Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Tournament AKA A Long Freakin' Post

The staging area. At many golf clubs, this is the area where carts and bags are “staged” and organized prior to the start of a golf tournament. In a shotgun, this is where you would walk to find your golf clubs. The carts are usually organized in some sort of logical way so that when the starter tells you that you will be in the “9A” group you can easily locate where all of your crap is.
It’s almost like setting up the buffet line before a big banquet. You know damn well all of the time, effort and organization you’ve put into this thing will be destroyed within the first 30 minutes of people arriving. Caterers as well as golf professionals understand the power of a mob (as do many other people, but they don’t matter right now). But regardless of how crazy the start of a tournament is, it is still very important to try and be as prepared as possible, because you never know what people may need.

Apparently this course didn’t see it that way.

So to complicate things, this particular club didn’t seem to care where they put things. I think most of the caddies were just lucky to find all four of their PLAYERS before the start of the tournament, let alone the bags and proper carts. I mean, I’m still young, but I feel I’ve seen an awful lot in my life thus far—drunken nights in Atlantic City, colliding with a tree in Lake Tahoe, skydiving, witnessing the consummation of two love-stricken squirrels and even forecaddying for a six-some—but I have never seen chaos like this.

It all started out innocently enough. Some 40-50 caddies met in a locker room behind the clubhouse for a pow-wow at 9 am. Caddies from four different golf courses (all under one company) were uniting to achieve a common goal. Well. Maybe not a COMMON goal. Some were there to make money, others to socialize, others to score some drugs, and still others to get some free pizza after the tournament was over with. But we were all still there, UNITING, getting ready to work together to bring this tournament off without a hitch.

The newly appointed Caddie Master at this club just happened to be my former roommate from Florida who helped me run that incredibly atrocious account two winters’ ago. He stood in front of a packed room for 30 minutes talking about how he wanted the caddie program to run and I couldn’t believe my ears, but I actually agreed with everything he said. I was actually proud of him. He’s come a long way. The meeting was also a great opportunity to say hello to old friends. I’ve only been working in the golf industry for 2 years now, and I have to say, it is quite a small world. There were so many names and faces that kept popping up. Caddies I didn’t even know approached me because they heard where I was from and wanted to know if I knew some of the other caddies they did. So the meeting was a pleasure. We were like a band of brothers heading off to war. Every local caddie I met welcomed me with a smile and a firm handshake. A sincere handshake. It almost brought tears to my eyes.

Then came the hole assignments. For some reason, in every tournament I’ve ever caddied in, when the Caddie Master calls out your name and then begins to read over the names in your group, there’s usually only one name you latch onto. The name is either something incredibly simple (like a Smith or a White) or something incredibly unique (like a Lomand or Baddesich). Every other last name you hear just passes in one ear and out the other. As much as you’d LIKE to remember EVERY name, there are usually 30+ caddies around you waiting to hear their names as well, and so the Caddie Master usually takes on the tone of an auctioneer more than anything else. And in those quick few moments, you latch onto a name and a number.

For me, it was Longballesti and 12A.

Even though that sounds like something easy to remember, you also have a “Home Alone” affect going on around you. Do you remember when the older sister is counting heads in the beginning of the movie and Buzz is trying to throw her off? She would start counting “One…Two…Three” and Buzz would counter with “1192…12…67” trying to screw her up. Well, the other caddies weren’t TRYING to screw me up, but they were certainly doing a good job of it. It happens at every tournament. The caddies get their assignments, and as soon as 10-15 caddies are ready to go, they start talking to the caddies next to them. “I got Smith on 3B.”

“Triantos on 15A.”

“Stevens! 12B! He’s going to HATE this hole location!”

Meanwhile, the Caddie Master is STILL trying to give out hole assignments and you’re STILL trying to remember what the heck yours was.

“Longball—“

“4A!”

“12—“

“B! Smith! Bad hole location!”

I just had to get out of there. Longballesti, 12A. Now, I didn’t REMEMBER the other three players in the group, but I was sure I would recognize the names when I saw them on the golf carts. I stepped outside, hoping I could find my players quickly before the other caddies flooded the staging area.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. What kind of staging area was this? It was on a slant. The rather severe slope leading up to the first tee was littered with carts. All of them were facing UP the hill, and none of them were even in a straight line. To my right, bags were strewn all over the racks awaiting their caddies.

Wait a minute. Carts are over there. Bags are over here. That’s weird.

I would find out later that they didn’t have enough golf carts for every group, so all of the players walking with caddies had their bags placed on the racks before the tournament began.

Okay Tom. Reason through this. You have four players, and you’re the only caddie. They’re riding. They have to be. I wouldn’t be carrying four bags, right? So their bags would NOT be over to my right. They had to be on the carts somewhere.

When I got to the carts, I quickly tried to decipher the dewey-decimal-esque system the outside staff guys had devised to run this shindig. Okay. There’s 3B. There’s 4A. Okay. My players have to be near the back end of this strange polygon-outlier-scatterplot formation of carts. Where did these bag-guys come from? Maybe they’re astrologers and simply wanted to pay homage to Orion’s Belt. And if THAT was the case, who was their drug dealer and does he have good prices?

That’s when I arrived at two golf carts, side-by-side, with no roofs and no bags on them. One of the carts said 12A, the other said 5B.

Wait a minute. What?

I wanted to remain calm and figure out where the hell the OTHER 12A could be, but I started to see blue bibs and caps pour out of the locker room and realized that I didn’t have much time before any questions I NEEDED to ask—like where the scorecards were, tees, towels, whatever—were drowned out by the hustle and bustle of the tournament. The floodgates had opened, and soon it would be a matter of survival.

So I started frantically running up and down the peppered arrangement of carts trying to find the other 12A. Nothing. And may I just say, aside from the beautiful aerial view of these carts, the “consistency” of the numerical order was horrible. The hole numbers went from descending order to ascending order almost arbitrarily. And all of the carts were parked so closely together that I was just thankful I had seen a few Jackie Chan movies in my day to figure out ways to squeeze through the crevices. Otherwise it would’ve taken me FOREVER to get around the staging area.

There was no other 12A. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

Then it occurred to me. Regardless of the “5B” sign next to my “12A” cart, the players will probably just use the two carts I had found, because LOGICALLY that’s where the bags are supposed to go. Yes, crack had been smoked before and DURING the set-up of this tournament, and the ORDER of the carts may be screwed up, but at least all of the carts were paired up correctly (3A was with 3A and 3B was with 3B). So I don’t know what this “5B” crap is. Maybe that’s just the equivalent of a “typo” in a poorly written thesis.

When I finally got back to the two carts I THOUGHT were mine, I was still troubled by the names on the 5B cart. They didn’t look familiar. I mean, I wasn’t sure, but I had a feeling that really WAS the 5B golf cart.

Just as I was about to ask the bag attendants where their crack pipe was, a player arrived at the 12A cart and started strapping in his bag. I was right next to him, and he acted as if he hadn’t even seen me. So I decided to make sure he belonged there.

“Hey, I’m Tom. Are you teeing off of 12A?”

“Yes. I’m Mr. Lemon-face. My face puckers up when I talk to poor people.”

“Oh, I see. Is that why your entire face is imploding into itself right now?”

“Yes! I can smell the poverty wafting off of you! Flee and fetch me several towels so that I might stay dry. It seems I have no roof over my head!”

So I left to go find towels. Fortunately, there were only a few caddies that had raided the towel rack so far. Trying to get near the rack was a challenge though. There were so many blue bibs moving around me that it felt like I was swimming. Thank God I didn’t have a bag to get to. They looked submerged. I would only occasionally see a flicker of a bag tag through the swarming bodies.

So I finally reached the towels and grabbed the 4 or 5 requested by Mr. Lemon-butt. Or whatever his name was. When I finally returned, he was gone. Again, assuming that the 5B cart belonged with the 12A group (even though nobody had arrived yet), I shoved the fetched towels into the basket of the 5B cart and waited for more of my group to arrive. In retrospect, why the hell didn’t I just stick all of the towels into the cart with the player who actually REQUESTED the towels? I have no idea. But it was sheer chaos outside, and with 5 minutes left until the shotgun was scheduled to start, I had only seen ONE of my players.

The head pro started his speech from the front of Orion’s Belt, thanking everyone for coming and talking about how excited he was to kick off the new golf season. Then, all of a sudden, two men bump into me. One of them is slamming his bag down on the 5B cart, the other is strapping his bag into the 12A cart. I turn to the 12A cart first.

“Hey there, I’m Tom.”

“Wonderful. Good to meet you.”

Pause.

So, what’s your name? You gonna tell me? No? Fine then. Let me talk to THIS yam-bag and see if I can get anything out of HIM. I turned to the 5B cart.

“Hey. YAM-BAG. I’m Tom.”

He was an older man with glasses. He just turned his head, looked at me for a moment, and nodded.

Pause.

So what the hell is your story old man? You drunk?

Pause.

Great. The tournament is about to start, and I still have no idea what is going on. Normally, situations like this only arise in my sleep, where a rabid deer with a guitar will chase me through a river of chicken nuggets screaming, “Save the whales!”

The head pro wrapped-up his speech and people started rushing over to their carts. Loud clicks of metal brought 35 carts to life and with a few loud backfires and blue bibs heading in all directions, the tournament was underway and everyone was leaving the staging area. Everyone except for me.

Even the 5B cart was gone. Wait. Gone? Ah crap. I hate being right. Where were my other two players?

“Hey Tom? Did you grab the towels I asked you for?”

Fuck-balls.

“I did…but I think the other cart just sped off with them.”

“Jesus. I tell you to do one simple thing for me, and you already screwed that up. You sure you’re a caddie?”

He was being sarcastic, but the comment still stung a bit.

“Just sit tight for a minute. Let me run over and see if I can find you some more towels.”

So I took off back towards the now deserted bag-racks and tables full of balls, umbrellas and other supplies that were left over. But the towel rack had been demolished and there wasn’t a scrap of fabric anywhere. I grabbed one of the bag attendants.

“Any towels left?”

“No.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Well, can I at least get the number of your drug dealer?”

“Sure.”

Awesome. No towels, but at least I’m networking. I returned to my players.

“No towels?”

“They’ll bring some out to us.” Probably not. But I’ll grab a few at the turn.

“Jesus. Well, you’re tip is already suffering and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“Haha. Yeah.” And I guess there’s nothing we can do about that Lemon-butt-face of yours either, sir.

So I hopped on the back of the cart and we sped off towards the 12th hole. I’ve never thought about how hard it is to ride on the back of a cart without a roof. Turns out there’s really not a whole hell of a lot to hang onto. Every turn they made was an adventure. They were either TRYING to shake me off, or they FORGOT that I was on the back of the cart altogether. But somehow or another, we made it to 12.

The other half of our group was already there. Two brothers, who must’ve been hidden somewhere near the front of Orion’s Belt, were warming up on the tee. I recognized one of them immediately. He had played a round with the head pro at my home course. I was the caddie and there were 3 consecutive $400+ bets on the last hole. To this day I have no idea what game they were playing, but the fact that he wasn’t afraid to lose that much money meant something special. Perhaps my wallet would be a little thicker by the end of the day.

“Hey Mr. Longballesti. I remember you playing against Mr. Head-Pro back at my home course. Some big bets goin’ on there.”

“Oh yeah. Great to see you again.”

He was faking interest. But it was a good kind of fake. Like he was really trying to remember my obscure reference to a round he’d probably all but forgotten. His brother, whom I’ll name Coldball, most certainly didn’t want to listen to anything I had to say. No wonder he was paired up with Lemon-butthead-smelly-face or whatever his name was. Neither of them could associate themselves with a caddie. Well tough titties, because this was their lucky day.

So I tipped my hat, memorized the clothing they were wearing (to know who the hell was hitting from a distance) and dashed off into my forecaddie position. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never caddied at this course before and this was a scramble. Scrambles are the easiest tournaments to caddie for because you only really have to worry about 1 yardage, 1 read on the greens, etc. Plus, players are usually a little more relaxed in these tournaments because they KNOW that they don’t always have to hit a great shot, because they have 3 other people backing them up. The only guy with a little pressure on him is the last guy to hit, but normally the guy in that position LIVES for that sort of thing. He’s usually the player calling all the shots people hit anyway. And today was no different.

Coldballs was always the last to hit, and he was always bossing everyone else around. Hit 2 clubs more. Hit the ball straight at the hole, there really isn’t any break. No, we’re not using THAT ball, we’re using THIS one. Yada yada yada. There really wasn’t anything for me to do. Well, except for run. My philosophy has always been to hustle, because I figure that if my reads are ever off on the greens (which of course never happens), then at least the players are still getting their money’s worth. So I was always running, trying to be everywhere at once, just in case they decided to use one shot over the other.

But all this running inspired a caddie I knew from Florida to walk over and visit after our 7th hole during a break at the halfway house. He wanted to tell me a story.

“Now Tom. There once was a papa bull and his son. They were standing on top of a hill looking down at all the cows. The son looks up at his papa and says, ‘Papa? Let’s run down there and fuck them two cows on the end.’ The papa bull smiles, takes a deep breath and says, ‘No, son. Why don’t we walk, and fuck them all.’”

And then the caddie looked down at the next par-3 from the tee box, much like the papa bull and said to me: “So you see Tom? As a caddie, we don’t run. That way, we can fuck ‘em all!”

Okay, great story. But my guys won’t feel the need to pay me unless I make this look good. They’re good golfers, and I’m not really sure if I’m doing enough for them as it is under this scramble format. So I’m sorry, but I have to keep running.

“Haha. Good one.”

And it started paying off. When we were on our 13th hole, Mr. Lemon-ass-kisser or whatever turned to me and said, “Tom, I know we’re not saying much out here, but you’re doing a fantastic job. Really like the hustle.”

It’s funny how a little comment like that can make me push a little harder. Fuck them bulls. I’m doing it my way.

And, low and behold, by the time we reached 18, I got a good tip. Most of the other caddies were unhappy with THEIR tips—a “sod-fest” for those of you trying to learn the lingo—but all of the caddies I knew who worked hard all seemed to walk away with smiles after they looked in their pockets.

So again, fuck them bulls. I’m doing it my way.

The real surprise came when Coldballs came out of the locker room and had me help him take his bag up to his car. He was actually very talkative and asking me a lot about where I had come from and how long I had been caddying. It was like night and day from what I experienced with him on the golf course. He even mentioned that he was going to be traveling to my home course in about a month with 20-25 players and wondered if I would caddie for him. So that was a nice surprise. Sweet.

1 comment:

The Armchair Golfer said...

What a nightmare, Tom. You seemed like you did a pretty good job of keeping your cool when things were so chaotic. I'm sure I would have been panicked. It turned out good, too. I think people appreciate running or hustle in any endeavor. At the very least, they know you're trying. That counts for something.