The Art of Caddying

What’s it like to caddie at St Andrews, the undeniable Home of Golf? The ‘Kilted Caddie’ explains some – if not all …

No one ever told me there would be so much involved in carrying a set of golf clubs round 18 holes of golf. But I have been caddying at St Andrews for two seasons now and I have my stories to tell.

The five hours spent out with your client during a round of golf can be the most trying or entertaining or happy or miserable or frustrating time. And that can all happen in one round – and often does. For golf is a dangerous and cunning and exacting game.

In St Andrews there are about 100 full-time caddies, and what a motley crew we are. We probably come from every conceivable walk of life. There are of course the career caddies, who are a rarer breed nowadays, and can normally be identified by their wizened, leathery skinned-look and ability to chain smoke and drink 15 pints of Tennent’s lager at one sitting. And then there are the others. Now we are a fascinatingly diverse bunch. Amongst us there are florists and bricklayers, filmmakers and bakers. We are fisherman and delivery men, merchant bankers, teachers, policemen,brewers and stewards; there are also painters, decorators and picture framer Harvard graduates and high school drop outs.

A few golf professionally but most of us are good to middle-range amateurs. You should try a ’caddie mulligan’ whereby you get your caddies to drive off at one hole. That can be enlightening.

Now the introduction to your caddie on the first tee is a fascinatingly complex and interesting thing. Not only is an experienced and discerning caddie looking at the size of your golf bag, he is also trying to gauge your character, your mental equilibrium and present emotional state of being. I kid you not. This is fundamental to the happiness of the next five hours of his life, so it’s a serious thing.

I remember distinctly last year not liking the look of this big American chap in a group from Texas and made a bee line for another bag in the group. And indeed my decision was vindicated, as it turned out he took the game far too seriously for his own good. After several bad holes around the turn he suddenly lost it after taking three to get out of ‘Hell’s Bunker’ – the prominent hazard at the par-5 14th on the Old Course, and lobbed his club for his poor, now miserable caddie, to retrieve and face his wrath.

And I had one Venezuelan doctor playing in some invitation competition who got off to a good start and was happy and talkative but started putting atrociously. His mood began to change. It came to a head on the 13th where he missed and challenged the line I gave him. He twice went back to show I had given him the wrong line but again pushed the putts. The situation was only resolved when this was manifestly pointed out to him by his, now embarrassed, playing partner. He didn’t talk to me again.

But what a job it can be too. If you get a fun group who enjoy the game for what it is and the sun shines on the links and the white breakers are coming in on the beach, it can be the best place in the world to be. Auld St Andrews town stands silhouetted in its medieval majesty as a backdrop to the last five holes on The Old and, in an ideal world, we walk down in harmony and joviality and laughter. The group have struck it off with the caddies and the talk is of wee drams of peaty Lagavulin, that birdie at the fifth and the elusiveness of the native haggis. (However a really good caddie should have a good nose and eye for that sort of thing).

And if you have spotted a haggis and had a birdie on the Old and finished it off with a heavenly dram of malt in the Jigger Inn … it doesn’t get much better.

And is it a wonder that the golfing mecca and myth and magic of St Andrews and Scotland woos us all …

– First published on HK Golfer