The motorized golf cart has severely curtailed the use of
caddies in most parts of the U.S., and now a bureaucratic enemy,
the Internal Revenue Service, is poised to deliver the fatal
blow to the country's remaining caddie programs.
The IRS is threatening the existence of these caddies through an
audit of Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y. The IRS contends
that Westchester's caddies are club employees rather than
independent contractors, even though club members pay caddies in
cash out of their own pockets.
If the IRS succeeds, Westchester--and all other courses with
caddies--could be forced to put the loopers on their books and
then deduct income and social security taxes from the caddies'
wages and contribute to social security on their behalf. The
cost of keeping such records and paying social security taxes
would at best drive up the cost of using a caddie and at worst
give all but the most tradition-bound clubs a good excuse to
replace caddies with carts.
The loss of caddies would be irreplaceable. Although I have only
been fortunate enough to have played with a caddie three times,
I know what a difference one can make. Caddies, unlike carts,
chat with you, tell you what club to hit, clean your clubs and
take strokes off your game. They are an integral part of golf's
rich history, and caddying should be encouraged and protected.
Think of the jobs that would be lost if caddying vanished. The
caddie ranks are split between teenagers, for whom the work is a
great summer job, and full-timers, men for whom lugging bags
pays the rent and feeds their families. Teen caddies also have
the opportunity to tap into well-funded college-scholarship
programs. It would be a shame to see efforts such as the Evans
Scholar and the Francis Ouimet Scholarship funds die out because
of a lack of takers.
If the IRS wins, golf loses. People fortunate enough to play at
courses that still have strong caddie programs may soon find
their fairways crisscrossed by cart paths. Gone will be the
uninterrupted acres of green where men walked a game, replaced
by the cement legacy of the IRS's decision.
Mark Twain called golf a good walk spoiled, and it sure will be
if the IRS gets its way. In the meantime, I'll keep walking and
carrying my bag, looking forward to the day when I can join a
club. I just hope there'll be a caddie waiting for me when I
arrive at the 1st tee.
Michael C. Fondo, a 26 handicap, is a tax attorney in Boston.