Monday, October 17, 2011


**The following is based on experiences from Sunday, October 16th.

One of the big differences between caddying five years ago and today is grad school.  I’m happy to report that they’re not just handing out master’s degrees—so far it’s non-stop work.  For whatever reason, one of my professors made an online assignment due today at noon, even though I won’t have class this week.  So I had to finish this particular assignment late last night.

So waking up this morning wasn’t fun.  The pink and red sky over industrial Bayonne was certainly a sight, though.  When I finally arrived in the bag room (successfully navigating the maze of doors in the bowels of the lighthouse) and signed my name, I was 9th.  Movin’ on up to the East-side.

I would soon discover, however, that I was in for some good old fashioned couch time.  The tee sheet was packed, but Big Bear had to look after his regular guys first.  So after about an hour, I decided to sit in the poker room and watch the drama unfold to pass the time.

At first, there were only two caddies sitting at the table talking about their fantasy football teams.  Now, I’m a man, so I understand the concepts involved with creating a fantasy football team and how the points are determined, but I could barely keep up.  The names, stats, and strategies they were throwing back and forth made my head spin.  So I just sat there and kept my mouth shut for most of it.

Unbeknownst to me, another caddie was in the process of recruiting poker players.  When this “recruiter” walked back in the room and looked at me, he smiled.

“You play cards?”

“You know, I do, but I had to swear it off for a while because I lost too much money.  I know that’s probably music to your ears, but I’ll just hang back for now if that’s alright.”

He laughed and grabbed a seat.  Two more caddies came in with breakfast and sat down at the poker table, sipping their coffee and bitching in unison: “Hey, are we playing cards or what? We may have to loop soon.”

Then three more caddies came in, and the table was full.  The game could begin.  Twenty minutes later, Big Bear waltzed in and started commentating on the action.  “What the hell is that guy doing? This is the caddie room.  Ignore all logic, thought, and instinct…and just push in all your chips.  Don’t think, dude.  Act.”

The game went on for a while, until Big Bear heard some static over the radio and told a few guys to cash in and head up top.  Yet instead of going up top with them, Big Bear took a seat at the table and started playing.  Call me crazy, but that fascinated me.  I have managed a few caddie programs (or assisted, anyway) in my heyday, and I would’ve never dreamed of sitting down to play cards.  There were always people to meet and things to do, and it would’ve been impossible to pull myself away.  But I guess after five years at the helm, Big Bear knew the routine cold and could take 20-30 minutes to enjoy himself without causing a hiccup in the first tee procession.

Between hands, Big Bear conveyed a story about one of the caddies in the yard who had been arrested the night before.  For those of you who have never worked in a caddie yard, this story may seem outrageous—but this is pretty much par for the course when it comes to caddies.

“So did you guys hear about Miller? We’ve got another arrest to add to the list.  What’s he up to now—five for the season? I think that’s a record.  Anyway, the guy gets a booty call at 1 am.  He lives in like…the worst part of Newark.  So Miller puts on a black jacket and a black hat, and there just so happens to be a robbery in the area.  Well of COURSE the cops are going to pull him over because he looks like a freaking hoodlum.  So they arrest him and take him in for questioning.  When he finally convinces them that they’ve got the wrong guy, they run his record and find an unpaid $90 ticket on his file for urinating on the Light Rail (public transportation).  So, long story short, he’s not here today.  Good old Miller.”

Around 10, the phone rang.  One of the caddies yelled my name, and it was time for me to get my ass to the podium.  As an aside: there’s a sign on the exit door next to the poker room that specifically tells everyone NOT to use that door to go up to the first tee.  On my first day, Big Bear told me to go all the way up the stairs and out ANOTHER door, so I’d end up by the putting green.  Yet each day so far, EVERYONE goes out the door their not supposed to for a loop.  So I just said screw it, I’m doing that too.  Walking all the way around the building isn’t really any fun when NOBODY ELSE is back there.

When I arrived at the podium, it didn’t look like anyone knew what was going on.  I mean sure, caddies and outside staff members were being proactive, going out to meet members pulling up in cars or carts to take their bags and say hello.  Aside from that, 10 caddies (including me) seemed to be just standing around on the front porch in the wind—just waiting.  On Saturday, I gave a caddie a lift to the Light Rail (different guy, not Mr. Pee) and he mentioned that most of the loops out here are “pot luck.”  I didn’t really understand what that meant until today.

After about 15 minutes of interacting with members, guests, and caddies, I finally figured out that I would be working with another caddie named Brandon, and that we’d be splitting a threesome.  By now it was about 10:30, and the porch was mobbed.  Everyone wanted to tee off at once.  The order of operations at this club is as follows: when a crap-load of golfers are chomping at the bit and you can’t send people off of 10 or 14, the first tee order requires that singles go first, then twosomes, then threesomes, then foursomes.  As a threesome in the midst of foursomes, we were given the green light.  I guess tee-times are more like guidelines here than rules.

Our group consisted of two members and a guest.  I would start by carrying one of the members—a thin, 6’7’’ behemoth named Mr. B.  The other member was Mr. V, and after watching a few practice swings, I dubbed the guest Mr. All-Wristy.  Brandon asked the group what tees they wanted to play.  Mr. V said blue, which meant 6,700 yards in 30+ mph winds.  I thought to myself: “Self, these must be decent golfers.  Nobody in their right mind would play that yardage and punish themselves if they knew they couldn’t handle it.”


Mr. V topped his tee shot into the Sasquatch weeds in front of the tee.  What added to the fun was that when I turned around, 30 people stared down at us.  All those players and caddies waiting on the porch? Yeah, they had stadium seating for this show.  The first tee is on a much lower level, blocked from the wind between two huge mounds of grass.  I turned back to my players, and crossed my fingers under my towel.

Mr. V striped his second tee-ball, which made me feel better.  Then Mr. All-Wristy stepped up to the plate, and snap-hooked his ball into the tall grass. 

“I’ll just drop in the fairway.”

At least he’s easy-going about it.  Then my man, Mr. B, grabbed a 5 iron and drilled it 215 yards into the wind, right in the center of the fairway.  The first hole is only 340 yards on the card, and without wind you only have about 230 yards of runway before the nasty stuff—so Mr. B’s play was understandable.  I just couldn’t believe he hit a 5-iron that far.  Holy leverage.

Under my “old school” caddie training, I was taught to never lose a players ball.  Out here? If you lose less than 5, you’ve either done a great job or you have a plus-6 handicap for a player.  Even if you have a perfect line on the ball and see where it stops, there’s still a good chance you’ll lose it.  To add to the fun, many shots carry over large mounds of grass—of which there are many between you and the green—and you may not be able to see or figure out which mound of grass holds your ball.  The only silver lining here is that you’re bound to find 5-6 balls a round that AREN’T yours, but that will be enough to quell the players’ frustration because then you can say: “Hey, sorry about losing your ball again.  But here’s a brand new ball for you to use.”  In a sense, the balls you lose and the balls you find tend to wash each other out.

Brandon and I talked a bit, and I could tell he had a good work ethic.  He said he’s been caddying since he was a kid, and that this course is “night and day” from where he used to work.  I had to agree with him—I’ve worked at some clubs where you have to kill yourself just to get a smile out of the members.  But here, you can relax a bit and just be yourself.  The course is walking only, and so the membership tends to be younger than your average private club.

Brandon forced reads on the players on the greens.  That annoyed me at first.  Again, it’s just my upbringing, but normally you’re just supposed to read the putt and wait to see if the player asks you about it.  You don’t just read the putt and tell him where to hit it.  As Brandon proved, however, this was actually acceptable and useful, because the greens here have so many undulations and considerations that the only way to keep up the pace of play would be to take Brandon’s approach. 

I also noticed that I should have complete confidence in my yardages.  It’s easy to come to a course like this with 30-40 mph gusts and insane elevation changes and feel nervous about distance recommendations.  But I found that despite my rookie appearance, I’m a golfer first and a caddie second, and so I still have what it takes to gauge appropriate yardages.  On one of the par-5s, Mr. B had—without wind—205 to the flag for his second shot from the fairway.  Water and marsh ran all the way up to the green on the left side.  Now, Mr. B is a behemoth, so I knew he could get there.  But the wind was gusting at 30-40 mph BEHIND us, and the pin location meant that he would have very little room before or after the flag to stop this ball.  In other words, the yardage had to be perfect.

After visualizing the shot myself, I felt that he’d need at least 180 to clear the water, but not too much after that.

“I’d say your 185 club.  If you hit it high, though, you could almost go 175 with this wind.”

“How about my 190 stick?”

“Sounds good.  Go with what you’re comfortable with.  There’s a backstop after the green if you go long.  I like it.”

It’s such a fine balance when it comes to giving a golfer information.  In the past, I’ve found that if you coach a player too much before a shot, 99% of the time they screw it up.  It just adds tension.  But if you give too little, then they’re not comfortable with the club selection or target, and they’re usually not happy with the result.  As a caddie, you need to find a balance.  As an aside, I’ve also found that the truly amazing golfers—scratch or better—can talk with you all day about strategy and not screw up.  So I guess my theory only holds up until you start talking about tour quality play.

With a mighty swing, Mr. B drilled a 7-iron high into the air.  The ball landed pin-high about 10 yards left, and bounced over the back of the green into the rough.  Considering the crazy wind and the shot he had before him, that was a great swing.  I also ended up reading his birdie putt correctly—ahem, dead straight—and he thanked me as he walked to the next tee.

At that point, the other caddie was already in forecaddie position on the next hole, so I ran to get out to the other side of the fairway with him before our players teed off.  After the tee-shots, Brandon came over to talk.

“Dude, you need to smoke some weed or something.  Why are you running around like that?”

“What, just then? I was just trying to catch up to you.”

“No, I mean like…all day so far.  Just relax.  I told you: this is different than other clubs.  Calm the hell down.”

I had to laugh.  Seems nothing has changed.  I’m still getting crap from caddies about how I work.  What was even more surprising to me was that I don’t consider myself to be in shape yet.  I’m sure I’m going to be feeling all this tomorrow.  Brandon had one more important tidbit to add:

“Oh, and when you carry two on the back, I’m going to stick with Mr. All-Wristy.  I think that’s the only way we can speed this group up.  Right now I feel like we’re holding up the course.”

Good point.  I remember in the past that if you’re caddying in a group that’s holding up play, you’re going to catch hell from the other caddies after the round is through.  Then again, in order to help speed up play, shouldn’t I maintain my current caddying speed, Mr. Brandon?

The back 9 was much smoother than the front.  With Brandon helping out Mr. All-Wristy, we sped up our pace of play and the round was over with before we knew it.  It also felt great to give out yardages to the other players, seeing on their faces that at that point, they really trusted my judgment.

The 18th was satisfying—now I know what Jay meant on Saturday.  This course is a HIKE, and finishing your trek just feels good.  Then again, that means that working a double will probably make me cry. 

The longstanding tradition of taking off your cap and shaking hands with players after the round is through is still one of my favorite parts of the day. All cheesiness aside, you really do feel as though you’ve been through a lot with someone at that point, and it’s just a satisfying conclusion to a 4-5 hour relationship.

When I started changing back in the bag room, I noticed I was drenched in sweat.  Yeah, I’m certainly going to be feeling that tomorrow.  Brandon came down with an empty carry bag from Mr. All-Wristy, and then walked into the TV room to talk with Big Bear.  I don’t think Brandon knew I was on the other side of the cage when he started talking.

“Big Bear, you need say something to your friend.  Tell him to take some freaking muscle relaxers or something.  He’s running around like a kid out there.  It’s ridiculous.”

“You know something Brandon? Back in the day we called that ‘hustling.’  I can’t teach you that.”

Sitting here now, a day later, I’m REALLY feeling it.  My schedule for caddying will be Thursday through Sunday until mid-November, so at least I have a few days to stretch and pump Advil.  It’s really been a treat to don the bib again, but I do have to figure out a better schedule for studying.  Unfortunately, I can’t recover from late nights like I used to.  If I keep this up I might need a walker the next time I work.

Take care all.

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