2004: Enjoyable stroll with caddies

Caddying isn’t what it used to be, not at Augusta National Golf Club, nor anywhere else in American golf. The game has suffered as a result. So has The Masters.

Through 1982, professional golfers left their regular PGA Tour caddies at the front gate of Magnolia Lane and relied upon local caddies for tournament week. But that year, the Tour players protested (mildly, of course) after many of the club’s assigned loopers showed up late – or didn’t show up at all – for the restart of a rain-delayed first round. The next year marked the first time the big names could bring their own caddies.

Tom Watson explained it best to then-Augusta National chairman Hord W. Hardin, a retired lawyer.

“Suppose you had to go into your biggest trial and you were told you couldn’t use your own legal secretary. That’s what it’s like for us at Augusta,” Watson said.

Having allowed Tour caddies in, Augusta National went one amazing step further in 1996 when it gave up control of its caddie program and put it in the hands of a private company, Caddie Master Enterprises. That severed a long-standing tie between the club and the local black community.

As Ward Clayton explains in this poignant narrative, local caddies were good enough for nearly five generations of Masters competitors. They all were black, usually hailing from the nearby Sand Hill section of town, and thoroughly embedded in the racist culture of the American South. And yet out on the course they were in their vocational element and, for a few precious hours, treated like capable human beings by white men. Willie “Cemetery” Perteet, for example, was the drummer and leader of a local jazz band – and also Dwight Eisenhower’s regular caddie in the 1950s. One night Perteet was late for a gig. “I apologize to you folks,” he announced, “but ladies and gentlemen, I have been unavoidably detained by the President of the United States.”

Not all were great caddies, nor for that matter, great characters. Few went on to distinguished lives once off the course. Clayton’s strength is that he doesn’t romanticize. Jariah Beard (Fuzzy Zoeller, 1979) and Carl Jackson (Ben Crenshaw, 1984, 1995), were gentlemen and students of the game who did reasonably well for themselves and their families. By contrast, Willie Peterson (Jack Nicklaus, 1963, 1965-66, 1972, 1975) was basically a cheerleading bag toter who lived (and died) a very tough hustler’s life outside Augusta National.

Clayton has a wonderful story to tell. It’s too bad he is a disorganized writer. Material is repeated throughout the book. Sentences go on way too long. He misplaces subordinate clauses. But he does have a strong feel for the caddies and their work, and ultimately this is what sustains the text.

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