle. World War II had just ended and many had difficulty attaining financial success. Yet, in 1947, the first two Caddie Scholarships were awarded to Irvington resident Charles McKay, of Maplewood Country Club, and Bloomfield resident Anthony Urbano, of Montclair Golf Club. Those funds were raised by NJSGA tournament officials passing around cigar boxes at tournaments; donors were recognized with a special Caddie Scholar tag. While early efforts to solicit donations were a challenge, momentum built and contributions increased. NJSGA member golfers and clubs embraced the concept – and the foundation was on its way.
Early Growth and Success
As the Caddie Scholarship Foundation gained its footing through the 1950s and 1960s, the number of caddie scholars increased. In the early 1960s, 24 caddies were attending Rutgers on NJSGA Caddie Scholarships. By 1980, that number had more than doubled, to over 50. An aggressive fundraising campaign proved wildly successful, which extended far beyond “passing the hat” at NJSGA tournaments.
First, individual NJSGA members were encouraged to make a $2 annual donation through their club and were recognized for doing so by having their name listed on the “Gold Pages” in the annual State Open Program Book. The program book also included ads from supportive local businesses and NJSGA club members. In addition, fundraising was bolstered by an annual Booster Tournament, which began in the 1950s. Its growth in the early 1960s was led by John C. Hickey, NJSGA president from 1964-1965, who was honored with having the event named for him in 1967.
Hickey, a savvy businessman and salesman, put tremendous energy into inviting successful and influential business leaders to participate in the event, and further support it through ad sales in the annual program book. The dramatic increase in fundraising and scholarships awarded was a direct result of his vision and hard work. In fact, he created the tradition of the “Gold Pages” which continued to appear in future iterations of the Open Program Book into the mid-1980s.
By the late 1970s, there was movement among forward-thinking NJSGA leaders to make changes. First, in 1978, the foundation announced that young women would now also be eligible to receive Caddie Scholarships. Next, in 1979, the biggest changes (to date) occurred. Stanley H. “Bud” Doggett, the immediate past president of the NJSGA and then Chairman of the foundation, announced that caddie scholarships would be awarded to attend any accredited college or university in the country, and not only Rutgers, as it had been for 30-plus years. The creation of the “Par Club” was also instituted, which provided greater recognition to those who donated at least $100. (That led to the subsequent creation of higher-level giving “clubs” during the 1980s and later, including Birdie, Eagle, Double Eagle and Nestor J. MacDonald Society levels).
Also in 1979, the concept of financial need became a factor in identifying those most deserving of scholarships. To aid in the selection process and in administering the foundation, Jay O. Petersen, then the Director of Financial Aid at Rutgers, was named Education Director of the CSF. In total, the NJSGA and foundation leadership believed these big changes would lay the groundwork for a much greater impact on young caddies, thus helping the Caddie Scholarship Foundation evolve closer to the form it exists in today.
An Unprecedented Impact
By 1985, more than $60,000 was being awarded each year to caddie scholars, of which the program supported just over 100 each year. Support was widespread: Individuals, corporations, PGA club professionals, and friends of the NJSGA embraced the opportunity to help young caddies.
In 1986, the foundation made history when the first female caddie was selected as a recipient. Laura D’Alessandro, a Toms River South High School graduate and caddie for State Open Champion Bob Issler at Woodlake Golf and Country Club, was selected. Ranked fifth academically in her class, D’Alessandro bested a field of 80 boys to win the 1986 Ocean County Championship and went on to Wake Forest University. After an exceptional amateur career (winning the NJSGA Women’s Amateur in 1984 and ’89), D'Alessandro turned professional.
Similar success stories abound in the ensuing years. By 1992, the CSF was contributing $170,000 to support 160 caddie scholars, three of whom had a unique story. The three were caddies at Spring Brook Country Club, brothers from the same family. It marked the first time in the near fifty-year history of the CSF that three brothers – the Whelpley boys from Chester, N.J. – had received grants. Andrew (University of Scranton), John (University of Notre Dame graduate) and James (Rutgers University graduate) were awarded scholarships.
Two years later, in 1994, the first two special scholarships were established – the William Y. Dear and Nestor J. MacDonald awards, named for two of the visionary leaders of the foundation. Today there are 25 scholarships, all named for influential NJSGA CSF leaders and leaders at NJSGA clubs who led the foundation’s fundraising and caddie scholar recruiting efforts at their own club.
By the CSF’s 50th year of giving in 1997, it was consistently offering 200+ scholarships each year representing over $2 million in tuition grants, placing it among the largest caddie scholarship foundations in the country. At the turn of the millennium in 2000, $2.5 million had been awarded to nearly 2,000 caddie scholars.
Since its inception, the tally of generosity has grown exponentially. New relationships, career development and networking programs, caddie training and other initiatives have been incorporated into the CSF in recent years. The impact is impressive and measurable. Over $17 million has been awarded to over 3,100 caddies since the beginning, and for the 2022-23 academic year alone, 152 caddie scholars received $673,000 in awards and represented 86 colleges. Donations to support this important work come from numerous benefactors, with gifts ranging from corporate matching grants to bequests, and the very important donations which often accompany tournament entry fees. Every donation – regardless of size – remains the basis on which the CSF functions.
New opportunities are also on the horizon for local youth caddies. The NJSGA CSF and the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars Foundation (ESF) established a partnership to better serve local youth caddies with opportunities and scholarships. NJSGA Evans Scholarship recipients, of which there are currently 17, are awarded full tuition and housing scholarships. The next step is to build a NJSGA Evans Scholarship House at Rutgers University. In some ways, the NJSGA-Evans relationship with Rutgers brings the foundation full circle – a true return to its roots.
Those interested in applying for a caddie scholarship or donating to the foundation are encouraged to visit NJSGA.org/caddie-scholarship, or click here. All contributions are tax deductible and will help maintain one of New Jersey golf’s greatest traditions for generations to come.