Your Stories: Pandemic stirs the memories of a longtime caddie

Baltusrol Golf Club
Baltusrol Golf Club

Throughout this difficult period, Golf News Hub will explore what it’s like to actually live through this moment. Here we will print your stories about how this is affecting you, your family, your friends … your daily life. Email us your story.

Here is the eighth essay in our series. The author is dedicating it to Chris McAndrew, the caddiemaster for 23 years at Spring Brook Country Club in Morristown, N.J., who died of non-COVID-related causes on May 8. (Read previous essays here.)

I’ve been a caddie since 2005. I say that in the present tense because as every longtime looper knows, “you never know when your last loop will be.” While I have not been on a bag since September 2017, I have a funny feeling I haven’t seen my last. If we’ve learned anything through this new normal, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. There might be time in the future when I’m in between jobs, or I get a call from a buddy, or spend a weekend at home and just miss it. There’s something about the caddie life that has always appealed to me. Whether it’s the fresh air, the chance to watch golf while working, the brisk, four-hour work day (or eight for those who don’t stop with one loop) or getting paid cash under the table (depending on the club), the list goes on. As this pandemic swept across America, I found myself thinking about my first summer as a caddie.

I was 15 years old and each of my three older brothers caddied at my town’s local country club. Instead of joining them, my oldest brother had the bright idea for my twin brother and I to start carrying bags a bit farther down the road in Springfield, N.J., at the famed Baltusrol Golf Club. Home to the U.S. Open and later the PGA Championship, the club featured a caddie program where we could learn the art from professionals and local legends. At Baltusrol, there were twice the number of caddies, but twice the number of loops, too, so it worked out in the long run. Ultimately though, for any caddie starting out, came the long wait, aka “riding the pine”.

Here are the two toughest things about being a caddie: 1) waking up super early (that never gets easier), and 2) earning respect from the players and the caddie master. Even if you arrive at the course before it opens, you still might not get out on a loop before veteran caddies, especially those who have been specifically requested by the golfers. No resume or referral will get you far in the caddie yard -- only experience. So, when you do get out, you must make the most of it.

That brings me to this pandemic. We are all rookies at this thing. We’re trying to gain experience and make the most of our time. The first year as a caddie is very similar. Instead of playing cards, reading books, gambling, taking naps on golf carts, finagling member food or other general mischief, caddies are stuck at home, like everyone else. With almost every state now reopening their courses, hopefully the next hiatus is over soon, and players can enjoy golf how it was meant to be played: a long walk with your caddie.

I would guess that – at most -- about 50% of all rookie caddies have the patience to endure all the waiting and growing pains of that first summer on the job. Long days riding the pine and returning home without a dime can be draining. So, my twin brother, understandably, did not make it. But like many of you, I made it through, and I am sure we’ll all make it through this pandemic and be rewarded with a nice stroll under the straps.

-Dan Wooters
Morristown, N.J.

(Dan Wooters is an employee of Buffalo Groupe, which owns and operates Golf News Hub.)

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About the Author
Dan Wooters has been with Buffalo Groupe since May 2018. He began his career with the Metropolitan Golf Association in Elmsford, N.Y., and has mostly remained in the golf industry ever since, including stints with the PGA of America and PGA TOUR. Dan is a two-time graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee. He is a part-time hotel owner and enjoys traveling the world as much as he can. He currently resides in Arlington, Va.