Parent caddie
Caddying for your child can be the ultimate bonding experience.

Robert Frazier is caddying for a world-class player in the pinnacle event of the year. The temperature is near 100 degrees, but the sweat on his brow is as much from the heat of competition as it is the blazing Pinehurst sun.

Playing in one of the final groups, it’s been a day of excitement, great shots and clutch putts. But there’s still no guarantee they’ll make it to the podium. He studies the yardage, gauges the slight breeze, considers the elevated pin and then pulls a sand wedge from the bag. If his player can knock this one close, there’s almost certainly a trophy waiting for them. He’s done all he can. Now he has to wait for his player… to stop doing cartwheels.

Wait, what?

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Frazier is caddying for his daughter, Ava, at the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship. He is among 1,500+ parent-caddies taking part in the event. When 7-year old Ava has completed her final tumble, he hands her the club. She promptly sticks her shot to 4 feet of the pin. Robert offers a high-five (well, not that high) and a pat on the back. Now for a few more cartwheels as she heads towards the green. (Ava ultimately earns a top-5 finish at the championship.)

For all the hopes and expectations most caddies have for their player, whether it’s a day, or a week or a season – there’s nothing quite like knowing this is a partnership that is going to last a lifetime.

“We never planned on being good at golf,” Frazier says. “It was supposed to be a vehicle to spend time together, learn other life lessons and meet other players and families. That’s still the best part. The golf development happened quickly and unexpectedly. It brought with it a sense of obligation to continue to develop her talent. That’s the balancing act we now face, between development and keeping it fun.”

And therein lies the dilemma for what could be the toughest (and still most rewarding) caddie gig in golf: the Parent-Caddie. A job that requires all the tasks of the more celebrated Tour caddie (carry the bag, rake the bunker, read the green, etc.), but also adding on the responsibility of making sure the player eats right, gets homework done, gets proper rest, is dressed properly, is wearing sunblock, behaves well and doesn’t walk too close to the edge of the pond – just to name a few.

When you consider all the emotions and challenges of a tournament round, it’s a fair question to consider if having a parent serve as a caddie is a good idea. U.S. Kids Golf, which hosts more than 1,500 events annually around the world, was one of the first organizations to embrace having parents fill the crucial role of caddie in a competitive setting.

“Many people told us we were crazy at the thought,” recalls Dan Van Horn, the Founder and President of U.S. Kids Golf. “But who better to serve the critically important role of a caddie than the person who cares the most about the player? 99.9 percent of the time, it’s a blessing to watch. You can see the relationship between the parent and kid develop in new ways, a love and respect that can only come from working and accomplishing together.”

It’s important to note that the players in the events range in ability from beginner to prodigy, just as the caddies have different levels of golf aptitude and knowledge. All parents are encouraged to know the basic rules and etiquette, as well as complete online-training from the Positive Coaching Alliance. The partnership with the Positive Coaching Alliance has played a big part in helping parents better transverse what is for most, a new dynamic in their relationship.

As Van Horn notes, “In golf, the player has the final say. That’s a big leap for parents. But when it clicks, it opens up a whole new level of respect, trust and enjoyment. Sure, occasionally we have a parent who gets a little overzealous. But we have procedures and officials in place to handle those rare situations. More than anything else, no matter where I go, this is what parents talk to me about: their treasured memories of caddying for their kid.”

Parents from all walks of life now sign up to take part and almost universally praise the opportunity – and the challenge. Parents often feature diverse backgrounds in the caddie ranks – from stay-at-home moms to lawyers to doctors to entertainment and sports celebrities as well. Some know the rules of golf better than others, but all do their best to be encouraging and an asset – not a distraction. Even more, they all seem to understand that these are more than rounds of golf they are sharing.

“My favorite thing to do is spend a few hours with my daughter out on the course on her bag,” says former NFL quarterback Danny Kanell, who is often found looping for his daughter at U.S. Kids Golf events. “We have our ups and downs but mostly it’s a bonding experience that I can’t get anywhere else. I get to teach her about the game of golf and encourage her in her game, but also how the lessons we learn on the course can also be applied to life.”

Danny Kanell
Former NFL quarterback Danny Kanell can often be found on a golf course caddying for his daughter these days.

This is the common theme when parents are asked to recount why they step inside the ropes with their player. A sampling from around the country includes:

“Competing in U.S. Kids Golf events with my kid Alli has provided countless life-changing opportunities, new friendships, precious family moments and cherished memories for my entire family. Alli has grown as a golfer, daughter, friend and overall person through her accomplishments and failures in our tournaments. More importantly, as her caddie, I have had the privilege of instilling the lessons of hard work, determination, patience and discipline on what truly is a shared journey down the fairway with my little girl.” – Jason Wiertel, Parent-Caddie, Chicago

“I’ve been on Aiden’s bag for almost four years now. It’s hard to believe I’ve caddied for that long since he is still only 9 years old, but I can still remember that first practice round before his first U.S. Kids tournament and how I stayed up that night making sure his clubs were clean and his balls were marked. While some rounds have been better than others, I wouldn’t trade the experience of caddying for my son for anything in the world.” – Mpu Dinani, Parent-Caddie, Los Angeles

“It’s special to be a helpful voice in our daughter Madison’s ear while in competition. When faced with a challenge, the moment for her to learn is instant as we talk about the situation, rather than waiting until the end of the round or tournament. ” – Matt Moman, Parent-Caddie, West Palm Beach

As parents, they all have dreams for their kids. Some may even refer to them as goals. But most are also doing their best to live and enjoy each moment. It’s understood that their role as caddie has an expiration date and they fret that each round gets them closer to it.

“I may not get paid like some of the caddies out on Tour,” says Wiertel, “but I wouldn’t trade the smile and hug from my daughter for all the money in the world.”

Parents are encouraged to become caddies and take part in their kids’ golf tournaments by signing up for U.S. Kids Golf Local Tour near them at https://www.uskidsgolf.com/tournaments/local-tours.