It has been written many times in these pages that when it comes to charitable giving, golf as a game has few peers.
And in the realm of charitable giving within golf, few are as generous as Mike Keiser, the visionary former greeting card entrepreneur who created Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon out of whole cloth.
Keiser grew up as a caddie at East Aurora Country Club near Buffalo, New York. He would ride his bike two miles to the club, where he learned about golf and life. “I felt like that was my first education,” Keiser told the Western Golf Association.
Almost 70 years later, Keiser, along with his wife, Lindy, has become one of the most steadfast advocates of youth caddying.
Thirteen years ago, the Evans Scholar Foundation, the nonprofit beneficiary of the Western Golf Association, approached the Keisers with an idea: Would they consider a significant gift to the nation’s largest and most successful youth caddie college scholarship program? They agreed, provided that the WGA could find four other supporters to join them at the same level. Ten days later, the foundation had five such donors, and its first major gift campaign was up and running.
Inspired by the legendary Charles “Chick” Evans, the Evans Scholarship program has a record 1,130 caddie/students with real financial need enrolled at 24 schools across the country. Successful applicants receive a guaranteed four-year grant that includes tuition and housing to one of the program’s partner universities. The foundation is expanding across the country and hopes to serve 1,500 students by 2030, which will be the Evans Scholars’ 100th anniversary.
The foundation is expanding across the country and hopes to serve 1,500 students by 2030, which will be the Evans Scholars’ 100th anniversary.
The Keiser contribution came via a creative program called the Match Play Challenge. Keiser reasoned that the fundraising efforts to date treated every donor the same, but there were people who could and would contribute more if asked. Each year, Match Play partners make leadership gifts of $50,000 or greater that are pooled and used to match every gift of $2,500 or more. Now in its 13th year, the foundation has raised more than $185 million via this unique program, and Keiser has served as honorary co-chair every year since.
In 2017, when the foundation launched The Promise Campaign, its initial comprehensive fundraising effort, the Keisers were among the first to get onboard. When the campaign closed in 2022, it had raised $75 million more than the original goal of $300 million.
In 2018, after considerable thought, the Keisers approached the foundation with another idea. Mike had been concerned that there was a growing number of young men and women who checked all of the boxes for an Evans scholarship, but for whatever reason came up a gimme putt short. So, he inspired the foundation to establish a program for those caddies. What became the Keiser Family Caddie Scholarship now awards $5,000 annual stipends that can be renewed each year.
There are 105 caddies enrolled in the Keiser family program. Recipients can attend any accredited college or university, and they are encouraged to apply for a three-year Evans scholarship during their freshman year.
With the original gift from the Keisers and a couple of friends to support this effort beginning to run dry, the foundation came up with another creative idea. Over the past several weeks, it reached out to a small group of friends and admirers of the Keisers, asking them to consider a gift to replenish the fund.
The foundation was overwhelmed by the response.
More than 80 such friends agreed to contribute north of $7 million to the effort. This was announced on Friday night at the annual Green Coat Gala in Chicago, which included a tribute to Mike and Lindy Keiser.
As usual, Mike Keiser tried to deflect attention to the efforts of others when I spoke with him after the dinner.
"John [Kaczkowski, the WGA's president and CEO] and Bill [Kingore, the WGA's executive vice president] have raised a half a billion dollars for caddie scholarships over the past few years," Keiser said, "and they want to raise another half billion in the next eight years. I am just pleased to be able to help."
Though Keiser has been generous with his time and financial resources, his biggest contribution may be serving as a catalyst to the foundation.
“From the beginning, he has challenged us to think bigger,” said Kingore, who leads the fundraising efforts.
Their shared vision: Leave no deserving caddie behind.
This game, which does so much for our larger society, is very fortunate to have the Keiser family in it, for so many different reasons.
Top: Mike Keiser, shown at Bandon Dunes
PHOTOS COURTESY WESTERN GOLF ASSOCIATION