Veteran club caddies fear their jobs could be lost

May 05, 2020
Bob Parilla Hero 2.jpg

As a veteran caddie at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in the New York suburb of Scarsdale, I was really looking forward to this summer season. The U.S. Open was going to take place in June across the street at Winged Foot, and the last time that happened, our course got a lot of extra play. People who came to the Open for the week snuck over to play our track, which was also designed by the famous golf-course architect A.W. Tillinghast. That made our members and pros feel great, of course, but it also meant extra work and some memorable loops for the 60-plus guys who show up every week to await work in the former one-room schoolhouse that serves as our caddie house at the club’s entrance. When Mike Weir didn’t make the cut in 2006, I carried bags for his caddie and swing coach. It was fun to see people like that experience our course, and to hear some of them say they liked it as much or even better than Winged Foot.

Now most of us are stuck at home, not knowing when we’ll be out there again. In the past, our club has been good about looking out for us, finding work on the grounds crew, for instance, for caddies when they got injured or were too old to walk the course on a regular basis. Our members have generously chipped into a caddie support fund, and we’ve been in touch with each other about temporary jobs. But a lot of guys are scared, and some are freaking out because they budget all year based on their summer work. As independent contractors, we depend entirely on tips and can’t apply for conventional unemployment insurance. I just put in for the $1,200 one-time payment under the relief bill, but that won’t go far. I was going to start delivering groceries and pizzas, but I live with a girlfriend who has a pre-existing condition, and I can’t afford to get sick and bring the disease back to her.

Photo by Alan P. Pittman during video chat

I got my love of golf from my father, who has been around the game so long that he once shagged balls for Ben Hogan. Hogan was playing a tournament at Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle, not far from Quaker Ridge, and my dad was asked to stand in the parking area while Hogan hit on the range. “You can’t hit here, there are cars all over the place!” my dad said. “I hit it straight, son,” Hogan replied. When I was 19 and in college, I caddied for Mickey Mantle at Wykagyl (see photo above). I went over to Quaker Ridge in 1994, caddied for a few years, then got a 9-to-5 job, then was in the bar business, until I got tired of working until 4 a.m. and came back to Quaker in the early 2000s. At the end of the season, a number of us work for an online Christmas-tree service delivering to celebrities like Rudy Giuliani and Drew Barrymore, then picking up the trees later. But my main job is caddieing, as one of the guys who tries to do two loops a day on weekends and works all the outings and tournaments. Last summer, I was chosen to caddie at the Curtis Cup, the competition between the best female amateurs from the United States and Britain and Ireland, which was played at Quaker Ridge. I was on the bag of Lauren Stephenson, an amazing player who has since turned pro but can’t compete now with the LPGA on hold.

What’s really unfortunate about this situation is that in recent years, smart management and new technology has made life a lot better for caddies at our club. When I started out, all the caddies had to be at the yard by 6 to have any shot at getting out, and then we waited around to be called up in the same order every week. But now we all have a phone app that allows us to get notifications of our assignments the night before, so we just need to get to the course an hour or two ahead of our tee times. It makes for fewer “Caddyshack”-like moments in the yard, but it’s more humane for everyone. Right now, we’re all just counting the days until we start getting those tee-time app alerts again. —with Mark Whitaker

Bob Parilla Jr., is a caddie at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y.