Thanksgiving is a good time for caddies. In most cases, whether a looper totes a bag on a professional tour or works at a club or resort, the bulk of the season is in the books for the year. Golf is being played in Florida or Palm Springs, but the winter season hasn’t reached its peak. Other than a handful of offseason events with small fields, the major pro tours have handed out their end-of-season awards or taken a break until the new year rolls around.
The annual holiday presents a time to reflect on the year that was, make plans for the future, catch up with friends and family who have not been seen in a while and recharge for the loops that lie ahead. Club caddies might use the time to travel from a summer gig to their winter home, stopping to see familiar faces along the way.
Caddying can be a thankless job. It’s tough out there when your pro is missing cuts or you have to spend four hours in the woods. But there are worse ways to make a living. Walking fairways and reading greens, making lifetime friendships and sharing laughs while playing a pivotal role in a great game is the ideal job for a certain type of man or woman, those who can laugh and live in the moment, knowing you’re only as good as the next piece of advice.
Anyone fortunate enough to carry a bag inside the ropes cherishes the experience at some point, whatever the duration or result. Club caddies spend more time with members and their guests than any other staff member on the property, build some of the best relationships and often have the most insight on the events and drama unfolding there. Caddies who work at a resort may see certain visitors only once a year, if that often, yet conversations pick up right where they left off as bags are hoisted onto shoulders and carried off the tee box.
On the surface, caddying on the Tour, at a private club or at a resort requires the same basic skill set. But dig deeper and each job is distinct in nature. I’ve heard club caddies say they’d never leave for the travel and potential riches of the Tour just as many who have traveled the world walking beside the best players in the game would go stir crazy if forced to work for amateurs and walk the same layout every day. While a club caddie may develop regular loops he looks forward to seeing, those who work at a resort love that three or four days is the most they’ll ever have to spend with one player or group.
For the sake of this discussion, we’ll lump them all in together. Having had the pleasure of lugging Tour staff bags, living on the road, working at a club and seeing the game through another player’s eyes, I’ve been yelled at and complimented, helped players succeed and watched helplessly as they failed. My bib is in the closet for now but who knows if or when it may come out again. Like the legendary Bullet Bob told me once, it’s hard to leave once you get that grass under your feet. That’s a sentiment any caddie can understand and one of many reasons to be thankful.
The Sunday Money Run – A back-nine 31 in the final round of a Tour event to climb the leaderboad. Those birdies can’t be taken away. Not that anybody caddies for the money, of course.
Tournament golf – Any level, doesn’t matter. Always better. On the PGA Tour, Thursday and Friday trump Tuesday. At the club, a member-guest beats a Monday morning foursome. Everybody is attuned to the action. The reads on the green are tighter. The decisions on the tee are given more thought. There may be a shot of adrenaline, on occasion.
An unexpected tip – It’s been a long, hard trek around the course and the conversation has been light. Good caddies can read a new player in three or four holes and give them what they want for the rest of the round. But sometimes it can be hard to decipher how the information is received. I’ve never met a caddie, however, who wouldn’t trade the sound of silence for a crisp hundred dollar bill.
Golf carts (in certain situations) – You’re on your second loop of the day, the temperature is 90-something degrees and there’s a blister forming on your heel and you just got assigned Sammy Slice and Harry Hook for a double bagger. Then they walk out of the clubhouse with a sack of cold beverages and a cart key, tell you they want you to forecaddie but will pay the walking rate anyway. All of a sudden, your foot, back and mind are healed.
A clean towel and a spare rangefinder battery – Neither should be taken for granted.
Rangefinders and yardage books – My word, technology has saved the club caddie some steps. No more hunting sprinkler heads or making up mysteries. And the yardage books on Tour have a ridiculous level of detail and incredibly precise information. They instill confidence in players and caddies, alike. It wasn’t that long ago, 25 years, that some Tour courses had 150-yard plates and unmarked heads, which led to some creative yardage figuring.
Places like Bandon Dunes, Streamsong and Pinehurst – Clubs and resorts that value their caddie program and take care of them the best they can. There are too many to mention and that’s a good thing. Eagle Point in Wilmington, N.C. is a place where the members “get it,” and are proud to have the men in the yard who show up and sweat to the core each July. Erin Hills posted a sick photo of its caddie headquarters on social media recently. Even if only spartan quarters are offered, it’s great to live in a time when caddie programs are on the upswing.
A good loop – Listen, we joke around here often and are unafraid to give it to the professional golfers of the world. They can afford it. We’ve taken a swing or two at the Pro-Am hacker or club guest who shoots 122 and insists on putting everything out – after he questions ever read. Those people and situations do exist, unfortunately. And while they may deserve a good portion of grief, there’s nothing better than a good loop. Caddies understand this. They come in many shapes and sizes. Still, it’s a treat to be out on the course in a true partnership with a pro or amateur who respects his or her caddie and the job they do, trying to help shave a stroke or two off the score. There are golfers everywhere, playing for pay or fun, who appreciate having a good man or woman by their side. This generation of Tour players has raised the bar for caddie treatment.
Tour caddie hospitality – Once, this did not exist. Caddies ate cold sandwiches under hot tents and hung out underneath trees. The current PGA Tour commissioner sees caddies in a brighter light and tournaments are treating the boys right, like the professionals they are.
The Moments – They can happen anywhere when the turf is fine and the temperature is right. I’ve felt them at Pebble Beach, standing on the back of the 10th green, waves gently lapping on the shore below. Or when a good tee box conversation leads to putting the 6-iron in the bag, pulling out the 7-iron and the player rifles a shot within birdie range. It can be a head nod after you nudge a player’s read from the right edge to one ball out or a bunker tip that gives a shaky player the confidence necessary to escape the sand. Maybe it’s a story that would go untold most anywhere else but fits perfectly on a clogged course as the players in front putt out on the green. Some days the sweetest sight is the 18th green.
Those are some reasons a caddie should be thankful that come to mind this year as the holiday season kicks into gear. Without question there are many more. So, enjoy time on the couch or around the table this Thursday, loopers. And by all means eat until you’re full.
They’re out of sandwiches at the halfway house, again.