Where have all the club caddies gone?
By Duncan Simpson
New Zealand PGA Chief Executive
A generation or so ago, many golf careers started with caddying at the local golf club.
This was often driven by economic necessity -– the need to earn pocket money, sometimes with the encouragement of a family member who wanted to keep young Jack off the streets, and hopefully get him interested in the game at the same time.
In any event, a common sight at golf clubs on a Saturday used to be schoolboys offering their services as caddies. We rarely see this now. Why?
I put it down to the advent of motorised trundlers and the increasing use of golf carts, which golfers tend to gravitate to as the game becomes more physically challenging.
At the same time, the youth of today have got more spare time options, and if pocket money is still on offer in the traditional sense, it is usually earned at home rather than spending five hours trudging around a golf course for a fraction of the minimum wage.
Of course, at the other end of the scale, caddying can be quite lucrative. Steve Williams would have been New Zealand’s highest paid sportsman for much of his long career, which started as a schoolboy caddy at Paraparaumu Beach, north of Wellington.
Almost none of his contemporaries went on to make caddying a career, but a good number of them would have become enthusiastic club or elite golfers through starting as caddies, a pathway which is basically non-existent today.
Caddying has traditionally been regarded as a somewhat menial occupation, right back to the days of old Tom Morris who stated that the main requirements of a caddy were to be “clean and moderately sober”.
Low wages and poor working conditions made it a hard life, with many sleeping rough after spending their meagre earnings on tobacco and drink.
A group of Carnoustie caddies were drinking together back in the 1880s, when one declared he was sick of caddying, and was going to set off to South America the next day to make his fortune.
Sure enough, he was nowhere to be seen when they all reported for duty in the morning, but was later found fast asleep in a bunker beside the 10th green, and ever since then that hole has been known as “South America”.
Years later Ben Hogan arrived at Carnoustie for his only tilt at the Open Championship.
After extensive enquiries, he settled on a local caddy Cecil Timms, a 34-year-old who had been a promising amateur golfer, and who knew the course like the back of his hand.
Hogan was typically economical with words and stated the terms of employment as: “I want you to carry my bag, son, and keep very quiet”.
Timms replied: “Right Mr Hogan, so you don’t wish me to club you?
“No. I want you to carry my bag, son. Keep the clubs clean and your mouth shut. Is that completely understood?
“Aye,” Timms a surprised said.
There was a pause before Timms continued: “Do you want me to read the greens for you then?
“No,” was Hogan’s stern reply.
This exchange could well be the origin of the three rules of caddying: Turn up, keep up, and shut up.
It certainly worked for Hogan, who shot a course record of 68 in the last round to win the 1953 Open by four shots.
However, the job description for a modern caddy has changed somewhat, judging by the process Francesco Molinari used recently.
He put out a detailed advertisement and formed a short list from the many applicants. Those remaining were put through a gruelling interview, the main theme being how familiar they were (or weren’t) with Molinari’s statistics, his aim being to find a caddy who could help him work on his weaknesses and get him back into the world top 50 rankings.
Similarly, anyone watching Lydia Ko’s caddy Jason Hamilton during the ANA Championship could see how closely involved he was with his champion player.
On the last hole, Lydia had an 82 yard wedge shot, and Hamilton’s instructions were to hit it to 79 yards, half a yard to the left of the hole. Which is exactly what she did, putting it inside a foot to clinch her second major.
So although the traditional club caddy might be a dying or disappearing breed, the modern championship caddy is expected to show a wide range of skills, including a detailed understanding of physics, statistical maths and motivational techniques.
Here’s hoping that doesn’t get in the way of the other caddy attributes that have been around for the last 150 years: the ability to give pithy and direct advice, and a prodigious memory including a fund of outrageous anecdotes and sayings, often used at the most inappropriate times.