Life of a European Tour caddie: Jet lag, currency exchange and cleaning clubs
Caddying professionally on the European Tour is a very unique lifestyle.
Having started full-time back in 2006, I’ve been fortunate to travel to 39 countries worldwide for golf tournaments and 10 more during weeks off between some events. Clearly, a caddie on the European Tour worries about his passport running out of pages for the stamps, whereas a caddie on the PGA Tour worries about not forgetting his passport at home when he UBERs to the Airport before flying to Cancun for the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
In all fairness, the European Tour is a World Tour. Each season starts in December in the southern hemisphere (South Africa, Mauritius, Australia) where warm summers bake golf courses. Leopard Creek Golf Club in South Africa is a pure gem. For many players and many caddies, this course is their favorite all year. Laying on the border of the Kruger National Park, caddies tend to stay on the 13th green for at least 30 minutes when they walk the track on the Monday. The views on the Crocodile River and on a large part of the National Park guarantee a wild spectacle with hippos, crocodiles, buffalos, giraffes, zebras and also lions if you are lucky. Much better than a trip to your local zoo with the kids and… it’s free!
However, when temperatures reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit sometimes during tournament rounds, Leopard Creek becomes a caddie nightmare. And there’s no other golf course on Tour where caddies hope for their players to hit it straight, as Black Mambas love the softness of the rough as a comfy couch to lay on. With South Africa’s currency, the Rand, running at 14.6 for a US dollar, the value for food and wine there is simply unbelievable. You can get a really tasty T-Bone steak and a bottle of nice South African wine for $15 total. No wonder why South Africa is “caddie-heaven” for dinners after long days on the course.
Mauritius the following week is an amazing destination as well: a small multicultural island surrounded by breathtaking coral reefs in the turquoise clear warm Indian Ocean waters. This magical place is my favorite destination on tour all year, as my daily routine there during the tournament is to go shop for fresh passion fruits, pineapple and mangos in early mornings, head to the golf course for work and then go snorkeling until sunset. Needless to say, it’s much easier to forget about your boss’s bogeys in this paradisiac environment. The local currency, the Mauritian Rupee, runs at 37 for a US dollar. In evenings, a freshly-caught local fish grilled with vegetables, along with a local cocktail based from Mauritian Rum, will also cost around 15 bucks. And for the single caddies going there, Tinder kills your phone’s battery as many Eastern European supermodels escape the freezing winters to work on their tan lines in Mauritius.
Always hard to leave this place…
The Australian PGA Championship takes place the week before Christmas. As a consequence, very few European players make the long trip Down Under. This tournament is more like an early Christmas party for all Aussie professionals. Beers, barbecues and hangovers on the menu…
January consists of the South African Open in Johannesburg, followed by the three events of the “Desert Swing”: Abu Dhabi, Dubaï and Saudi Arabia.
The SA Open first occurred in 1903, making the tournament the third-oldest Open Championship after The Open Championship and the U.S. Open. For many proud South African players, the event represents their fifth major. Gary Player won it only 13 times! And Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace all have their names engraved on the trophy. This tournament is unique in a sense that a field of 240 players compete over the first two days on two different courses. Shooting at least 4-under par is necessary to make the cut there. Otherwise, you pack your bags early.
Abu Dhabi is one of my favorite golf courses as it is a strong challenge. If you don’t drive it well and don’t hit your irons accurately there, the course will eat you up like PGA Tour caddies eat In-N-Out Burgers during the West Coast Swing! The tournament always attracts a strong field. For instance, current world No. 1 Brooks Koepka chose to start his 2020 campaign in Abu Dhabi after a long time-off due to injury. The second shots on both the ninth hole and 18th hole with the clubhouse shaped as a falcon are both really cool. But unlike South Africa and Mauritius, Abu Dhabi is pretty expensive, meaning you’d better make the cut to afford taking Tinder dates to nice restaurants there. Extra pressure to caddie well…
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic is the most iconic tournament of the “Desert Swing.” The famous views from the eighth tee make you wonder if photos of this site are real or fake. First played in 1989, some legends of the game such as Seve Ballesteros, Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have all won there. And some of them more than once. The course is always in great condition and fun to play.
“Pink Saturday” is a great tradition there as all players, caddies and volunteers were something pink for breast cancer awareness. And the parties with live music on the Friday and Saturday evenings at the clubhouse terrace with the local expat community of Dubaï always bring stories which can’t be written.
Finally, I am writing you this first column from the third and final event of our “Desert Swing” on the European Tour: The Saudi International in Saudi Arabia. It’s my first time here in this country. The golf course, Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, is immaculate. And the field is very strong. Dustin Johnson won the first edition last year and is here to defend his title. Brooks Koepka is here as well and so is Phil Mickelson, who shot a 6-under-par 29 back nine in his first round.
It must have been frustrating for him to do his famous thumbs up and bright smiles to… almost nobody as roughly 100 people must have attended the event on Thursday. And on top of this: Saudi Arabia has a complete ban on alcohol. It is illegal to produce it, import it or consume it. In other words: not very “caddie friendly.”
The beers Sunday night in Dubaï Airport during my connection watching the Super Bowl will feel as good as eagles on the course.