CHICAGO - Carrying a golf bag for a living seems like a teenager's job - summer work at the country club. That's if the country club even has caddies anymore. The tradition isn't exactly alive and well. Or is it? A new breed of caddies is emerging - older, smarter, and in love with the game of golf.
At many of the top clubs in America, private and public, there are caddies willing and anxious to pick up your sticks. No youngsters, but adults; grownups who have left behind "real" jobs as salesmen, truck drivers, and executives to be closer to the game they love; to carry someone else's bag, offer help and encouragement, and to leave the rat race behind for a life of looping. Not PGA Tour caddies, but honest-days-work caddies who each day walk the fairways of some of golf's most heavenly places.
"We've been contacted by all kinds of people, even CEO's, top people, who say they've made their money, their businesses are doing well, and now they want to be a caddy," says Dennis Cone, of the Professional Caddies Association in Palm Coast, Florida. "The thing is, so many places are looking for good caddies. Places like Pebble and Pinehurst, even Augusta National."
The reputations of a scrawny kid working at his dad's private club, or a tough-edged, hard-drinking, pack-a-day smoking caddy who just wants to make enough money for a meal and a place to sleep are long gone. Today's professional caddies take what they do very seriously, have impeccable people skills, and have solid knowledge of the game; its etiquette and nuances. And this new professionalism has lured people from other professions into the caddy life - sometimes just for a summer but other times as a full-blown new career.
"I feel it's a privilege to be on the golf course all day. It sure beats Florida Power and Light," says Tony Anzalone, 24, a new caddy at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida who recently left his job as a chemist at the utility company.
"I worked in a dark, dreary lab all day," says Anzalone. "I enjoy being outside now and I love golf."
Tony says he would have to consider another job as chemist if it came along, but right now he's making just about as much money caddying as he was in the laboratory. He's also single, has no steady girlfriend, and no ties. That, he says, has him considering relocating if he could get caddy work at Pebble Beach or Augusta.
And caddying at Augusta truly is a possibility.
John Hardy drove a truck most of his life but now he's a full time caddy at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia and occasionally walks the pristine fairways at Augusta as a part time looper.
"I'm considering taking a full time position at Augusta," says Hardy, 56, who never dreamed he would become a professional caddy and certainly never believed he would be carrying clubs at the home of The Masters. "I'm excited every time I know I'm going there. Sometimes I don't even sleep well the night before. There is something so special about it."
The money for John could be better, but admits the tips can be great.
"The most I've made in a single day was $400," he says. "Some golfers have even offered me jobs."
But John doesn't think he's taking another job. Not now. He says he'll stick with caddying as long as his body can handle the physical part of the job.
"There are physical demands. You have to be in good shape," says the Founder and CEO of Caddy Master Enterprises, Mike Granuzo. His company manages caddy programs at 31 private and resort courses around the country including Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, Whistling Straits and Augusta National. CME hires and trains the caddies making sure each caddy is up to the high standards demanded by these high-end properties.
"We're excited about these people coming from outside the norm of caddies. People who come from a traditional work force are good people."
Mike says about 5-10% of the people who respond to CME's want ads are working in jobs outside golf. If they're golf savvy, have good attitudes and a service mentally, they are welcomed into the fraternity.
"We had a gentleman who was an executive at Estee Lauder. He was 55 or so, caddied for awhile, moved up into caddy management. He's still a caddy full time," says Granuzo. "There's growth in the business and the caddy tradition is coming back. Just look around you - Bandon Dunes, Whistling Straits. Before these courses, when was the last time you heard of a walking-only golf course."
And walking, says Augusta caddy Ron McMahel, sure "beats consulting with lawyers."
Ron had been a Human Resources manager for many years and was involved in his share of legal work. But he also worked as a volunteer gallery guard at The Masters since 1994. When he took an early retirement package in his early 50's, he considered caddying and now works at Augusta and the private Maroon Creek in Aspen, Colorado during the summer months when Augusta National closes.
"I don't see any drawbacks to this job," says Ron. "I'm in the best shape of my life, I meet great people, and (Augusta) is a great place to be."
It's a great place to be for a lot of people. Especially for those who want to leave the grind of the real work-world behind.
"If the staff modeling (for one of our properties) allows for it, we would take someone who even wanted to just do this for several months," says CME's Granuzo. "If he's willing to relocate. Come one, come all. We can put them where we need them."
You're not going to get rich caddying. But that really depends on your personal definition of wealth. After his very first day caddying, making about $10 an hour, former chemist Tony Anzalone says he was nearly giddy.
"It was awesome. I never had more fun."
Caddy Master Enterprises
Pinehurst, North Carolina
Professional Caddies Association
Palm Coast, Florida
December 1, 2004