October 16, 2008


I'm not quite sure what my first job was, although I'd guess that it was my time as a caddy. "Job" isn't really the right word for being a caddy; I wasn't there because I had filled out an application or was hired by the country club. (They could have cared less.) Caddying was more like being an independent contractor: I'd show up, sit around the scoreboard (used for the occasional golf tournament), and hope that someone would ask me to carry their bag for them. Usually someone did; occasionally I went home having done nothing.

I don't know who first suggested I caddy; my mom, I think. I like golf, and my parents had given me some lessons on how to play the game. The country club where I caddied was located on the west side of town, but because I was too young to drive, I'd ride my bicycle over. I'd go to the caddymaster's room, tell them I was there to caddy, and then I'd sit at the scoreboard and chat with any other caddy who happened to be there. Caddies at that country club were almost all high school students. For the most part we were too young to get better jobs, which explains why, over two summers, I only met one college-aged caddy. So we'd sit and wait. Most club members didn't bother with caddies, using golf carts instead. (Bastards.) Most days I did get to carry someone's bags but, as I said above, not always. Those were the depressing days. Sitting around for a couple hours, getting a glimmer of hope when club members showed up to play golf, getting depressed when they took a cart. The one alternative to caddying was that occasionally we'd be hired to shag balls. Most members had a bunch of practice balls they kept in some type of bag or container, maybe fifty or so. Instead of your typical driving range where some vehicle runs around sweeping up balls, the caddy runs around chasing after the balls his golfer hits into the field. It wasn't terribly difficult work, but it wasn't always easy to see the ball in the sky as it came at you. Not that I ever got hit by a ball, thank God. It was relatively easy money. Twenty minutes worth of running around for $3.

But the "real" money to be made was in walking around the course ($9 for a round, IIRC). Those bags were freakin' humongous, but if you carried the bag with the center of the strap on your shoulder, instead of the end nearest the bag's mouth, you could balance the bag quite easily. The course itself was partially located on a hill. The first hole was flat, but holes Two and Three were uphill. Four was a short, level par three about two-thirds of the way up the hill, but Five was a long, steep monster. On hot, humid days, climbing up that hill was a bear. Everyone, golfers and caddies, would drink a couple of paper cups of water each at the dispenser at the sixth tee. Six through Nine went back downhill, which was nice. One incident at the sixth tee remains in my mind. One of the caddy's jobs is to help track the ball when the golfer hits it so that we can get to the ball as quickly as possible. This guy hit the ball and, just as he did, out soars this beautiful hawk. Magnificent! Of course, everyone lost sight of the ball. :)

At the bottom of the hill, at the ninth green, was a small refreshment stand. Golfers always had to buy their caddy a drink. We were lucky if they bought us a hot dog. The back nine was much easier than the front nine. Although Ten and Eleven went back up the hill, you never got as high up as on the front nine. By Fourteen you were back down on the plain, and then we'd start walking past the rich people's homes, those whose backyards bordered the golf course. By Fifteen, you were starting to feel good as you knew your job was almost over. Once you got back to the clubhouse, you'd give the bag back to the caddymaster who would clean and polish the clubs before putting everything into its slot. The members' clubs were stored in the caddymaster's room, each bag being stored in a cylinder with the member's name attached. I remember walking around one day looking at the names and realizing that my optometrist was a member.

For me, caddying wasn't anything like the movie Caddyshack. Most of the other caddy's were OK guys; one in particular became a friend that summer. He asked me once if I wanted to play golf at the course on a Tuesday morning (when caddies were allowed to play). He asked the caddymaster if he and I could play one week, and the caddymaster was like, "Who?" Obviously, I hadn't made much of an impression. I never did play golf there; I'm not sure how I would have gotten my own bag and clubs there while riding the three miles or so on my bicycle.

One of the more interesting jobs I had was caddying for a woman; every other round I did was with a man (and the appropriately macho humongo bag), but this one woman asked me one morning if I'd pull her bag around for her. (Most womens' bags at the time were squarish contraptions on wheels.) I'm not sure why she asked me to go with her. Pity? A status symbol? Someone to talk to on the course? Turns out she was the mother of one of the girls we caddies knew. The girl was slightly older than us, by a year or two, and was going to attend Duke that fall. But the girl ignored us caddies, and we resented that. None of us had parents who were members, and we felt she was being snobbish. Still, the mother was a nice woman, and the other caddies thought I was very lucky for having such an easy round. (It also helped soothe my ego when she asked me how old I was; she thought I was in college when I was still in high school, having just finished (I think) my sophomore year.)

The very last time I caddied was late in the summer of '77. I hadn't realized that there was a big golf tournament going on at the local college's golf course (where I learned to play golf). So I had been sitting at the scoreboard, very morose about the lack of work when the caddymaster called out, was I doing anything? Did I want to caddy up at the tournament? One of the members decided he needed a caddy, and I was the only one at the country club. So they drove me up to the course, and I did my round with him that day. In fact, he asked me if I would caddy for him the next day (this was a two-day tournament), but I had a prior commitment.

Caddying wasn't a great job; it was rather erratic and very dependent upon the whim of the golfer. Most club members were OK, and one guy I caddied for was a real character. But it provided a little bit of spending money that I earned for myself, and a lot of fresh air and exercise. And that made it nice.

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