CRYSTAL LAKE – When Will Grant starting caddying, there were more clubs on his back than years on his life.
Seven summers later, all those days toweling irons and walking off yardage are paying off.
The Crystal Lake South High School graduate is one year into his full-ride at Miami (Ohio) University.
Grant was the first recipient of the Fritz Franz/Crystal Lake Country Club Endowed Named Scholarship, an award under the umbrella of the Western Golf Association’s Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship.
About 200 Evans Scholars are chosen each year for full-ride scholarships, which include four years of room and board at the organization’s on-campus houses. Several have come from McHenry County.
“It opened a tremendous door for me,” Grant said. “Miami was my dream school, but it was just way too expensive for me to afford by myself.”
Evans Scholars qualify for the award in each of four ways: they have a strong caddie record of at least two years, at least a B average in school, demonstrated financial need, and outstanding character, according to the Western Golf Association’s website.
At Crystal Lake Country Club, the caddying program now encompasses about 90 kids, growth coming at least in part because of interest in the scholarship, said Casey Brozek, the club’s head PGA professional.
In 14 years engaged with the Evans Scholarship program, the club has produced 14 Evans Scholars – although they haven’t been evenly distributed by year. This fall, Crystal Lake South graduate Grant Gassensmith and Marian Central High School graduate Connor Dobbins are headed to Purdue University and Marquette University, respectively, on the four-year scholarships. Both have older brothers who also earned the full-rides.
“There are some kids who really want to make money for a few summers until they turn 16 and can get another job,” said Gassensmith, 18. “And then there’s kids like me ... who, that was the only reason I was out here. Because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pay for school at Purdue otherwise.”
Gassensmith said he’s caddying three or four times a week this summer but pumped that up to five or six times a week a year ago to boost his chances for the scholarship.
And, while Gassensmith played golf for his high school team and Grant plays recreationally, not all Evans Scholars are particularly interested in playing the sport. Dobbins said that while he enjoys caddying, he’s never been interested in playing.
But he knows the course as well as the other two – all three started at age 12.
“I walk around and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I need a change of scenery!’ ” Grant said, laughing. “You know?”
Most of what the 19-year-old says comes out accompanied by a good-humored grin, a trait not lost on Karen Franz, the widow of Fritz Franz.
Karen Franz co-chairs the committee that puts on the annual Fritz Franz Memorial Golf Day – an event that benefits the Evans Scholarship Foundation, among other things, and that now contributes to the Fritz Franz scholarship fund.
Since Grant won the scholarship a year ago, he’s gotten to know Karen Franz. He caddies for her Tuesday nights, the club’s ladies night.
“When I got the scholarship, it was a complete honor,” Grant said. “[Fritz Franz is] one of the most recognizable, legendary people at this country club.”
Franz won the club championship 18 times, so many that its trophy now bares his name. And Franz – who went to Tulane University on a football scholarship and then, after an injury, was granted the school’s first golf scholarship – never stopped winning. He won the B flight of the club championship in 2007, the year he died, his wife said. The two won the husband-wife tournament that year, too.
Now his legend lives on the way it started. Franz learned the game by caddying, starting at age 8, Karen Franz said.
“This would have meant the world to him to know that his legacy was carried on with this scholarship,” she said.