The Evolution Of Golfers And Caddies
Time has been kind to the golfer. While
there are still jobs for elite caddies on the pro tours,
the club caddie has all but vanished from the fairways of
The Rise Of The Professional Golfer
The first pro golfers rose
from the ranks of early greenskeepers. Alan Robertson is
often referred to as the first real professional. The first
Open Championship, referred to in North America as "The
British Open", was played 2 years after his death,
or he may have been as well known as old Tom Morris, who
was, in fact, Robertson's apprentice. The Open was really
the only tournament that was played in those days and the
idea of actually playing golf for a living was still a long
Fame, wealth and glory come to today's top golfers, but
it was not always so. The pros made a meager wage by making
clubs and balls for the well to do, running the shop and
occasionally giving lessons or caddying. Sometimes they
were able to line their pockets with a successful wager.
Up to the late 1800's, the golf pro was still pretty much
a servant of the club members. There was no such thing as
a "Tour Pro ". Pros in those days were not allowed
to enter the clubhouse. They were not treated badly, but
certainly not invited to members' homes or parties. In short
they had no social standing, and the line in the sand was
drawn at the clubhouse door. Many pros hardly ever had an
opportunity to play, or practice. Their days were mainly
spent slaving away at the workbench, carving, shaping and
It was not until the turn of the 20th century that the stature
of the professional golfer slowly began to grow. It first
began in Europe, where golfers found themselves being treated
with newfound respect and admiration. They were the masters.
In England the class system was still firmly in place. Finally,
player's accomplishments in events such as the Ryder Cup
began to earn them some respect.
In 1895 ten professional golfers and one amateur played
in the first U.S. Open in Newport, RI. There was the Western
Open in 1899, but this was not 'tour' golf. The events lacked
continuity. In the US, at the turn of the century, visiting
Englishmen and Scots were winning most of the golf tournaments.
Then, in 1913 Emmett Scott, an American, won the US Open.
Tournaments suddenly started springing up, and the "Tournament
Player" was born. He was not socially cast in the same
mould as the Club Pro.
It was still virtually impossible to make a living playing
golf. There were winnings to be sure, but purses were small,
even in time adjusted dollars, and living on the road was
Many of the early tour pros would go from event to event,
needing to make the cut, in order to get funds to finance
their trip to the next venue. Travelling primarily by train
or car, they were constantly on the road. There was no money
in it, but there was great honor. They always had to supplement
their incomes by giving lessons, or some such. At least
the IRS never showed much interest in them. After World
War II things really began to turn around. The American
pros began to display the trappings of affluence, their
wives adorned in furs and the best jewelry.
Arnold Palmer, in 1958, led the PGA Tour by winning $42,000,
a year in which the total prize money on tour was barely
over one million dollars. Palmer and color TV came to golf
at about the same time. And his swashbuckling go-for-broke
style and his charisma came along just as television was
discovering sports. Palmer and TV made a perfect marriage
that pushed golf to unprecedented popularity. This exposure
inspired millions to try the game and, at the same time,
TV rights fees sent purses soaring. Corporate America began
to take notice. Nicklaus, Snead and Palmer were giants.
Golf was suddenly very glamorous. Film stars and entertainers
such as Bob Hope became golfers and their endorsements heightened
public awareness and drew crowds to the tournaments.
The PGA tour prize money began to escalate as sponsors clamored
to align themselves with the game. The PGA tour was now
firmly established as the strongest field in the world,
boasting enormous purses. The best golfers from all over
the world were now getting rich in the US.
The club pros also began to make a better living and with
the growing popularity of the game the shops and golf schools
started to produce a good living as well.
Golf clubs, now mass-produced, are being "custom fitted"
in high tech workshops. The club pro now has some time to
hone his skills.
In the 1980's the European tour began to enjoy some of the
rewards offered in the US, but has never really caught up.
The best of the best still play at least 15 tournaments
a year in the States and are treated like kings.
It is now a very comfortable life, for the good player.
On the other side of the coin, however, for the player who
struggles still has a time of it. If you don't make the
cut, you don't get a cheque.
Some players spend years on the tour barely making enough
to get by. At least the possibility exists.
Tiger Woods, who is just 22, won twice as much money last
year -- $2 million -- than the entire purse for all the
tournaments in 1958. And the total prize money for this
year is $95 million, a figure that will nearly double over
the next four years. Justin Leonard, at the ripe old age
of 24, won $720,000 at the 1998 Player's Championship.
Caddie Willie 1838
|Gentleman golfers of the 18th
century often had many personal servants. It was only natural
that an elite gentleman would have a servant tote his clubs
and find his balls for him. A caddie.
Many matches would also make use of a "forecaddie".
The forecaddie was so-called because of their job as a "forward
caddie", one who would be sent up ahead to sight the driven
ball. The grazing of the sheep and rabbits was all that would
cut the grass, so players tended to rely on the forecaddie at
every hole. The players, to alert the forecaddies to spot the
flight of the ball, yelled "Fore".
Most of these men lived hand-to-mouth.
They also had a sense of craft that was handed down from father to
son. That's what separated them from someone who just carried clubs.
They employed knowledge of wind, ground, of how conditions affect
what route to take. They quickly learned the way you hit the ball
... and they take you around the course like a guide instead of some
sort of a packhorse.
|The old time caddies were men
from hard backgrounds whose nicknames occasionally suggested
just how they had to be to survive. With feathery balls costing
a week's wage and with the popularity of gambling among players,
a crooked forecaddie who might also accept bribes from players,
could supplement his wages handsomely. Willie Johnson, for instance,
became known as "Trap Door," because he pretended
one leg was shorter than the other was and had a special boot
made with a hollow sole. In it, he hid "lost" golf
balls, which he later sold back to his clients. His boot, it
is claimed, could hold half a dozen golf balls.
Willie "Trap Door" Johnson
Eventually forecaddies were phased out, at least in everyday play,
but the army of volunteers spotting balls at any professional event
holds testimony to their continued use. I suppose that the luxury
of a forecaddie is something that most of us will never experience.
Unless one had the occasion to hit into the group ahead with a spectacularly
Over the centuries the duties of the tour professional's caddie have
evolved into that of the player's right hand. No longer a lowly servant,
but rather an important part of the team, caddies can help a golfer
in many ways. They're part of the fabric of the game. They help to
set the overall game plan and the plan of attack to each hole. They
are responsible for knowing the correct yardage for every lie on every
hole and must know the greens and pin placements to help manage the
golfer's game. A good caddie also gives psychological support, steadying
the player whenever necessary.
The pros have long-standing relationships with their caddies. Some
players even seem to have difficulty performing without their regular
"man on the bag".
The only tour caddie most of us could easily identify is Mike "Fluff"
Cowan, the aging hippie who carries Tiger Woods' bag. His six-figure
income is something none of his predecessors dared dream about.
Public golfers used to use caddies -- once. Over the years many junior
golfers have earned their way onto fine courses by toting bags for
members. Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, three of the finest
golfers America has produced, all learned to play the game in caddie
yards, with whatever balls and clubs they could find. The declining
use of the caddie has hurt junior golf tremendously.
For the most part, at least in North America, caddies employed for
public play are now rare indeed. But one can still have the pleasure
of a caddie's company at some more traditional private golf strongholds.
Hamilton Golf and Country Club still sports an active caddie pool,
boasting 141 young caddies, one of the largest caddie programs in
In Europe, golf cart usage is not as widespread, and at most courses
in Scotland to this day, players get around a course in three hours
with a caddie. And they don't rely on powered carts or lasers to do
it. They rely on a good caddie.
Since the mid-1950s the spread of the motorized golf cart has been
popular with golfers and a financial boon for the courses. Golf courses
are, after all, businesses and carts are a source of revenue. Carts
are mandatory at many courses all over the U.S., and although that
practice is not as common at courses in and around Ottawa, it is only
a matter of time before that trend comes closer to home.
The power cart has taken over, and has put the caddies out of work.
Carts have quickly become the caddie's worst enemy. Caddies, and walking,
aren't in the equation. By the mid-1970s the conversion was virtually
complete. Even the cost of a cart rental is less expensive than hiring
a caddie. Of course, the cart doesn't offer you what an experienced
caddie can. However, Global Positioning Satellites are now being used
to judge yardages on the golf course from your cart. I expect
it is only a matter of time until wind speed, wind direction, and
elevation changes could be monitored and factored into a cart's computer
report. Who knows, perhaps even ground conditions could be assessed
by the superintendent and included into the programming each day.
To the golf clubs collective defense though, golfers don't like
the idea of paying someone a fair wage to carry their bags, and most
would only have a caddie as a once in a lifetime extravagance. It
is difficult for clubs to train caddies, only to have them stand around
until someone wants to hire one for a round. Most clubs that have
held on to their bag toters now classify them as independent contractors
rather than employees. Unfortunately for the club, that does not generate
revenue for anyone but the caddie.
As a way to preserve the tradition of caddies, some clubs have runners.
Runners perform the same tasks as caddies, except they dont
carry bags. A runner will go with a twosome or a foursome, who all
ride in a cart. The runner will locate balls, replace divots, tend
to greens, and estimate distances, while golfers can concentrate on
The mechanizing of caddie's services may be seen as progressive, but
it's not a development we should necessarily cheer. However, there
is an upside of the decline in caddie usage. It's a safe bet that
no superintendent at a course with golf carts ever got a letter like
the one written by a G. Leslie Smith in 1892. It complained about
a caddie that apparently had a few too many "wee nips".
"He could not tee the ball properly," the letter concluded,
"and fell down."
Evolution Change - Progress
Golf has seen it all. It will see more.
It is certainly one of the oldest games still played in the world,
and it is unique among sports.
The powers that be will resist change as much as possible, to preserve
the traditions of the game and to ensure that it is never transformed
into something unrecognizable. But in the end, change is inevitable.
I don't pretend to know if that is good or bad, it just is. I do know
one thing though, I am glad I don't have to play feathery balls with
hickory shafted clubs on uncut fairways and on virtually unputtable
greens. But I truly wonder what the old masters would think of today's