The caddie and golf are inextricably linked. From an early beginning as a servant-in-waiting to the tour player’s partner and confidant, the attendant on the bag has been an integral part of the game of golf.
Mary Queen of Scots
History tells us that the derivation of the word can be traced to the time of Mary Queen of Scots in 1561. It is a corruption of the French word 'cadet', a young court employee who waited on the needs of royalty.
Returning from France on her mother’s death, Mary took a liking to playing golf. Young cadres from her entourage performed the duties on the course similar to those of today.
William Innes 1778
The story of the caddie parallels the development of the game. In the beginning golf clubs were carried in a bundle under the arm. This was a suitable arrangement as most players only used half a dozen clubs.
In the late 19th century the golf bag was invented to cater for an ever-increasing number of clubs. Golf was still a game that only the rich played and bag carriers were drawn from the working classes in the area. They were often out of work men given to drink and hard living.
As golf became more popular there was a growing need for artisans. Craftsmen set up shop to make and repair the clubs used. They also hand made the golf balls that had evolved by 1618 from hard wooden spheres to a leather ball stuffed with goose feathers. To make a 'featherie' was a time-consuming task and young assistants were hired to help in the workshop.
To supplement their wages they accompanied those who could afford the game. They knew more about how to play than their clients, and were the original forebears of today’s teaching and touring professionals.
Lowry + Ouimet
Many of the early superstars of golf began their golfing life as caddies. J H Taylor, part of the Great Triumvirate of golf, began work at Westward Ho Golf Club in North Devon at the age of eleven.
Francis Ouimet lived across the road from The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts where he carried the bag for well-heeled members. As a 20-year old amateur he famously beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the US Open in 1913 on a course he knew well.
Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson and many others did not start out as players. For them the caddy shack was the route to the professional game.
Sadly the advent of pull trolleys and ride-on golf carts has stifled this youthful introduction to the game. The opportunity for young kids to earn some pocket money at their local golf club is now limited.
Golf clubs in more affluent societies favour the hire of pull trolleys and golf carts as a way of generating extra money. Fortunately it is still possible to play the game at some courses how it was intended to be played by walking the course with your personal assistant.
The well-worn phrase of 'Show up, Keep up, and Shut up' doesn't tell the whole story. There is something known as 'caddie error' where the caddie either through ignorance of the rules or stupidity costs his or her player one or two penalty shots.
In the 1950s and 60s in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) there was a shortage of experienced help for tournament play. The organisers of the event would round up any locals willing to carry a bag. To avoid on-course problems they introduced a local rule whereby players weren’t penalised for mistakes made by their caddies.
Lorena Ochoa LPGA
On today's tours caddies screw up from time to time and the player has to bear the consequences. These are not simple errors such as treading on another player’s line, losing a head cover, or forgetting to pack the waterproofs.
In the modern game the possibilities for making costly mistakes are endless. The rules are a mine field and vigilant television viewers hover near their telephone to report any breach.
The role from a simple bag carrier has evolved over time. It is great fun and rewarding to be part of a winning team, but it can also be a heavy burden to bear when things go horribly wrong.
1 = nls.uk
2 = rosscollection.co.uk
3 = usgamuseum.com
4 = lpga.com