There aren’t many professions out there where you meet someone for the first time, to then spend the next four hours or more at their beck and call – but for a golf caddy, this is a standard day at the office.
Golf caddies are there to assist and serve the needs of their assigned golfer. Far from being there just to carry the golfer’s gear and to keep score, golf caddies perform various roles whilst on the fairways.
During your time together on the course, a golf caddy is your golf butler, friend, confidant, historian, comedian, course guru and so much more.
Using my years of experience being a golf caddy myself, in this article, I’ll delve in-depth into what a caddy does and their importance. But first, we’re going to take you to Scotland – the birthplace of golf – to look at the origins of caddying.
A Brief History
The word caddy derives from the French word ‘le cadet’, meaning ‘the boy’ or the youngest of the family. The word ‘cadet’ appears in English from 1610 and the word ‘caddie’ or ‘cadie’ shortly after that in 1634.
A cady, caddy, cadie, or caddie became used for a general-purpose porter or errand boy in Scottish towns in the 18th Century, particularly used for delivering water in the days before modern utilities.
Caddies are often mentioned carrying golf clubs, but it was not until 1857 that the dictionary ascribes the use mainly to those carrying golf clubs. In the early days, there were no bags and the clubs were carried in a bundle, which can be seen in paintings of the time.
The first named caddy was Andrew Dickson, who would later become a golf club maker. He acted as a fore-caddy for the Duke of York as a boy in 1681 on Leith Links. A fore-caddy would go ahead of the players and their main role was to search and find golf balls.
Among the 21 registered caddies at St. Andrews on a list that appeared around 1870 were three who would go on to win Open Championships: Thomas Kidd Jr. (1873), Robert Martin (1876, 1885), and Willie Fernie (1893).
In between loops at St. Andrews, early caddies would help on the maintenance crews. Among the many jobs that Old Tom Morris, the father of modern golf, held at St. Andrews was that of caddy supervisor.
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Many established golf clubs through the land at this time offered a caddie service for their members, a time when golf was primarily played by the privileged who both expected and could afford to pay for this service.
The number of old school clubs in the United Kingdom that still offer a caddie service is probably only 10% of the numbers at the turn of the twentieth century. There are now only less than a dozen clubs with a golf caddie program based around their members.
Today the golf caddy market in the United Kingdom relies mainly on work at the main championship courses throughout the land that overseas visitors continuously flock to play.
At membership golf clubs with a caddy program, the relationship grows stronger over time as many members will gradually find the caddies that are the best fit and then request them regularly.
The Caddy-Player Relationship
A good golf caddy has to have great people skills. Every day they meet new people from all different walks of life, countries, cultures, age brackets, and sexes.
They have to be able to establish a functional relationship and bond with their golfer very quickly. This bond is crucial to imparting their wisdom and knowledge of the golf course and to understand their player’s psyche, game, and golf goals.
The caddy is at the front of the coalface, witnessing the player’s every emotional high and low. They must keep their golfer focused, cheer them up when down, keep them calm when over-excited, big them up after a great shot – and build them back up after a poor one.
Caddies will often trade life stories with their golfers, and having been a golf caddie for years myself, I can tell you that it’s amazing how intimate and intense these can be – particularly as you’ve only just met them.
A caddie/player bond is rather like a doctor/patient or lawyer/client relationship – confidential, built on trust, support, and great advice.
How To Form The Caddy-Player Bond?
A good golf caddy should be able to get a feel for their player and the rest of the group in the ten minutes you are with them standing on the first tee waiting to start play.
If they are quiet, then the caddies in the group should also be quiet. First tee nerves are often the reason for the lack of chat at this point. Very often groups may be a little reserved on the first tee then come out of their shell as the round develops.
Conversely, if there is a lot of trash talk on the first tee, then a good group of caddies will soon become an integral part of this chat.
From this point on, conversation, humor and the level of golf talk should all reflect the type of player and group you are with. A good caddy will allow this to develop organically.
There is no right or wrong style of caddying – it depends on the golfers’ needs and personality. However, one constant is that every golfer wants their caddie to be enthusiastic and invested in the job of caddying.
The golfer, of course, gets no say in who they may get. Golf caddies are lucky dips – sometimes amazing, but occasionally the personalities between the caddie and player might not match.
When the caddy can develop the right connection as quickly as possible, then the golfer will trust and listen to what you have to offer. This trust opens the door to offering good advice if your player is struggling with their game.
The 16 Roles of a Golf Caddy: What Do They Do?
I’ve talked in-depth about how important people skills are, now let us discuss the practical roles and skill-sets that a caddy requires.
#1: Knowledge Of The Course
Most golfers ask many questions before they play any shot. The caddy must have the answers. It may be where bunkers are located, the distance to a bunker from the tee, where is the pin on the green, as examples.
#2: Understanding The Playing Conditions
This is particularly important on courses with variable weather conditions, such as on the Scottish links. Here, the caddy must be able to adjust the yardages required to hit into greens based on the external playing conditions.
For example, the player may have a 140 yard shot but the caddy has to calculate the adjusted distance and may recommend that the player only requires a club that goes 120 yards.
#3: Understanding Your Golfer’s Skill-Set
The quicker a caddy can assess his player’s ability, then the better the day will be for both parties. Which way does the golfer move his ball? Do they have a draw shape or a fade? This will greatly influence the target lines you give the player, particularly in a crosswind.
How high do they hit the ball? Players with a high ball flight will need bigger yardage adjustments when playing into the wind than somebody with a lower ball flight.
Conversely, players with a lower ball flight will get a lot more run on the greens when their ball lands. All this has to be factored in early in the piece.
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#4: Green Reading
This is when a caddy really earns their stripes. This is the most important role of a caddy and where, arguably, the most shots can be saved during a round.
They need to know the greens well to impart the information clearly and precisely in terms of both the line and pace. Being specific is key – no wishy-washy lines saying ‘just a little outside the left of the hole’…. what is just a little?
Experience plays a big part in how good a caddy may be at reading greens, nobody gets every read right. If they did, they would have every top professional knocking on their door.
#5: Ball Spotting and Searches
A good caddy must be very focused whenever a player hits their ball into potential trouble. They need to pick out an exact line the ball is traveling on and get a feel for the distance it has gone to increase the chances of finding the ball.
Golfers hate losing golf balls – not so much the loss of a ball, but more the harm it does to their golf score. Every time a caddy finds a ball is another big tick in their credit ledger.
#6: Wet Weather Management
A good caddy will be prepared when wet weather is forecast. The main responsibility is trying to keep their golfer’s grips dry. Trying to hit good shots with slippery grips is nigh on impossible.
Thankfully modern equipment like rain gloves help here, but a good caddy is likely to bring out an extra towel to help achieve keeping the grips dry. They also need to remain upbeat and attempt to keep their golfer’s spirits up. Nobody likes playing in the rain.
Now we’ve covered the Big 6, we move on to the remaining 10 smaller, yet crucial operational basics that a good caddy must undertake from the start of the round until the finish.
#7: First Impressions
A caddy will greet his player and their playing partner(s) with a good handshake stating his name. As a matter of courtesy, this should involve removing sunglasses and caps….hopefully not masks!
#8: Staying Up With Your Golfer
Throughout the round as best as possible the caddy should be alongside his golfer, even better ahead of them. Obviously, if you have a bunker to rake, divot to repair, a caddy will get a little behind, but should then attempt to catch up as quickly as possible, not just amble along.
#9: Being Prompt With Information
This is a follow-up to the caddy being ahead of their golfer. This way you are ready with all the information the player wants when they arrive at their ball. Golfers should not be kept waiting for their caddy!
Remain enthusiastic throughout the round. A caddy cannot expect a player to be cheerful if they are not themselves.
#11: Talk Clearly
I appreciate there are language barriers at times particularly any caddies with stronger dialects, but your golfer does not want to constantly keep saying ‘I’m sorry, what was that?’ or something similar. Do not mumble!
#12: Stand Correctly
There are fairly set and correct positions where a caddy should be when their player is hitting. It should be a minimum of 6 feet away and just behind them. On the greens, a similar position and well away from their putting line.
#13: Course Maintenance – Bunkers, Divots, Pitch Marks
The caddy is responsible for repairing any divot that their player takes, raking the bunkers as neatly as possible if their player has the misfortune of visiting one and repairing any pitch marks they see on the greens.
#14: Cleaning Clubs and Golf Balls
A caddy will have a damp towel to hand to carry out this process. Golfers expect to pick a clean club out from their bag.
This has changed in recent years with some players preferring to leave the flagstick in the hole, while others want it removed. But when it does need removing, a caddy must be at hand to carry this out. It’s a complete no-no if the golfers have to do this because a caddy isn’t on the ball.
#16: The Finish
At the end of the round, thank their player, take their clubs to the designated departure point, and say your farewells.
Overall it is not rocket science and if you can tick most of the boxes in terms of the physical tasks of the role and develop a good caddie/player relationship throughout any given round, then you are fulfilling your role.
As a golf caddy, your mission when you set foot on the course is to help your player have a great experience – and hopefully having saved several shots during the round, too.
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