The following story is true, as is Woodway Country Club. The names of the golfers have been changed.
When Greg was 12 his father insisted Greg get a summer job. Since Greg was small and skinny, the father wanted the job to be something healthy and outdoors. The dad was delighted when Greg jot a job as a caddy at Woodway Country Club in Stamford Connecticut. Greg’s dad told him it would be a good way to not only develop himself, but to see how adults behaved in the real world. Greg did both, but in a way his dad had anticipated.
Woodway was an old fashioned sort of club that still required caddies. Golfers could ride in carts if they wanted, but most preferred to walk. The course was beautifully designed in such a way that except for the First and the 18th hole you were completely out of site of the club house.
An experienced caddy got six dollars for lugging the bag around 18 holes. A newbie like Greg only got five dollars. But there were perks. On the ninth hole there was a little outdoor bar the golfers stopped at. Tradition had it that the golfers would buy cokes for the caddies. So the caddies got to sit in the grass and drink cokes while the golfers sat at tables on the patio sipping beers and Gin & Tonics.
There was also the matter of tips. Each golfer tipped his own caddy (there were almost no women players). The tip was a big deal. Getting a one or two dollar tip meant a lot if your total pay was only five dollars. But the tips varied tremendously. Some players gave zero and some gave as much as ten or ever twenty dollars. It all depended on whether the golfer had won or lost.
Now would probably be a good time to mention that the golfers bet on the rounds. And they bet a lot of money. They bet on who would have the overall lowest score. They had side bets on the outcome of particular holes. They bet on whether a player could make a particular shot.
That’s when Greg discovered the first rule of adults. That their personalities completely changed when money was involved. The greater the amount of money the more their personalities changed. Doctors, lawyers and other respected members of the community would smash clubs, scream, jump up and down if they missed a shot. The second rule of adults turned out to be that they did not take responsibility for their own mistakes. Any error was instantly blamed on the caddy. A missed drive was because the caddy had distracted the player. A missed putt was due to the caddy’s shadow on the green. For five dollars a player got a whipping boy for 18 holes. Caddies were trained to take all this abuse in silence. It was just an accepted part of the job.
The worst mistake an caddy could make was to lose a ball. A gofer would hit a ball into the rough or the woods or the edge of a water hazard and expect the caddy to know exactly where it was. Most of the caddies were great at this. Greg was not. He actually needed glasses but did not know it. Up close he could see things just fine. Reading books was no problem. At school he sat in the first row so reading the board was no problem. But that summer he found out that he could not see things far away very well.
When a golfer hit a long drive, other caddies would spot the ball going into the distance and note exactly where it landed. For Greg, the ball would go off into the sky and when it got far enough away it simply disappeared.
After the golfers hit their tee shots the caddy’s job was to run down to where the ball was and stand next to it with the golf bag. Greg would run extra fast into the direction he thought the ball went and hope to find it. After all, how hard could it be to find a white ball on a field of green? Unfortunately, there are a lot of small while objects on a golf course. Little pieces of paper, gum wrappers, even a dandelion with white seeds all look like golf balls until you get up close.
Most of the time Greg could scurry around and find the ball. Then one day he lost one and a very large middle aged male golfer screamed at him for a full five minutes until another caddy found it. At the end of the day the golfer made sure to not only not give Greg a tip but to show Greg he was giving a tip to the other caddy who had found the ball. Greg swore he would never let that sort of humiliation happen again. No matter what.
Golf bags are amazing contraptions. They have all sorts of pockets and zippers and hidden flaps. When the golfers are not looking, or are drinking at the 9th hole bar, the caddies search through all of the pockets just to see what is in there. One caddy claimed that in Doctor O’Toole’s bag he once found a naked picture of the doctor’s beautiful young second wife. All of the other caddies called “bullshit”, but after that they tried to caddy for Dr. O’Toole whenever they could. Mr. Wilson told all the other golfers he had given up smoking but there was always at least one pack of cigarettes tucked away in his bag somewhere.
There were a lot of golf related items in the bags too. Extra tees, rags for wiping clubs, small tools to tighten cleats, but especially lots of extra golf balls. It was these extra golf balls that were soon to make Greg the most successful caddy at Woodway.
The first instance was during an an oppressively hot Saturday when Greg was caddying for Mr. Saunders who was a mediocre player at best. As usual, the players were betting big bucks. There was a side-bet on the 12th hole and it looked like Saunders actually had a chance to win it. Then he hit a drive that hooked off high and out of site. The fairway had a dog leg to the left, so a hook on a tee shot might actually turn out to be a good thing. There was no way to tell from the tee. If the ball had gone left just a little it was a great shot. If it had hooked a lot then it would have gone into the woods.
The caddies all ran down to find the balls, carrying the golf bags with them. The other three caddies went off the the right since the other players had sliced. Greg found himself alone and saw no trace of the ball. It might have gone into the woods. On the other hand it could be in the rough at the edge of the fairway.
Something in Greg snapped. He just could not take having another six foot adult scream at him inches from his face for losing a golf ball. While the players and other golfers were still out of site he reached in the bag and pulled out a spare golf ball. He walked back into a good position on the fairway and surreptitiously dropped the ball and stood next to it with the bag.
Mr. Saunders was delighted with his great shot. The other players congratulated him. His confidence got such a boost that he not only won the hole, but he ended the day winning the entire round. At the end of the day Mr. Saunders gave Greg a ten dollar tip.
Greg told himself that this would be a one-time occurrence, but of course, it was not. Taking a ball out of a bag and dropping it in a good position became sort of like an addiction. Golfers stopped yelling at him. In fact some of them started specifically requesting Greg as their caddy. The tips were big every day. There was also the adrenalin rush of getting away with it. He no longer searched very hard for lost balls. It was so much easier to cheat and pull one out of the bag.
It got to the point where he started moving the ball even when he did not have to. Greg would find the player’s ball in the rough and before everyone else got there he would use his foot to kick it back into the fairway. A ball would be right next to a tree in an impossible lie and he would move it to the other side of the tree.
Did the players know? At first Greg thought he was getting away with something. But as he got to know more about the game of golf he began to think they must have known. A player knows how good he is. A player can feel if a tee shot was good or bad. But none of the players ever said anything or made any accusations. They would end the round and give Greg a big tip. Once or twice Greg was sure that a player he had cheated for gave him a little smile or nod. But maybe that was all in Greg’s imagination.
The summer ended and so did Greg’s days as a caddy. That winter he got a pair of glasses. Looking back Greg realized that his dad was right. The summer job did make Greg develop, and teach him a lot about how people behaved in the real world. Maybe too much.