Three Golfers, Evans Scholars the Big Winners--
3 land spots in BMW Championship pro-am; $51,700 raised for Scholars
As one of three lucky winners of $12,000 pro-am spots in the BMW Championship, Pete Knutson was beside himself with joy at the prospect of playing alongside a PGA Tour professional Sept. 3 at Cherry Hills Country Club.
"I'm giddy, just absolutely giddy," he said. "My mom said I'd never amount to anything by golfing all the time. Look at me now, mom."
On Saturday evening at CommonGround Golf Course, the pro-am contest winners were announced, as was the CGA's donation of $51,700 to the Evans Scholars Foundation to help provide scholarships to worthy caddies. CommonGround, which is owned and operated by the CGA and CWGA, is the site of the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy.
George Solich -- for whom, with brother Geoff, the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy is named -- personally purchased and donated the three spots in the Gardner Heidrick Pro-Am which immediately precedes the BMW Championship. The hope was that the pro-am contest that culminated on Saturday would further incentivize the use of caddies through the Solich Academy, support the Evans Scholarship, and raise awareness about the BMW Championship, which is set for Sept. 1-7 at Cherry Hills. Solich is the general chairman of the tournament and a former Evans Scholar at the University of Colorado. The Evans Scholarship is the sole beneficiary of the BMW Championship.
"We also wanted to see if we can give three guys a chance to play in a (PGA Tour) pro-am that maybe otherwise would have never had the chance," Solich said Saturday. "So this is really cool. These guys are going to love this pro-am. It's really considered the best pro-am on the PGA Tour because you're guaranteed to play with one of the top 70 players in the world and you play as a threesome (of amateurs) with a pro. It's awesome. (The pro-am contest) is exactly what I hoped for."
Landing the three BMW Championship pro-am spots through the contest were Mike Stolze, 37, of Greenwood Village; Pete Knutson, 38, of Denver; and Andy Harwood, 45, of Denver. Each will play Cherry Hills as part of 56 groups in the Gardner Heidrick Pro-Am, with each group featuring a PGA Tour professional and three amateurs. And given that only the top 70 Tour players in the FedExCup standings qualify for the BMW Championship, it will be pretty heady company for the participating amateurs. Among the professionals expected to be at Cherry Hills are reigning British Open and PGA Championship winner Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open champ Martin Kaymer, Masters winner Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott.
Harwood is a CU Evans Scholar alum who caddied at Cherry Hills in the 1980s, while Stolze and Knutson have never before played the prestigious course. (The three are pictured above, with George Solich. From left: Stolze, Harwood, Knutson and Solich.) All three of the contest winners are solid players, with handicaps between 3.8 (Harwood) and about a 6 (Knutson).
"The fact that I get to play in the pro-am is wildly fun, partly because I did all my caddying at Cherry Hills," said Harwood, who served as caddiemaster for the Solich Academy in its first year, 2012. "I have a unique knowledge of that golf course, having been around it 300-400 times."
Knutson earned his pro-am spot by utilizing Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy caddies more than anyone else in 2013 and '14 combined (48 times as of when the contest ended). Harwood won a lottery drawing limited to the players other than Knutson who used Solich Academy caddies for at least five 18-hole rounds in 2013 and '14. Stolze won a raffle in which each ticket ran $100, with all the proceeds going to the Evans Scholars.
Stolze bought "a handful" of raffle tickets, notably from Geoff (Duffy) Solich, with whom he works.
"He was soliciting contributions from those of us who play golf in the office," Stolze said. "It's a big deal for him (as an Evans Scholar alum), so I obviously wanted to support the cause. I didn't have any inclination I'd actually win something. But hey, what do you know?
"Geoff called me on Wednesday or Thursday and I thought he was just kidding me. He said, 'I think you won the prize.' Finally, one of the ladies from the Colorado Golf Association called (and notified him). I thought, 'Maybe he's not kidding.' It's fantastic. I'm super excited about it."
With 517 raffle tickets sold, $51,700 was raised for the Evans Scholars program, which has about 840 students currently on full-tuition and housing scholarships nationwide, including close to 50 at CU. A check for that amount was presented to Western Golf Association directors Solich, Kevin Laura and Rick Polmear on Saturday. (Pictured at left are CGA executive director Ed Mate, Solich, Laura and Polmear.) The WGA administers the Evans Scholarship and runs the BMW Championship.
"Tonight was the culmination of a two-year-long effort," noted Mate, himself also a CU Evans Scholar alum. "Like everything George does, he seems to have a Midas Touch. We raised $50,000-plus for the Evans Scholars and we generated a tremendous amount of interest in the caddie program here. It's just been a home run. Fantastic.
"The best thing we did is put the charge on the WGA directors from Colorado. Every WGA director was given 20 tickets and it was just, 'Go sell them.' You're not going to sell those through the internet; it takes a personal tough to get somebody to plunk down $100, even though a $12,000 prize is a big deal."
The Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy, now in its third year at CommonGround, provides incentives to take caddies by paying all of their base fees. Some of the best Solich Academy caddies go on to work at other caddie programs in Colorado, and some have been and will be candidates for the Evans Scholarship.
"Taking a caddie is the way to golf," Knutson said. "It's so pleasant. These kids are great. I've really enjoyed it.
"I love these kids (from the Solich Academy). At first I thought it was just somebody to carry my bag. But you come out here and they give you a high-five every time. They're excited about your golf. You hear about their life and what they want to do and their dreams. My caddie today wants to be a world-class pianist. My best friend's mom teaches at CU. I'm trying to hook them up together. If I can influence one or two kids, that's a bonus on top of getting to play a lot of golf."
Besides getting to playing alongside a PGA Tour player, each Gardner Heidrick Pro-Am participant receives four weekly badges for the BMW Championship, a commemorative picture plaque of his pro-am group, and two invitations to the Sept. 2 pro-am draw party and two to the Sept. 3 awards reception. As for which Tour players the pro-am contest winners will be paired with come Sept. 3, that will be decided at the private pairings party held Sept. 2. Some of the Tour players even show up for that event.
"It's essentially a raffle," explained Solich, who personally is going to be caddying for John Elway on Sept. 3. "You put all the numbers in the pot, No. 1 through 56, and when your number come up, you get to pick the pro (although the sponsor reserves some rights). It's like a draft. It's really fun."
Stolze, for one, is going to savor this whole BMW Championship pro-am experience.
"We're playing a nice course the day before the tournament opens and I'll enjoy watching somebody that's fantastic at their craft playing alongside me," he said.
Many of the pro-am competitors are likely to have some butterflies playing with PGA Tour professionals and in front of galleries. And Knutson may encounter an additional obstacle.
"I have a bunch of friends who are going to be out there and they said they're going to harass me," he said with a smile. "But I'm just beyond belief excited. As a kid it's a dream to play on the PGA Tour. I know I don't have the game, but this is as close as I'll ever get."
"Game of a Lifetime Statue" Unveiled: Besides lending his name and providing significant financial support for the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy, George Solich recently donated a statue (left) that was unveiled Saturday near the practice putting green at CommonGround.
The statue is titled "The Game of a Lifetime". A young boy, with his feet in adult golf shoes, is toting a golf bag, with an accompanying plaque reading: "Inspiring future generations to discover the passion, honor the tradition, and fully embrace this amazing game and all it has to offer."