I’ll never forget my round of vacation golf with an elegant woman from Southern California. Forgetting, that was her thing. Every time our group arrived at the green, she was standing there without her putter.
Finally, I jokingly asked if she typically putted without her putter when she played at the grand old golf course where she is a member. She smiled.
“Usually,” she said, “the caddie brings my putter.”
Aha! There are those who can’t imagine golf without a caddie—my friend, for instance, and every tour pro we see on television. Then there are the rest of us, who tend to feel a bit awkward and intimidated on the rare day when we’re either required or privileged to have a professional club-carrying companion for the day.
Play golf long enough, and that day will come. At some of the more old-school golf clubs and resorts, golfers are required to take caddies. Or, as at Bandon Dunes, the Oregon destination where Kris Valencia caddied for nearly 10 years, a prohibition of golf carts ensures that many will opt to hire help. At Pebble Beach, where Annie Bowlsby helped TV personality Carson Daly to a prestigious Pro-Am victory, hiring a caddie is the icing on the cake of a bucket-list or special-occasion round of golf on the California Coast. And at exclusive Champions Retreat in Augusta, Ga., Rebecca Goldman serves members and guests as either a caddie or a sprinting forecaddie.
If you’re not used to having a caddie, or if the idea makes you nervous, here are a few things these caddies (and I, the intrepid golf traveler who will play golf with anyone, anywhere, anytime) think you should know:
You or your host should arrange caddies in advance
That’s when it’s OK to say you’d love to have a female caddie or are just fine with a male caddie. You’ll want to know whether you are walking with your caddie or riding; if riding, is the caddie a forecaddie whose main responsibility to run ahead to your ball, find it and measure the distance for the next shot?
You’ll want to know in advance how the caddies are paid and whether/what you should tip. This can be far more complicated than bidding on eBay. At Pebble, for instance, the fee for a double-bag-carrying caddie is $185, with recommended tip, wow, in the $35-$60 range per bag (that’s more than 35-60 percent per bag). Up the coast at Bandon, caddies are paid directly and $100 per bag is “recommended,” with the advice to “base the payment on the service provided and paying the recommended rate should be for a job well done.” If you’re playing as a guest at a private club, call the golf shop and find out what fee and/or tip is expected. Forecaddies usually cost half as much – though watching them run ahead of the golf carts in Georgia in July and August, one might wonder why they don’t cost twice as much.
Accept that your caddie is probably going to be a guy
Valencia, the rare woman who is making a career in caddying, has moved east to Sand Valley in Wisconsin as Caddie Manager/Mentor. Bowlsby is transitioning into a fulltime events management job at a winery. And Goldman, the only fulltime female caddie at Champions, will be cutting back to part-time as she takes on a physical therapy assistant position in August. Only a tiny percentage of the more than 300 summertime caddies at Bandon and Pebble are female, so get over your discomfort – he’s not seeing your naked body, only your golf swing, and surely he’s seen worse. Yes, really: At Pebble, where rounds cost $500-plus, Bowlsby has caddied for guests who have never played golf.
Lighten the Load
If your caddie is carrying your bag, and especially if your caddie is double-bagging as most expect and even want to do these days, lighten the load. At Pebble, Bowlsby said, the caddie master will change out your bag if it weighs more than 25 pounds. “Don’t carry unnecessary things in your golf bag,” Valencia pleaded. “No need for rain gear, or an umbrella in the bag when it’s 65-75 degrees at Bandon on a sunny day… Carrying dozens and dozens of balls is not necessary. We usually find one or more in spots you may lose one.” So, how many balls is enough? Valencia said 10 at Bandon. Bowlsby said 12 at Pebble, but did add, “It depends on the golfer. If you insist on one per hole, that’s fine.”
How your caddie will help you
Your caddie will meet you at the range or first tee. This is a good time to talk about your clubs – how far you hit each one, which one you like to chip with, and which one you turn to when all else fails. You will be amazed at how your caddie remembers this conversation and hands you the right instrument at the right time.
If you want to read the greens yourself, go right ahead and never look to your caddie for help. But, remember, these are professionals who are reading these greens every day and want to help you make your putt. See if you can make putting a fun collaboration for once; tomorrow you can go back to your Lone Ranger style.
Please, asks Goldman, enter the bunker as close as you can to your ball and exit the same way. Yes, the caddie will rake for you – but you don’t have to leave a trail all over the sand first.
Apparently, some people need to be told this: Treat caddies the way you want to be treated. Valencia, Bowlsby, and Goldman love caddying because they meet and connect with fascinating, fun, nice people. Don’t be the spoiler who blames the caddie for missed putts, lost drives, and fried eggs. If you’re visiting, ask about local restaurants. If you’re playing a historic track, encourage stories. Years ago, my soon-to-be husband and I ended up inviting our Pebble Beach caddie to our wedding!
“I think first it’s good to establish some kind of comfort between you two,” Goldman said. “Find something in common, something you can talk about. Relate to each other, form cohesion, it will make it much smoother out there. If there’s tension, it’s not going to be so smooth.”
Apparently, some people need to be told this too: Have fun out there.
“I always tell golfers here, ‘You’re here paying to play, and not getting paid to play,’ ” Valencia said.
“Some guys or ladies just need that constant reminder,” said Bowlsby, “Really, you just want to have fun out there and enjoy the views.”
Finally, if you had a great caddie, ask for him or her next time. It’ll be a great reward, for both of you!