Female-caddie-illustration-1
First Person

Diary Of A Female Caddie

Home for summer and in need of money, a college student took a job as a caddie at the local club. The experience was worth more than the cashOctober 3, 2018

I liked being a hostess. I thought the waiters and waitresses at the pub where I worked were funny, and the food smelled greasy and delicious. I liked the way my feet seemed to shout at me after a particularly long shift. Pain sometimes reminds me of the effort I’ve put in, like being sore after a long workout.

What I did not like were the paychecks. Without the tips given only to waiters and waitresses, minimum wage wasn’t enough to get me to California.

My adventures as a caddie began out of a simple need to get across the country. That was it. I had started seeing Ali, a proud Californian, during the school year, and I was stuck in New Jersey for the summer. At the time I had no idea it would lead me into a foreign world of career caddies and club polishing, of days filled with aching labor and curious human interaction. At the time I just needed money for tickets.

The week I got home from Brown, I went on the attack. I peppered all my friends for legal and safe ways to make about a thousand dollars in a month or so. They came up with some pretty illegal and dehumanizing responses. I clarified that I would not be willing to sell any of my body parts, or any narcotics.

“Why not come to the country club and caddie?” a friend asked over beers.

He ended his sentence with a loud guffaw. He was only kidding, yet he had planted an idea in my mind. Why couldn’t I caddie? The guys who did made fistfuls of cash, and how hard could it actually be? I was athletic, plenty stronger than the gangly high school boys the country club hired.

Two weeks later I asked my dad, a frequent golfer at the club, to introduce me to the caddie master. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky. I couldn’t wait to get started.

One week later, I watched rain pour down the windshield of my Jeep in the parking lot of the country club, with no one to blame but myself. I got out of my car, where I saw at least a dozen men warming up to play. Raindrops the size of dimes were already seeping through my white Nike tennis shoes, but nothing can waver the determination of the middle-aged athlete.

Related: A woman goes undercover at a country club

“You Bigelow’s kid?” a mustachioed man asked me once I arrived at the check-in desk.

“Yes. My name is Maggie, so nice to meet you. Will, right?” I held out my hand to the caddie master, exaggerating my grin.

He ignored my hand, and searched his desk. He let out a grunt of pleasure as he found what he was looking for: a blue, pinnie-material vest with the letters SGC* printed loudly on the front, an acronym for the golf club.

“This is yours. Keep it clean, and keep it tidy. Sorry, but that’s the only size we got. Keep your gun, your tees, and your balls in the front pockets. And keep it tidy,” Will thrust the vest at me.

I slipped it over my head quickly, then transferred the tees and balls I had into the front pockets. I felt like a kangaroo. Then I put the distance finder (my gun) I held in my hand into the vest.

Will moved quickly. He gave me a name tag that misspelled my name, barked at me for parking in the wrong spot, then ushered me into a small hut with about three dozen men, all of whom were now looking at me.

“Keep it clean in here. There’s a lady in our presence. No more dirty talk, we got that?” Will demanded before shuffling out.

I took a seat on a rickety folding chair. It groaned under me, and for a second I feared I might break it. I observed my observers.

Three quarters of them were middle-aged black men. The rest were white men of the same age, or high school or college-aged kids. I was the only female. I would later learn that the middle-aged men were the “career caddies.” This was their primary source of income, and most lived in the South in the winter to continue plying their trade. They were critical of rookies.

No one really tells you how to do it. Everything you learn is either from observing other caddies, or being yelled at by a golfer.

The TV blared on, replaying Steph’s best three-pointers and Harden’s dunks. No golf. I waited as man after man, and boy after boy were called down for their loops.

Loops are given out based on experience, how busy the course is, and frankly, Will’s mood. They are 18 holes typically, except some ladies' rounds, which are only nine holes. You are called through a radio station in the shack. It’s imperative to always be listening. Late on a loop, and you’ll likely lose it.

After three hours of waiting, the radio shouted: “Maddie, get down to the tee. Grab Mark Jones’ clubs. Hurry.”

I shot out of my whining chair, and practically sprinted to the club storage room.


A CRASH COURSE IN CADDIEING

No one really tells you how to do it. Everything you learn is either from observing other caddies, or being yelled at by a golfer.

“Carry their bags. Watch their balls. Shoot the distance,” Will told me my first day, after calling my name on the radio. Solid advice.

I soon learned there was more to it than that. Never lose track of your golfer’s ball after they hit it. Shoot the golfer’s distance to the pin as soon as you set his clubs down, and make sure you get it right. Getting distances wrong is the fastest way to anger a golfer, and is embarrassing for you.

Once you’re on the putting green, be exceptionally quiet. I was paired with a high school boy who ate potato chips while the golfers putted, and his player screamed at him for five minutes. Never walk in the ball’s path, even if it isn’t moving. Footprints can alter the fragile greens, and ruin a golfer’s read.

Bring snacks in your pockets or caddie vest. Four hours of walking up hills with 30 pounds on your back can make you ravenous.

Expect to make less money when you caddie for female golfers. The club allots two hours two days a week for them called “lady golfing hours.” They only play nine holes, and some of them bring push carts.

Wash your golfers’ clubs off at the end of the day. Put all of them in a big bucket, and go to town with a scrub brush. They’ll come over and hand you a handful of cash, and you’ll remember why you showed up in the first place.

John Warburton-Lee

Illustrations by John Ritter


CAREER CADDIES

Career caddies are their own breed. They know the game best, and are usually decent players themselves. They also tend to be hard on new caddies, although it turns out I wound up getting along with the career caddies better than with the boys my own age. Many of them had caddied for my dad in the past. They were fond of him, and ended up fond of me as well.

“Make sure you watch ze ball all ze way to ze ground,” Todd, affectionately known as ‘The Professor’ once advised me. “Dey will yell if you lose ze ball.”

Todd is a Haitian immigrant. A chemist in his home country. Here, he likes to say he is a physicist because of how he can read the break of any green.

“Make sure when you get Gatorades, you put it on the golfer’s tab. They won’t mind,” Z laughed one day, his braids shaking underneath his bucket cap.

Z is arguably the best caddie at the club based on his green-reading proficiency. He claims he’s better than any golfer at SGC.

“Tuck in your shirt, Mags! Will will lose his mind,” Not-So-Big Ronnie grinned at me, a gold tooth in the back of his mouth glinting.

Not-So-Big Ronnie used to be just Big Ronnie, I’m told, until he lost about a hundred pounds. All his pants hang on him like saggy leaves.

“I have jet skis. I bought them last summer. They are ridiculously fast. I’m taking my son for a trip to try them out this week. Gonna be a hell of a weekend. Take a look at my son,” Danny huffed. “Cute, isn’t he? Very fit, very fit. You sure you can manage two bags? I’ve seen girls caddie in my years, but none that double bag and stick with it. We’ll see if you’re back here tomorrow . . . ”

Danny is a talker, always rushing to get in every last thought. He fracks oil in the winter, and was always eager to tell me about the money he made doing it.

“You’re still here, HA! You outlasted those little high school chumps. Tell your dad, ‘hi,’” Moe cackled.

Moe is about my height, his skin practically leather from the wear and tear of too many sunny summer days. His ankles are narrower than my wrists. He makes up for it in charisma.

“Wow, if that ain’t the most handsome boy I’ve ever seen,” Carl said under his breath to a bystander as I walked towards him, one of my first days. I turned purposefully to reveal the tight bun on the back of my head.

“Oh shit.”

Carl went on to give me some of the funniest descriptions of Will, the most harrowing golf cart rides, and the best advice to secure better tips. I could forgive the misunderstanding.


PERFECT MR. PAUL

I caddied for my favorite golfer at SGC on my second day of work. From there, it was all downhill.

Since I was new, I was still only allowed to carry one bag at a time. I waited with his bag by the first tee.

“Hi Mr. Paul, I’m your caddie. I’m Maggie.” I extended a hand, which he gripped strongly.

He was very handsome, couldn’t have been older than 30, with dark chestnut hair underneath a trendy red trucker hat. His red Under Armour shirt matched, and his eyes were bluer than the June sky. I was smitten.

“Hi Maggie. You sure it’s not Maddie?” he pointed to my name tag with a smirk. “Glad to have you. You can call me Nate,” he insisted, unzipping the pocket of his golf bag. He retrieved a tiny round speaker, and proceeded to clip it to his belt loop.

Hall and Oates crooned “You make my dreams come truuuuue” as he sauntered to the tee box.

One '80s hit after another carried us through the round. I chased after each perfect ball Nate smacked onto the fairway, positive I’d found the love of my life. I became suddenly aware of my boxy collared white shirt, knee-length shorts, and profuse sweating.

“So, I know your dad a little bit. You’re in college, correct?” he asked, taking a swig of cold water from one of the coolers stationed at the next tee box.

“Yes! I go to Brown, I play lacrosse.” I grinned at him, pumped at the recognition.

“That’s great. Sounds like you’re really well rounded,” he nodded. I beamed. “My wife and I are always on the lookout for babysitters for our kids. Any interest?”

I felt my face drop, unexpectedly.

“Yeah, the extra cash would be great actually,” I answered, staring down at my white tennis shoes.

I sulked the final holes, in disbelief at my own dismay. I wrote down my number on a scorecard for him, insisting he let me know if he needed a sitter.

My phone buzzed a couple hours later as I was cooling down at home.

“How was work?” Ali texted me.

I played the day over in my head, including the most surprising part. I knew Ali would find it even more amusing.

“Fine. Weird. Idk, I kind of had a crush on the dude I carried for.”

“HAHAHAHA.”


OUTDOOR OASIS

Golf courses are beautiful. Well, at least the SGC golf course is beautiful. It isn’t beautiful in the way a mountain is, and it isn’t beautiful the way the beach is. There is no spectacular wildlife, and there are no great surprises. The course is meticulously groomed, and looks about the same every day.

But there is something uniquely attractive about golf courses. The grass is cut to artificial perfection, and it is the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. The trees are big and full, and a source of shade and comfort from the summer sun. From a distance, the water hazards flow and shimmer. The course is full of steep hills, a real terror to walk through with bags on your back, but if one were to stroll it casually, it would be enjoyable. The greens usually sit at the peaks, and you can see the entire landscape while handing the golfers their putters.

When the sun sets on the course, it crouches behind the hills as if it's hiding. Yellow, orange, red, purple hues hit the grass and seem to reflect back. The air grows cooler, and the subtle smell of dew sets in as the sprinklers wet the grass.

Sometimes, on particularly miserable days, I liked to pretend I was hiking. I would flex my aching calves, and give an inner monologue on what it was like to climb Everest. Exploring uncharted territories, with only my supply bags full of golf clubs for weaponry. The white balls I searched for were clues or prizes, or whatever else would keep my mind from going numb. And in that way, the golf course was made into an adventure.

When time and space from the golfers allowed, I would sneak a picture to Ali if it was a particularly beautiful day. I wanted to justify a job I didn’t even like, prove maybe to myself that my days were still well spent.

I was obsessed with the money I was making, the way it felt in my hands after a loop . . . I liked the look of awe on golfers’ and other caddies’ faces as they saw me carrying two bags.

Walking back after four hours of backbreaking work, I would glance at the gated pool area. I’d hear kids splashing, the whistles of swim practice coaches, and the slurps of ice cream. It looked pretty in there, too, sunlight dancing off the tops of the crowded pool. I wondered sometimes if I should have just been a lifeguard.

John Warburton-Lee

Illustrations by John Ritter


TOURNAMENT TIME

Tournaments can be hell. They are how you make from $500 to over $1,000 a weekend, but the money feels more than earned. I walked more than 20 miles in less than three days, and my feet were sore for a week.

Typically half of golfers get inappropriately drunk, and play terrible golf. The other half take it too seriously, and make a real attempt at winning the prize money. That’s the gist of it.

Golfers get to choose their caddies for the member-guest, as well as other tournaments. Normally, parents cannot have their kids as caddies but tournaments are the exception, and since by mid-July I had become a pretty good caddie, my dad picked me. My Uncle Brian was flying in to be my dad’s partner. I was excited at first, but then I realized it meant I would have to caddie 63 holes over three days. Excitement eventually turned to dread.

“Just drop out,” Ali advised me over the phone. “You have more money than you know what to do with at this point, and your dad can find someone else easily.”

But I was obsessed. I was obsessed with the money I was making, the way it felt in my hands after a loop. With my uncle footing the bill instead of my father, it felt earned. I felt sweaty and sore in a way I never did working other jobs. I had already lost two pant sizes in only four weeks, weight eerily dropping from my hips and other parts of my body. I liked the look of awe on golfers’ and other caddies’ faces as they saw me carrying two bags. I couldn’t quit now.

Saturday was the real test. My dad and Brian were already knocked out after the first nine holes. Bad weather, bad playing, who can say. Once they got out, we started having more fun.

Sports have always been a part of my relationship with my dad. I was his first kid to stay up and watch his beloved Denver Broncos with him. He drove me to countless sporting events, then recruiting trips later on. It had been common ground for us—one of the ways we communicate, a language mostly only we understand. Now that I was a caddie, I could add golf to my repertoire of sports knowledge, and have one more thing to chat about with him. I loved caddieing for him that weekend. He had watched me play sports for 14-plus years, but here I enjoyed waiting 30 yards ahead of him, and watching him smack balls.

We spent the final holes slogging through the rain, the conditions so bad and the bags growing so heavy my dad’s opponent broke down and secured his caddie a cart. My dad never did, and strangely I didn’t even mind. I liked the squish of my shoes on the waterlogged fairway, I liked the numbness in my shoulders from the golf bags. I liked that I looked tougher than this boy. When the weekend was over, I collected my money and felt disproportionately proud.


FORE-LESS & FURIOUS

Summer was almost over. I picked up a bag from the storage room, and set it on the tee box. It was the last time I would collect a bag from the storage room.

“Really? You’re our caddie?” A red-headed young man walked up to me. “Huh, never seen that.”

I felt blood rush to my cheeks. A lot of men pee on the golf course, but most warned me prior to starting their stream. At the very least, the average urinator walked a safe distance away. I turned my back, and listened in discomfort to the rhythm of his pee.

He was probably in his late twenties. Let’s call him Rick. His real name has been mysteriously wiped from my memory forever, the way you wipe a hard drive of all unnecessary information. He was gangly, with rectangular wire-rimmed glasses. His Nike clothes looked brand new.

As I decided whether or not his opening question offended me, a gang of virtually identical men sauntered up, all red hair and skinny limbs.

“We’re brothers. If you couldn’t tell.” He took an indulgent sip of Coors Light, and handed me a garbage bag filled with full beer cans. It weighed about fifteen pounds.

“Put that in my bag, please. I know it’s annoying to add extra weight, but we do pay to have a fun time.” He raised his light red eyebrows, the smirk of a naughty boy twisting his features.

Todd “The Professor” was the caddie I was paired with. He rolled his eyes to me when Rick had his back turned.

As the round unfolded, each unreasonable request chipped away at my composure like an ice pick. Most golfers like to have dirty golf balls wiped down by caddies once or twice a round while putting, but Rick liked his to be polished on what seemed like every putt.

“Do you golf much, Maddie?” he walked ten paces in front of me, turn his head back cockily.

“No, I don’t,” I answered, struggling to keep up with both bags, each filled with beer and trash.

“Huh. How does a girl get involved in this sort of thing?” he asked, and then proceeded to unzip his pants.

I felt blood rush to my cheeks. A lot of men pee on the golf course, but most warned me prior to starting their stream. At the very least, the average urinator walked a safe distance away. I turned my back, and listened in discomfort to the rhythm of his pee.

By the second-to-last hole, my rage was rising. My back was aching, and not in the usual pleasurably fatigued sort of way. It was more of a fifteen-extra-pounds sort of way. My eyes were still scorched from nearly seeing this man’s genitals, and my pride was wounded every time he asked me why I was caddieing.

I stood with Todd, both of us fuming. We were standing far out of the line of where any reasonably average golfer would hit the ball. We were doing our job correctly. From our vantage point, it was somewhat difficult to watch the drives without endangering ourselves. We typically just listened for the thwack of the ball, assuming a yell of fore would give us time to duck.

Rick was up last. I was standing out of harm’s way, waiting. I heard the thwack and watched Todd’s eyes to find the ball. Todd was an exceptionally good tracker.

“Duck! Duck!” he screamed.

I dove out of the way, feeling a stabbing pain in my leg. A clementine-sized welt had already developed on my ankle. I sat in the long grass of the rough, rubbing my wound in irritation. I felt pain, but it was masked by blinding rage that filled every fiber of my being.

“Are you okay, Maggie? He hit you! My God, he did not even yell ze fore!” Todd crouched down to take a look.

“I really am fine,” I promised.

Rick and his red-headed gang of idiots strolled over.

“You hit a fucking girl,” they laughed, falling over each other in drunken glee. “That is the funniest shit I’ve ever seen.”

Todd looked up in disgust.

“She could've been seriously hurt. You need to yell ze fore,” he stood toe-to-toe with Rick.

The final hole, I glared up at the sun as the pain in my ankle throbbed. It reminded me I needed to quit. I was paid $200 that day. An ice pack made of money. That was the last day I caddied.


TICKETS

When I arrived in California, my summer of caddieing at least made for decent storytelling. Everyone I talked to, from Ali, to her family and beyond relished hearing the gory details on what it was like to work with exclusively men for an entire summer.

“Would you ever do it again, next summer?” Ali’s mom asked as I finished a perfect description of Will’s hiked-up khaki pants and bushy white mustache.

I hadn’t really thought about it. I assumed I’d get an internship the following summer, that my two-month stint was more of a voyeuristic look into a strange world rather than a perennial job.

“I don’t know, maybe. I guess it all depends on if I can find a real internship or not,” I answered truthfully.

“Well, I don’t know why you would ever caddie again, sounded pretty awful,” Ali laughed, shaking her head slightly.

It’s true, caddieing had a lot of drawbacks. I often felt disrespected because of my gender. Some golfers were impolite, and nothing is worse than New Jersey humidity at noon on a Friday with two bags on your back.

But certain things I would miss. I met a lot of amazing men, both fellow caddies, and golfers. Caddies who would joke with me, offer me tips or help, and tell me how much they loved my dad. Golfers who asked about my life, thanked me for each club I handed them, and were willing to forgive any mistakes I made, which I’m sure were plentiful in my first couple weeks on the courses.

Both sets of men had no obligation or real reason to be kind to me; I was an outsider entering their domain. It would have been easy for all of them to treat me different, but the times I was able to feel comfortable, I found myself looking forward to going back to the caddyshack the following morning.

Nothing says golfers have to be kind to their caddies. It’s a paid position, so they can be as respectful or disrespectful as they please. But from my somewhat limited experience, the round is a little more enjoyable, the putts read with a bit more accuracy, fewer balls lost, when caddies feel like just one of the guys. Or so to speak, anyway.

The club name as well as those of caddies and players have been changed for this story.

Maggie Bigelow is a junior at Brown University, where she plays lacrosse.