2006: Caddie offers H.O.P.E. to PGA Tour players

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Orlando, Fla.

There’s a Bible verse on the back of Steve Hulka’s trailer that says, “All the weights of the bag are His concern.”

The PGA Tour’s baggage is Hulka’s main concern. He’s the founder of H.O.P.E. – Hulka’s Overland Players Express.

When he’s not toting Frank Lickliter’s bag, Hulka is transporting Tour players’ luggage from one event to another. He carries about 30 pros’ bags per week in the 16-by-17-foot trailer hooked to his 2003 Chevy Silverado Diesel.

He got the idea while traveling home shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Hulka breezed by businesspeople waiting in line to check their bags because he carried just a backpack. And he was aware that airlines had become stricter about the amount of luggage per passenger.

Hulka realized this would cause headaches for Tour pros. He turned that idea into a business, one that in three years put 171,000 miles on his pickup, but more importantly helped pay for three kids to attend the University of Arizona. Hulka’s service has become so popular that he’s looking for a bigger trailer.

“There had to come a way to start paying for my expenses on the road and not touch my caddie salary,” Hulka said.

He proudly says he’s never missed his predicted arrival time, even on last year’s 1,770-mile trip from The International in Denver to the PGA Championship in New Jersey.

His trailer has hooks on one wall to hang Ben Crane’s fishing poles, and he usually carries about six plastic toy bins per week. “Twenty-two wives on Tour are pregnant,” pro Charles Warren told Hulka, “and they’re all going to be looking for you.”

Hulka posts a green (the color of The Incredible Hulk, his nickname) signup sheet in the scorers’ area and locker room. He has 22 charter members – players who sign on for a full year of service – and he also offers weekly service. Sean O’Hair, Brian Davis, Rich Beem and Carl Pettersson are among his best customers.

He’s carried for as many as 38 players in a week. Twenty players used his service just for the 20-mile trip between Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas, for the Byron Nelson and Colonial.

The business is a family affair, with his wife and three kids all logging time behind the wheel. His son, Ben, who will help him this summer, earned a scholarship to serve as the Wildcat football team’s equipment manager in part because of his work hauling for H.O.P.E.

“His experience will help him when he’s washing jocks and loading shoulder pads,” Hulka said, laughing.

The Hulka Express usually drives nonstop through Sunday night so it can arrive early Monday morning at its next destination. Hulka and his traveling companions take turns driving and sleeping in the back of the extended cab.

His truck shows the effects of the miles. The hood and grill have a couple dents. Hulka hit a deer on one trip, and the truck looked like it had been splattered with red paint, said Hulka, who spent $8 in quarters at a car wash to clean his rig.

The closest he ever came to being late was on a 1,700-mile haul from Toronto to San Antonio two years ago. He encountered car problems in Memphis, where he was picking up another caddie. Driving 40 mph in the slow lane, Hulka got his truck to the dealer and picked up a rental car an hour before closing time. An hour later and Hulka would have had to stay in Memphis instead of driving through the night.

But there’s no stopping H.O.P.E.

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