I had my first caddying gig at the inaugural Otago Charity Classic in Dunedin in New Zealand when I managed to get the bag of New Zealand’s then rising star, John Lister as a result of my sister being a good friend of John’s sister.
In 1970, at the age of 17, and as what I thought was a reasonable player at the time, it was an unbelievable opportunity and thrill. I had read up many books and as many articles as I could get my hands on (there was obviously no internet at that time to assist in that regard) in order that I would not make a fool of myself or make any stupid mistakes.
I had actually prepared my own yardage book based on information I had read in one of those articles and was delighted when first meeting John and showing him what I had done that he was impressed and actually relied (perhaps foolishly) on the information he got from me for assessing yardages.
When he asked me at the end of that week if I was interested in coming to work for him in Hastings at the then Watties tournament the following week I jumped at the chance and my destiny in the game was set and I guess that earlier preparation for the Dunedin event had paid off.
For the next twenty five or so years, on and off and in various parts of the world, I caddied in around 160 events in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Europe and the US and for the winners of seventeen of those events which I suppose could be considered a reasonable strike rate.
As my media career developed through the 2000’s I was privileged to witness first hand many tournaments and as a sometimes on course commentator and golf journalist I got to see in an up close and personal manner the changes in the role of the caddy and the information made available in more recent times compared to that available for much of my early days in the role.
The two most significant changes in that regard, putting far greater reimbursement aside, are the yardage book and the availability of pin positions. Pin positions or new holes were cut fresh for each round and their location played a key role on decision making.
In earlier times pin positions had to be sourced by physically going out on to the course and getting the pins yourself. That would sometimes mean caddies sharing the daily ritual of an early morning rise to get out ahead of play and actually pace the greens to get the pins.
The information was usually jealously guarded although sometimes a mutual understanding between caddies staying together in the same ‘digs’ might mean a sharing of the load in that I might get the pins one day and someone else might get them the next.
It often involved a very early rise and there were times where, after a night out, it was hard to drag oneself out of bed to get to the course.
Soon after that, a rule was introduced where caddies were not allowed on greens ahead of play and so you could walk alongside the green and assess the distance from the front of the green but could not walk on the green.
As that level of information became more and more a requirement for a caddy to acquire and as prizemoney grew it became important for a caddy to have that information and so more and more caddies were walking the course.
Eventually the penny dropped and tournament officials began providing pin positions on the first tee to players and caddies thereby reducing any advantage, reducing the number of caddies out on the course before play and making it an even playing field for all in that regard. It also made life a lot easier for those that had been conscientious in acquiring the information the old way.
A couple of memorable instances I remember while getting pin positions. At the 1975 Dunlop Masters at Ganton in Yorkshire, Graham Marsh, who I was caddying for, led after the first round and while on my way to the golf course early the following morning, diligently in search of the pins for that day, I noticed, at around 6.00am, a board outside a newspaper shop with the headline ‘Marsh disqualified’.
I could not get my head around it initially and thought it must have related to something other than golf but sure enough on further investigation it went on to say Graham Marsh had inadvertently signed an incorrect scorecard and was out of the event while leading. His scores on two holes on the back nine had been transposed by the golfer marking Marsh’s card and while his overall score added up to the same total there was no choice but for him to be disqualified.
A more enjoyable memory was when Gary Player’s then caddy, Alfie Fyles, and I were out separately on the eve of the 1973 Piccadilly World Match Play final at Wentworth in Surrey getting pins for the next day as they had cut the holes in the evening after the semi-finals. As those who have been to Wentworth would know, it is very linear in design and takes some walking to get every pin position.
above and below 1973 World Match Play
With darkness closing in I saw Alfie and we both agreed to share whatever pin positions the other had not already secured and it was a nice moment ahead of what the next day would be a torrid battle. It also saved us about an hour’s work and we headed off to the local pub in Virginia Water for dinner and a pint.
At St Andrews in the middle of the summer I recall getting pin positions at 10.00pm one evening for the third round of the Scottish Open there in 1973 as with so much light to late in the evening getting that information on the way home from dinner made more sense than getting up in the small hours of the morning to do so. The positions or indicators had already been set.
Yardage books have changed dramatically over the years. From the early days of doing your own by pacing yardages from various points on the fairway to the front of the green and to other points of strategic interest to the stage where the surveyors wheel became the popular means of getting more accurate distances to now when the books are so amazingly detailed via laser measurement, not only in terms of yardages but in the information provided around and on the green.
The quality of the information available to all now has to some extent neutralised the harder working caddie but there are still those who shine due to their preparedness to go above and beyond the call of duty in securing the point of difference information needed to give their man (or woman) an advantage.
Given the background I have had, many people ask how to get into caddying and what exactly makes a good caddy. My response to the latter is that if you have the information at your fingertips at all times then how much of a role you play will be dependent on how much your boss wants from you.
Different players require different input and clearly the longer you work for someone typically the more they will rely on from you. If however you are performing the role your player wants, irrespective of how much or how little they require from you, you are a good caddy.
The easiest way to get a start in caddying is to find a way to get into the system. Once you are in there then it is surprising how opportunities will come your way.
Start with a young player at a tour school or at a lesser event such as a Tier 2 event here in Australia and see what develops. You might end up with the player you started with who could develop into a very good player but if other players witness your capabilities and demeanour and are interested then you might just be asked.
The caddy network can also be helpful so make friends with some of the others already working the tour and keep your eyes and ears open. Typically, however, you need to be inside the system however to take advantage of these opportunities when they arise.
Contact a tournament and just be proactive in getting a start. It could lead to something very special and a lifetime of opportunity.