Like a grasshopper, a caddie never stands still for long and
spends many a day hopping through the rough. A good caddie is a
philosopher as well, a man who can provide a rationalization for
anything, including why an exemplary round through nine holes
can be consigned to the ash heap by seven hacks getting out of a
bunker at the 11th. The wise caddie also appreciates the
oddities of the game and of the people who play it. Not every
player who greets you with a smile and scores a sparkling 75
with your help will hand you a 100[pound] note at the end of the
round. I have caddied for a five handicapper who tipped me a
measly 10[pounds] and for a quiet lad who shot 30 over but
enjoyed his day so much he gave me 100[pounds]. Another high
handicapper presented one of my caddies with the tip of his
career: a two-week trip to Singapore.
At St. Andrews, where I have been caddie manager since 1992, our
caddies go through an extensive interview process. We want young
men who will make a career of caddying, not lads looking for a
snappy summer job. When I hear that a candidate's father or
grandfather was a caddie, my ears perk up because good caddies
have the work in their blood. Almost three quarters of our 170
caddies have fathers who caddied. By working six or seven days a
week, they earn enough to live on, perhaps even enough to invest
a bit in the market.
Free spirits they surely are, but thinkers, too. One of my
caddies, Phillip Shields, has a doctorate in mathematics, which
comes in handy out there. Our caddies are required to write
their own yardage books, with detailed maps of each hole. They
must know that the March Stone on the 5th hole is 153 yards to
the Spectacle Bunkers, which are 68 yards short of the green.
They must judge Scotland's ever-changing winds, the terrain, the
proper target, and choose the right club, leaving to the player
the simple business of hitting the ball. (Which isn't always so
simple. One year in the Dunhill Cup, I caddied for a golfer from
Taiwan who had trouble understanding me. "Aim at the steeple," I
said, but he thought I had said people, and promptly lined one
into the crowd.)
Still, one of the most crucial qualifications for a St. Andrews
caddie is worldliness. Has he traveled? Has he experienced some
of life's magical highs and terrible lows? If he has not, how
can he hope to understand a round of golf?
Richard MacKenzie is the author of "A Wee Nip at the 19th Hole."