Caddies
While things have gotten better for PGA Tour caddies, John Hawkins writes, things still aren’t how they should be. Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

It was at the old tournament just outside Denver where I first witnessed the general lack of respect shown to caddies by the PGA Tour. Like clockwork, the dark clouds would start gathering over Castle Pines every afternoon at around 3 p.m. The rain would come down hard 15 minutes later, causing a suspension of play that would usually last about an hour.

The players would head to the clubhouse and chill in one of the coolest locker rooms I’ve ever seen — the milkshakes at Castle Pines were nothing short of legendary. I was scampering from one dry spot to another during one delay and noticed maybe a dozen men huddled under a roof near a maintenance building. Others had taken cover in what looked like a cart barn.

“One of us could get struck by lightning out here and the tour would tell us we should’ve gotten off the course sooner,” a caddie told me later without a hint of amusement.

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Some of them make a lot of money, and yes, almost every one of them will tell you that carrying a bag for one of the world’s best golfers is a hundred times better than any office job. The relationship between the tour and its caddies, however, has long been strained, and Camp Ponte Vedra’s unwillingness to recognize their importance is at best inexplicable, at worst shameful.

Things have gotten a bit better over the years. Some tournaments offer “caddie hangs,” where the men can grab a bite, enjoy a beverage and shoot the bull. Leading this change has been the PGA of America, which oversees the Ryder Cup and has made the caddies feel like a big part of the program in the recent battles against Europe.

It almost goes without saying that a caddie can play a huge role in both individual and team success, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth repeating. Part of the blame for the tour’s reluctance to treat the caddies like real employees must fall on the players themselves. If a group of the game’s biggest stars demanded improved conditions and a higher level of accommodation for the men by their side, the tour would have no choice but to respond.

Perhaps that has happened in some form, but the evidence is scant. The tour’s primary responsibility as an organization is to take care of its own, and one could easily deduce that it does too good a job of pampering the players. If the people who run the operation took one-quarter of that overindulgence and distributed it among the caddie corps, it would be more than enough.

When the tour doesn’t feel any sense of obligation, it could be a pretty cold bunch.

Of significant note recently was a court ruling which upheld the dismissing of a lawsuit filed by the caddies against the tour in 2015. The conflict regarded the mandatory requirement that caddies wear bibs during tournament play, which the plaintiff says largely prevents them from procuring sponsorship deals.

Two related issues include healthcare benefits and a retirement plan. Talks between the two sides are said to be ongoing, but at this point, it’s fair to think that three years of unproductive discussions and the failed legal action have strengthened the bond between the big office and the men in bibs.

“Our relationship with [commissioner] Jay Monahan and the tour has never been better,” APTC president Scott Sajitnac told the Golf Channel. “We look forward to moving forward with that relationship.”

Optimism is rarely a bad play, but a few inches of progress doesn’t mean much on a five-mile hike.

The tour can always lean on the premise that caddies are independent contractors, not employees, and therefore aren’t entitled to standard, work-related benefits. Those who don’t think of caddying as a legitimate profession, however, are living in the dark. The job requires preparation, skill, acute perception and grace under pressure, and if you can golf your own ball a little bit, it doesn’t hurt.

Still, the tour has an obvious argument of convenience in its pocket — you come out here and make a lot of money, so don’t ask us for anything. At some point, be it in this century or next, you’d think somebody shuffling papers down in Camp Ponte Vedra would come to a warm-hearted conclusion

These guys deserve better. Maybe they are an integral part of this thriving, money-printing program, and we should let them know we care. It’s a novel concept, but a fine one, nonetheless.

All views expressed in this column are those of John Hawkins and do not necessarily reflect those of the Caddie Network.