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Golf Digest Logo KINGS FOR A DAY

At America’s greatest caddie tournaments, the stakes keep getting higher

'It’s the golden ticket for all of us.'
May 02, 2024

BETWEEN 650 AND 750 COURSES IN AMERICA use caddies. Most run some sort of caddie tournament. Formats and eligibility vary widely. At River Forest Country Club in Chicago members loop for caddies in a qualifier to decide 12 spots for the Noonan Cup—inspired by caddie champion Danny Noonan of “Caddyshack” who famously bested Tony D’Annunzio in the 1980 film. However, today’s caddie tournaments bear little resemblance to that raucous depiction. They’re highly competitive, well-organized showcases for men and women who have devoted their lives to the game, played out behind the gates of exclusive clubs. These competitions possess a purity surpassing just about all else in golf. Pros play for money, members play as often as they want, but for caddies, this is a once-a-year chance to invert their role on beloved ground. These are deeply meaningful tournaments played at a high level with a circuit of majors few know about.

STAYING SHARP IN THE FOREST

Casey Boyns has played in the “Del Monte Forest Caddie Cup” at Pebble Beach (or the Caddie Cup as it’s more commonly known) 20 or so times, a figure that is surprising to approximately no one along 17-Mile Drive. Boyns is in the California Golf Hall of Fame. He’s a four-time Northern Cal Player of the Year and two-time California State Amateur champion, having qualified for 18 USGA events, including the 2010 U.S. Senior Open. At 67, he’s the No. 2 caddie at Pebble—his seniority pipped only by a caddie named “Rocket” who has logged 45 years to Boyns’ 43.

“I’m a professional amateur,” Boyns says modestly, his surfer voice revving slightly at the mention of tournament golf. “Guys get so pumped to play in the Caddie Cup. It’s really the bomb.”

The Pebble Beach Resort has a yard of roughly 350 caddies. The Caddie Cup has been running in various forms since 1991 and is 72 holes of stroke play every January, with four caddies each representing Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay, Spyglass and Cypress Point. The historic team tally is 16 wins for Pebble, seven for Spyglass, six for Cypress and five for Spanish Bay. “The rivalry’s especially big among the three resort courses—Pebble, Spy and Spanish,” says Spyglass caddie Troy Armstrong, the Caddie Cup organizer.

Qualifying is 36 holes at nearby, mega-tight Del Monte. In 2022, Taylor Daniels, playing off a plus-1.5-Handicap Index, scored the low gross of Spyglass’ yard in qualifying at five under, and Troy Armstrong (a plus-2.2-Index) was four under. Two other Spyglass caddies broke par but didn’t qualify. Todd Gjesvold, a Spanish Bay caddie who has caddied on tour for Russell Henley, once shot 62. “We’ve probably got 15 caddies in the qualifier who are scratch or better,” Armstrong says. In the 2024 Caddie Cup, Cypress looper Nick Randazzo shot a final-round 65 at Cypress to finish at three under—only to be beaten by Armstrong, whose 69 at Pebble and 68 at Cypress set a tournament record at six under.

The level is extra impressive considering how seldom most caddies play. “In the season, once a week would be lucky,” says Armstrong, who caddied 180 rounds in 2023, nearly all doublebag loops. “The more you work, the less you play, just because of how tired you are. Lately, a lot of caddies here have been averaging 220 to 250 loops a year.” In 2022 Pebble caddie Ray Kim looped 150 consecutive days.

They practice when they can. Del Monte has $35 caddie green fees ($25 on Mondays), and local munis Pacific Grove and Monterey Pines are also popular. Boyns is one of about a dozen caddies who belong to private Pasadera, and a handful more are members at Carmel Valley Ranch. Others hit balls after work at Monterey Pines’ public driving range.

“You know when the qualifier ’s happening,” says Steven Kinnaird, Pebble’s caddiemaster. “At Spyglass, there’s a short game and putting area, and leading up, there’s so many caddies honing their short games.”

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Clockwise from top left: Winning caddie teams current and past from Maidstone, Pebble Beach, Atlantic, Bandon, Stanwich and Winged Foot. Photographs courtesy of the caddies

When it’s time for the Caddie Cup, loved ones often take the bag. Armstrong’s wife and dad have taken turns caddieing. “A lot of fathers come out to carry for Cypress,” Armstrong says. “I mean, it’s the golden ticket for all of us.”

As much as the Caddie Cup is a thank you to loopers for a season of hard work, it’s also a celebration of the immense talent within the yards.

LUXURY AT THE LOOPER CUP

Of all the caddie tournaments, Bandon’s “Looper Cup” might be the sweetest deal. Founded in 2015 by owner Mike Keiser, it’s an annual match among six-person caddie teams from Bandon Dunes, Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Pebble Beach and Mayacama. The event has one rule: Get yourself onto property at Bandon, then everything is paid for.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Boyns, who has played in the Looper Cup multiple times. “We stay at the Grove Cottages. It’s four bedrooms with a living room common area, so everyone’s got their own king bed and bathroom. It’s the most high-end they have at Bandon.”

With typically two matches a day plus additional casual holes, it’s a lot of free golf for a group that normally doesn’t spend on itself. “The first time you’re there, the grandness of the place, you’re just reverent,” says Pine Valley’s caddiemaster Todd Baron, who has played in the Cup several times. “On Sunday when we get there, we’ll play the Preserve—the par 3—and then check into the cottages. You check in, make it your home, and you get up the next day and start playing. It’s a privilege.”

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Caddie John Flanagan hits an approach at the Lucky Looperchauns Caddie Invitational. Photograph by Don Frank

“You’re dealing with high golf IQ when it comes to bag setup, course management,” says Jeff Simonds, Bandon’s general manager. In the 2023 Cup, Bandon captain Jimmy Kelley set a new course record at Bandon Preserve—the 13-hole par-3 course—shooting a seven-under 32. Some years, Bandon’s qualifier draws nearly 100 caddies, the cutoff score typically under par.

“[The caddies] play a lot of golf, but they’ll also hang out,” Simonds says. “At the final luncheon, everyone’s just so excited. Sure, Bandon’s won it nine times in a row, but that doesn’t invoke any feelings other than excitement. I mean, 15 minutes after all this golf, they’re reliving the shots and talking about next year. Mayacama’s saying, ‘Oh, we were so close; we almost had you!’ It’s just fun stuff; people are happy for their friends. I mean, truly, the spirit of the game is alive and well.”

APPRECIATION OUT EAST

In mid-September in the Hamptons, Atlantic Golf Club’s fescue is biscuit brown. Beside the putting green is an ocean of colorful leather headcovers and ultralight stand bags. Classic rock streams from clubhouse speakers. Loopers with third-degree suntans and machete-sharp short-games are everywhere. Atlantic assistant pro Matt Dubrowski points out Eugene Smith, a 44-year-old caddie at National and Seminole who used to play the Canadian Tour and competed on “Big Break: Prince Edward Island.” Before that, he won six times while at Seton Hall (earning a spot in its Hall of Fame), played in two U.S. Amateurs, and once shot 59 at his home club, Glen Ridge Country Club in New Jersey (Smith also shot a 61 at Seminole in 2011, missing a 12-footer to tie Claude Harmon’s 1947 record).

Smith is here, like everyone else, for the Berkeley Cup. Seventy-two caddies represent nine esteemed private clubs—National, Atlantic, Maidstone, Friar’s Head, East Hampton, The Bridge, Sebonack, Westhampton and Noyac. The format is 18 holes of stroke play, eight caddies per club, best six scores for each team’s total. The winning club keeps the cup for a year, and each caddie on the winning team gets a $2,000 scholarship from the Michael J. Berkeley Foundation (the money can be directed to a family member in school or used for continued education). To date, Atlantic holds the most victories (nine), followed by The Bridge (four) and Sebonack (three).

Rick Hartmann, Atlantic’s director of golf, created the East End Cup in 2000 as a way of thanking caddies for a long season, but in 2001, Atlantic member Michael Berkeley (a former caddie at Winged Foot who later became the first caddie of color to join Winged Foot’s membership) was killed in the September 11 attacks. The event was renamed the Berkeley Cup in his honor. “I hope these guys feel the love we have for what they do,” Hartmann says.

THE LEVEL IS EXTRA IMPRESSIVE CONSIDERING HOW SELDOM MOST CADDIES PLAY.

Appreciation from members and senior staff is the raison d’être for caddie tournaments like the Berkeley Cup. It’s the same at the Geary Cup (Shinnecock vs. National), the ’56 Cup (Baltusrol vs. Winged Foot vs. Stanwich) and the Battle for the Bell Cup (Seminole vs. McArthur). At the Bell, more than a hundred members typically watch matches, and the same year that McArthur course co-designer Nick Price was Presidents Cup captain, he also gave a rousing pump-up speech to the McArthur caddies. For the ’56 Cup dinner, caddies have received special blazers from their clubs and each year swap golf hats.

In the Berkeley Cup field are eight current and former pros, a father-son team (Peter and Dave Diel from The Bridge), plus an Argentinian caddie contingent from Maidstone who call themselves “The Argentinian Mafia.” Atlantic’s eight Antiguan caddies, the backbone of 2022’s winning team, have largely decamped to Florida clubs already, but Noyac caddie Anna Nordfors is here—one of three women playing—a plus-4-handicap who played at the University of Central Florida and is soon turning pro.

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IN MEMORIAM The Berkeley Cup leader board is adorned with signature catchphrases of Michael Berkeley, who died in the September 11 attacks. Photograph by Marise Swart

Many caddies showed up to carry for friends, turning down paid work to be part of the Cup. Five caddiemasters are also here, supporting their teams as de-facto captains. “The majority of my guys start texting me about this in February,” says Chandler Dunning, The Bridge’s caddiemaster. “All the members want to know how we did in this,” adds Ben Leising, an East Hampton caddie with 11 Berkeley Cup starts now caddieing for a friend. “From Memorial Day to Labor Day, it’s a grind, and then we get out here and get to play this place? No better feeling.”

Pre-shotgun, caddies assemble for a picture by the clubhouse. Nearly everyone will be leaving for Florida soon—to Jupiter and Palm Beach, following members to Medalist, McArthur, Apogee, Palm Beach Country Club and so on. In a few weeks, the yards will be empty, but for now it’s a party.

CROWNING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS

In the library of Pinehurst’s Manor Hotel on a Sunday in early December, 14 caddies gathered, each a winner at one of the seven regionals—one for gross, one for net—from 152 competing caddie yards at pinch-me clubs like LACC, Oak Hill, Valhalla and TPC Sawgrass. These 14 have each won an all-expenses-paid trip to Pinehurst for the finals of the first national Caddie Open—a new tournament funded by Troon Golf ’s Caddiemaster and ClubUp. Both organizations help clubs run caddie programs in a modernizing world—the former offering full-service management, the latter providing dedicated software.

“Oh, man, you got us everything!” says Taylor Myers, 28, a gravel-voiced Mayacama caddie and golf pro from San Francisco, as he inspects his gift bag. Nearby sits Brad Lampe, a lively Dallas National caddie known as “Big Country.” Across the room is Luc Warnock, a lanky 23-year-old caddie at Chicago Highlands, who shot 68 at Whistling Straits’ Irish Course to qualify. Luc’s dad, Scott, is caddieing for him this week. Instead of claiming the free plane ticket for just himself, Luc drove with his dad 12 hours overnight from Windsor, Ontario, in the family’s Dodge Durango. “My dad works at a car factory, so we set off at midnight once he finished his shift,” Warnock says.

Behind Warnock, Tom and Jim Murray stand together talking quietly. The Murray brothers are the No. 1 and No. 2 caddies at TPC Sawgrass. Both qualified through the South regional at Concession Golf Club. Tom won gross; Jim won net. “Our dad was military,” Tom says, “so we grew up all along the Eastern seaboard.” Tom, 40, played in the U.S. Amateur at Merion in 2005 and won the Florida Open as an amateur in 2009.

Near the first tee, Edgar Rodriguez, 51, a caddie for 25 years at LACC, takes in the view. Rodriguez is from Tarimoro, Mexico, and moved to Los Angeles when he was 17. Two of Edgar’s uncles caddied in Mexico when Edgar was growing up and 11 members of Edgar’s family caddie at LACC—two brothers, four uncles and five cousins. All live in the San Fernando Valley within three miles of each other and often share rides to the course.

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DEL MONTE CHAMPS From left: Chris Marin, Colter Bissell and Stephen Planchon. Not pictured is teammate Casey Boyns. Photograph courtesy of Dave Herold

Rodriguez drove two hours to Goat Hill Park in Oceanside for the qualifier and won the net division. Several members had to convince him to accept the trip to travel to the finals. “I’ve never been to the East Coast before,” Rodriguez says. “This was my longest flight ever. I didn’t realize this country is so big, man! I kept looking at the map. I watched two movies!” He looks down the first fairway of Pinehurst No. 4. “This is a great experience for me. I used to ride bulls. Now I play golf.” That night, he received multiple surprise Venmos from LACC members imploring him to buy keepsake merchandise.

Every single caddie stripes an opening drive down the middle—all 14 players. “Those were real good,” the first-tee starter says as the last drive gets pounded. Alot of fathers are on the bags this week. Their being here says more than most words could. The fathers stand with folded arms and white caddie bibs, trying not to lose headcovers.

Brandon Pierce, an athletic 29-year-old, caddied 175 rounds at Pinehurst. For his second shot into the par-5 second, he roasts a 5-iron from 210 yards to two feet. Nobody blinks. Brandon’s dad, Chavgney, walks ahead with the bag. “I caddied for Brandon here in five or six U.S. Kids Golf events over the years—a lot of great memories here.”

In 2015 Brandon was a sophomore at LSU. That spring he had the lowest scoring average in school history (besting David Toms’ 26-year record), then led his team to a national title by going undefeated in match play. Brandon also finished T-11 in the individual competition, which Bryson DeChambeau won. A picture shows Pierce holding the NCAA trophy with an easy smile. That night, during the victory celebration, Brandon dove into a pond with his teammates, fracturing his neck.

APPRECIATION FROM MEMBERS AND SENIOR STAFF IS THE RAISON D’ETRE FOR CADDIE TOURNAMENTS.

“From such a high to such a low,” Brandon says as he treks down the fifth fairway, showing the scar on the back of his neck. “Wow!” a playing partner gasps. Brandon’s dad looks on, accustomed to this attention. Later, in the clubhouse, Brandon’s dad chokes up while recounting that time. “It was hard, really hard. I had a friend who hit his head diving into a pool in college, became a paraplegic. This brought back a lot of painful memories. I think I took it harder even than Brandon.”

Before the surgery, Brandon was warned by his doctors he might never walk again. Three months later, he was playing golf. Now, at 29, he has played in several Korn Ferry Tour events. “We’ve missed Q school finals by a stroke twice,” his dad says. Caddieing at Pinehurst is a chance for Brandon to gear up for another Q -school run, get stronger and work on his short game. From the back of the green, Brandon hits a hybrid chip to a foot. “You must caddie here,” says an onlooker. Brandon laughs.

In the group ahead, Ryan Artis is near the lead for the net division. Artis, a 27-year-old with a 3-handicap, caddies at Congressional. (Artis looped for President Obama while he was in office and is still his regular caddie when Obama plays there). Soon, though, Jim Murray, a 7-handicap left-handed par-making machine, is running away with the net.

In the gross division, it’s all Brandon Pierce, who shoots 68-72 to win. Within view of Payne Stewart’s fist-pump statue, Brandon is presented the prize—a special white Caddie Open overall champion’s bib and crystal Caddie Open trophy.

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CONTROLLED CHAOS A horserace of multiple teams of caddies playing cross-country golf at Gearhart Golf Links. Photograph by Don Frank

donfrankphotography.com

Tomorrow everyone heads separate ways. Taylor goes straight to Bandon Dunes, representing Mayacama in the next Looper Cup (“Two pretty good weeks of golf !”). After that, another crack at Qschool awaits him and Brandon Pierce. For others, it’s back to the shack. “My boss is asking me when I can be back at Sawgrass,” Tom Murray laughs. “I told him, ‘I’m like No. 80 on the list tomorrow!’ ”

In the too-early December sunset, a pack heads to the putting green for one last skins game, men from vastly different worlds, united by a shared kinship in the game of golf. A few more trot over to join, not wanting the week to be over. They squeeze the last magical moments of golf out of the lavender light until it is dark—but the caddies keep putting, one more hole, one last chance to hit their own putts.

THE CADDIE MAJORS

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INAUGURAL WINNER The 2023 Caddie Open champion Brandon Pierce and his father, Chavgney, at Pinehurst. Photograph by Sam Buie

THE GEARY CUP

• Shinnecock vs. National Golf Links of America
• Played since 1995
• Named for beloved National and Shinnecock member Jack Geary
• Two-day format resembling the Walker Cup: Six foursome matches on Day 1 at one course followed by 12 singles matches the next day at the other course
• Played each June after the Singles Tournament at National

BATTLE FOR THE BELL CUP

• Seminole vs. McArthur
• Played since 2004
• Held each April, Monday after the Masters
• 12 caddies per team, modified alternate shot

OLYMPIA FIELDS VS. DUNES CLUB

• Played since 2016 (previously Dunes vs. Butler National since 1995)
• Format is 10 vs. 10, Ryder Cup style, for 27 holes
• Dunes caddie Joe Meindl, perhaps America’s oldest regular looper at age 88, caddies in the match each year

THE BERKELEY CUP

• Shinnecock, National Golf Links of America, Maidstone, Noyac, Atlantic, Friar’s Head, East Hampton, The Bridge, Sebonack and Westhampton
• Played since 2000
• 18 holes, gross stroke play
• Eight-person teams; best six scores total per team
• Winning team members each receive $2,000 scholarship from Michael J. Berkeley Foundation
• Played in honor of Atlantic member and former Winged Foot caddie Michael J. Berkeley, who was killed in the September 11 attacks

THE ’56 CUP

• Baltusrol vs. Winged Foot vs. Stanwich
• Played since 2007
• Four caddies per team
• Host club serves food
• Named for first year of Westchester Golf Association Caddie Scholarship (1956)

THE LOOPER CUP

• Bandon Dunes, Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Mayacama
• Played since 2015 and created by owner Mike Keiser
• Six-person teams play nearly each course at Bandon

DEL MONTE FOREST CADDIE CUP

• Pebble, Spyglass, Spanish Bay, Cypress Point
• Played since 1990
• 36-hole qualifier at nearby Del Monte
• Four caddies per yard (two gross, two net), 16 total, play 72-hole event, with one round each at Pebble, Spanish Bay, Spyglass, Cypress
• Tournament record (six under) set in 2024 by Spyglass caddie Troy Armstrong

GOLF ASSOCIATION OF PHILADELPHIA (GAP) CADDIE TOURNAMENT

• Played since 1946
• Open to any caddie of 50 Philadelphia-area caddie programs
• 18 holes stroke play
• Low round: 65, Tavistock C.C. caddie Jason Panter in 1989 at Philadelphia Electric C.C.

THE NOONAN CUP

• River Forest Country Club in Chicago
• In qualifying, members loop for caddies, with top 12 caddies qualifying for Noonan Cup in which they compete against members in match-play competition

LUCKY LOOPERCHAUNS CADDIE INVITATIONAL

• Played since 2012
• Hosted by Gearhart Golf Links on Oregon coast
• Twelve caddie yards, including Bandon, MPCC, Whistling Straits and Hawaii’s Nanea
• Two-day tournament, played in leadup to St. Patrick’s Day
• Includes a bowling tournament

THE CADDIE OPEN

• 152 caddie yards nationwide
• Played since 2023
• Conducted by Troon’s Caddiemaster and ClubUp
• Local qualifying leads to seven regional qualifiers, with top gross and net caddie at each regional qualifying for national finals at Pinehurst, with all-expenses paid, 36-hole tournament on Pinehurst No. 4 and No. 2