Golf & FinanceOctober 30, 2011

A Cash & Carry Career

Last summer I had the good fortune to play Diamond Creek Golf Club in the hilly countryside of western North Carolina. Our threesome rode in two carts that day as caddie Matt Gallant ran from player to player lining up shots, delivering yardages, toweling off muddy golf balls, cleaning clubs, raking bunkers, reading putts and lifting our spirits when necessary. His fee was $25 a bag plus tip. We paid him $160 for the group.

The experience got me thinking about caddie finances. A $160 payoff for four and a half hours' work seems like pretty good money, even with all the hustling up and down those fairways. But what kind of a living, I wondered, are full-time caddies like Gallant really making?

Here's what I found: In the summer, caddies at a high-end club like this one work five or six rounds a week, earning $3,000 to $4,000 a month, depending on experience. There are often opportunities to earn extra money. When I visited Diamond Creek, Gallant, 30, was delivering newspapers around the property each morning, heading up the valet service at club parties and working as the starter on Mondays -- employee day on the course. This earned him another $4,000 or so.

In the winter, spring and fall, many caddies at clubs like Diamond Creek decamp to similar clubs in Florida. They make a bit more per 18 holes, but expenses are higher. Total pay works out to $35,000 to $40,000 a year.

Loopers who get themselves to New York's Long Island can make a lot more. I spoke with a 15-year caddie veteran who splits his time between Florida and a top club in the Hamptons. This year he's on track to pocket $60,000 in cash -- $18,800 of it in July and August. "The 'A-team' caddies, as we call them, can bring in $300 to $400 a loop," he says. "There's so much money here it's ridiculous."

No matter where you ply the trade, the key seems to be grabbing as much work as you can -- because there will be periods with little or no income. "I've had stretches where I worked 40 consecutive days," says Ray Grehofsky, who caddies at a top-ranked southeastern resort for three quarters of the year and Diamond Creek during the summer. "When the fish are biting, you stay at the water." (He has extra incentives to keep busy: a wife and four children.)

Like a lot of resorts these days, his employs an outside vendor -- Florida-based Caddie-master, in this case -- to manage its program. Caddiemaster collects a percentage of each fee, which is unpopular with some caddies, of course. What loopers get from Caddiemaster in return varies from course to course, but it includes more regular work schedules, stipends for weeks when they're not busy and access to group health insurance. "We help create a stable, positive work environment for caddies," says Mike Granuzzo, founder of Caddie-master. Their benefits are "not over the moon," he concedes, "but we try to do more and more for them each year."

For the ultimate in unstable work environments, consider the life of a tour caddie. Not only are you hopping from town to town each week, "there's no job security out here at all," says one PGA Tour looper who has been at it for three years. "A lot of guys get let go after five weeks or less."

Most tour players base caddie salaries on winnings. This caddie, who is 30, made $700 a week plus 5 percent of his player's earnings when they were on the Nationwide Tour. He got 7 percent for top-10 finishes and 10 percent if his player won. Now on the PGA Tour, the caddie earns $1,200 a week and gets the same bonuses, only on much larger purses. He figures he banked about $30,000 last year, after expenses. "It's a job, and it's hard work, but it's interesting," he says.

Caddieing does take its toll on the body, which is partly why, after nearly five years of caddie work, Matt Gallant hopes to find a teaching job, or even play professionally, next year. That and the fact that he's ready for a change. "Being outside and meeting all these interesting people and helping them get a little more from their rounds has been unbelievable," he says, "but I enjoy teaching more." He adds: "I guess I have to grow up at some point."

WHICH'D YOU RATHER?

Many courses nowadays make you take a forecaddie like Matt Gallant instead of a more traditional caddie carrying one or two bags. I assumed carrying was harder work and probably deserving of more pay, but caddies generally make about the same money either way. Among caddies who've done both, there's some debate over which is "easier." The main challenge for a forecaddie is the pace: One person attending to an entire foursome's needs really has to move. And it's not as if it's gentle on your body. As Gallant says: "All that running wears on your knees, and with all that jumping on and off the back of the cart, guys get hurt."