Sad to say, but most golfers today will go through their lives (i.e. “playing careers”) without knowing the joys of caddying. Forget about them ever working as a caddie. In all likelihood, they’ll never even hire someone to carry their bag for a round. That’s a great loss for the game.
I grew up caddying and loved it. The weekend of the Woodstock music festival in 1969, I was toting two bags 36 holes per day at Woodmere (N.Y.) Golf Club on Long Island – or $6 per bag per round. Working for wealthy people taught me valuable life lessons, namely that rich people could be total fools, too, and that I never needed to be awed or insecure in the company of allegedly
successful folks. Here, after all, were guys cutting multimillion dollar real estate deals who could never figure out how to check the nine-hole or
18-hole box on my caddie chit. Some of them were gentlemen; some were complete jerks. There was no correlation between playing level, professional standing and how they treated me.
At the risk of sounding like a walking cliché, caddying taught me some things that ought to be more in fashion in American business these days – the value of getting up early, working hard and treating people with respect.
It’s tough enough finding adults who take those things seriously today. Getting youths who are willing to work accordingly is even more difficult. Just ask a superintendent who tries to recruit reliable summer help and get them to show up (sober) at 6 a.m. on weekends. Young people these days are scarcely willing to lift a finger for $10 per hour – or any price, for that matter.
The real thrill for me was being close to the golf course. I loved the play of light on the grounds, the way shadows came to life and how the place awoke each morning. And I loved the flight of the golf ball as it butterflied back down to earth. Best of all, I could make pretty good money. Imagine being paid to hang around the game.
I also learned the value of time, which is why I’m a pretty fast player today. I’m convinced that the problem of slow play is largely because of golfers who are used to golf carts and never learned such basic caddie skills as the value of time or how to position yourself in the middle of play to take the shortest path to the next shot – no simple maneuver when you’re handling two players simultaneously. Those of us who grew up through the caddie ranks also learned another thing that is sorely lacking among players today – how to walk onto the green and tend the pin without stomping all over a foursome’s lines. No wonder so many cart-riding golfers are in the wrong spots and out of position to play.
There’s an instructional point here for players, too. Relying on a caddie’s trained eyes can help you play better. It certainly helps you focus your attention more expertly on the golf course. The trick today is having a caddie who knows about the game and who knows when to speak up – and when not to.
It’s sometimes said that the three basic rules of looping are to “show up, keep up and shut up.” Well, not exactly. The ideal caddie also has to know a lot about the course and be willing to share that information. And there are dozens of little things a caddie can do to help his or her players. Interestingly, the skills that make for a good caddie also make for a better golfer. A golfer who emerged from the caddie yards knows these things instinctively. Players who never learned these skills as a caddie would do well to learn them as part of everyday course management.