Dream on the Green

"Golf is not very popular in Romania," says Tudor Bertea, a fourth-year student in the University of Oregon's five-year bachelor of architecture program. With his closely cut hair, neatly tucked polo shirt, and crisp khaki pants, he looks as though he could have stepped out of a J. Crew catalog—or a golf course clubhouse.

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Bertea was just 11 years old when his parents chose Portland, Oregon, as the place to make a better life for their only child. Leaving behind everything they knew, the small family set out in pursuit of the classic American dream—which included signing their son up for golf lessons. Like many things in their new homeland, golf seemed unfamiliar and a bit mysterious, but the young Bertea desperately wanted a way to connect with his sports-playing American friends. That first swing of a golf club set into motion a series of events that would change his life forever. "That experience was huge," he says.

Bertea took to the game and continued with lessons, and when he was 15, his golf-swing coach suggested that he become a caddie. The teenager would wake up at 6:00 a.m. to carry clubs, earning $40 for 18 holes. Working two shifts a day at the Portland Golf Club, he quickly rose up in the caddie ranks. The money was good, but that's not all that kept him coming back. "I loved the whole aura of golf," he says. "I liked being on the green, just as the sun would come up, the solitude. It was so nice. And the discipline. It definitely instilled a set of principles. It was up to you to make your own path."

Until he became a caddie, Bertea wasn't sure higher education was in his future. "College works differently in Romania," he says. In that country, he explains, college is funded by the state and is essentially a continuation of high school. His father, a civil engineer, encouraged his son to pursue a challenging career, but the idea of saving for college, applying for financial aid, or choosing a program was foreign to his family. "I had to seek out college and explain it to my parents. Everything was brand new to everybody. The idea of paying for college was never discussed." The money Bertea earned caddying, and the exposure to successful adults on the golf course, enabled him to think about college as a real, viable option. "You are surrounded by success," he says. "I loved hearing the members' stories and it drove me even more to be successful, to want to go to college."

That same swing coach who introduced him to caddying also encouraged Bertea to apply for a special college financial aid program, the Evans Scholarship. Established by famed amateur golfer Charles "Chick" Evans Jr. in 1930, the Evans Scholars Foundation provides scholarships to high school students who have caddied for at least two years—regardless of whether or not they intend to remain involved with golf in college. The scholarship awards are based on a combination of financial need, academic merit, and demonstration of character.

Bertea applied for the scholarship and tried to forget about it, figuring he had a slim chance among the many student caddies across the country competing for aid. Then one day during his senior year, he was called into the clubhouse at the Portland Golf Club, where he still caddied. The room was full of the people he'd carried golf bags for, along with his swing coach—all beaming. They told him he'd earned the Evans Scholarship—full tuition, room, and board for four years at the University of Oregon, valued at $70,000. "I was ecstatic," he says. His American dream of going to college would come true.

Bertea is one of just 12 Evans Scholars currently attending the UO. But in February, the Western Golf Association (WGA), which sponsors the Evans Scholars Foundation, announced its selection of the University of Oregon as the site for a major expansion of the scholarship program. The WGA is opening a scholarship house on campus, where as many as 50 Evans Scholars will live together as they pursue their degrees. Bertea is excited for the additional opportunities the incoming scholars will have as they support and connect with each other.

Freshman Hannah Rice of Portland, an Evans Scholar studying theater arts, is happy that more people like her will get the opportunity to go to college, and is looking forward to meeting other UO Evans Scholars. "With this new house coming in, we'll get to know each other, and that will be great. It will create a stronger network for Evans Scholars after college," she said.

As Bertea's experience as an Evans Scholar comes to a close this spring, it strikes him that his journey to college is not unlike his family's journey to America. "My parents went out on a limb to come here, to take a chance, to set my future," he says. He also took some chances—learning to play golf, working long hours as a caddie, and competing for the Evans Scholarship—on the way to finding his own path to success. "It took a certain discipline. I had to work for everything on my own. The entire experience was fantastic."

Bertea recently became a United States citizen. He will spend the summer interning with the award-winning architect Andre Kikoski in New York and then return to the UO for one more year to finish his architecture degree. He's excited for his future—a future that he hopes includes time to play golf, and perhaps to share his story with some young, eager, polo-shirt-wearing caddie with his or her own dreams of success.

By Jennifer Winters