We had been told to look out for each other. A mutual friend in Washington, D.C. thought we’d have a lot in common—we both loved golf, politics, and technology. So when we met on the bus en route to the Lighthouse Point clam bake, we already had a lot to catch up on. Nate, who had worked at Apple before SOM, showed Caitlin a new iPhone feature designed to surprise and delight—and just like that, an SOM friendship was born.
We started getting to know each other better over rounds of golf at the Course at Yale during Orientation. On the eve of classes starting, Caitlin announced on the first tee, “School starts tomorrow. I hope this isn’t the last time we play.”
“Are you kidding?” Nate laughed. “We’ll probably be out here every evening!”
Indeed, we found joy with each escape to the Course for a quick loop around the front nine. Each week brought encounters with new classmates and countless stories to debrief and reflections to share on all we were learning (or still confused by, as was the case with accounting).
We found another thing in common, too. We were both motivated by being a part of something bigger than ourselves and building relationships through working with others. This shared proclivity led to opportunity when Caitlin discovered SOM’s new dean, Ted Snyder, also had the golf bug. She invited him to join us at the Course. Somewhere between the 10th tee and the 12th green, an idea was born to add to the “raw case” archives, since no case before had examined the golf industry.
That October, we started a collaborative project that cemented our friendship: researching, filming, and writing a raw business case focused on The First Tee, a national nonprofit at the intersection of golf and education. The organization was born out of a desire to diversify the game, but now found itself chasing donors in pursuit of an ambitious $100 million fundraising campaign goal, with questions lurking around its efficacy, mission, and purpose. Leave it to SOM students to put a nonprofit under the microscope!
Over the course of that fall and winter, we built a team of student volunteers and together, we analyzed The First Tee’s financial statements, interviewed past and present participants, coaches, board members, donors, and even the CEO himself, at his Florida headquarters. We traced the evolution of the organization through strategic plans and pivots. We tried to reconcile what we were learning with our own volunteer experiences with The First Tee in communities of color in the early 2000s. The headquarters felt different. But did that mean there wasn’t still wonderful community work taking place in individual, local chapters? The organization now preached “core values”and “youth development,” instead of increased access for children in underserved communities. Was this the result of more clarity of purpose, or an admission that its original cause had proved too difficult?
Dean Snyder, Professor Will Goetzmann, and Professor Sharon Oster provided expert perspective and guided our examination. We were also fortunate to partner with the exceptional case writing team at Yale SOM. We scoured YouTube for evidence of advertisements from the late 1990s, when the organization was founded. We interrogated annual reports. We edited original video interviews we’d filmed into a set of themes for future SOM students and Global Network members to unpack in years to come.
Along the way, we appreciated each other’s differences: Caitlin loved leading interviews to encourage insiders to reveal more than they intended, while Nate flexed his storytelling and design skills to structure a compelling case. We worked as a team throughout that year and shared as many laughs as revisions. After it all, we never read another case as students without thinking of all that went into building ours.
Since graduating from SOM in 2013, we have remained in each other's lives as friends, golf buddies, and confidantes, through job changes and career inflection points, cross-country moves, loss in our families, and joy at our weddings. At SOM, we learned how to look critically at issues, examining events from multiple viewpoints. We learned how to keep an open mind, knowing the “case” doesn’t have to be closed. We improved as team builders and partners and our lives beyond the Elm City are forever better for it.