The tales of a young female caddie in St. Andrews
I always thought one day I’d write some sort of book about my experiences as a female caddie at the home of golf. My friend and fellow caddie Ollie beat me to a St. Andrews caddie insight, and far better surmises the many regular characters there than I would, so I often wondered if there was a place for my experience.
Having read a recent piece in Golf Digest about a female caddie at a country club working as a looper during her break from University, it made me reflect on the summers I spent on The Old Course (and other surrounding courses), and I thought maybe now was the time to give a little insight.
Like her, I’d had enough of waitressing when I was back at home from University. It’s well known the money is better on the golf course, and I thought given my love for the sport and the 5 minute walk I’d have to work, it presented itself as a good way to spend a couple of months.
The obvious disclaimers here are that yes, there are clearly a few big differences between caddieing at a country club in America and on the most famous golf course in the world.
1: There is no alcohol and you certainly will never be carrying two bags at a time.
2: Each player is likely playing at St. Andrews for the first time, and that experience is one they treat as incredibly special.
3: You don't spend any time polishing clubs afterwards, but you do have to turn into a photographer at various points in the round.
4. There were no lasers to shoot the distance. You want the yardage, you’re working it out through yardage books, pin sheets and pacing.
5: It’s also Scotland, and the weather isn’t all sunshine. For instance, I’m sure she didn’t have to contend with being paid £70 after wading through ankle deep puddles on the rapidly flooding fairways of the Jubilee only to discover her waterproofs may as well have been made of cotton and her Blackberry (throwback) hadn’t survived. The golfer in question was adamant he wanted to continue because he was enjoying the ‘true Scottish golf test’, something I failed to persuade him that it wasn’t.
What the job was, though, was the experience of a lifetime, and one I’d really encourage any young girl who has a passion for golf to try.
Some of the rules she mentioned are the same: Get the right yardages, always watch their golf ball, clean both their clubs and ball as you go round. You've also got to get a rapport with your golfer, learn how to belt out 'FORE', and become an expert at reading undulated greens.
I’ll not lie and say by any means is it easy lugging around heavy bags and learning how to help players of all nationality and ability around the same golf course, but it sets you up with inter-personal skills and stories you’ll have for a lifetime. You might think that perhaps the all-weather aspect and the early morning’s are off-putting, but for me, what you come away with from a job like that makes for an unparalleled experience.
The hardest part of being a 19 year old female caddie
I want to get this out of the way early, because as much as I loved it, there were certainly darker moments associated with being taken seriously as a young female caddie 8 years ago, and it would be dishonest of me to advertise that I didn’t experience them.
There was a theme throughout the piece Maggie wrote which both bugged and resonated with me, and while my own experiences are very different, it transported me back to an uncomfortable side of the job that I couldn’t even explain to the three other women (at least 10 years my senior) who so confidently navigated the links with a much thicker skin than I had. I don't recall it happening often, but there was an unspoken undertone that on two occasions, really got to me.
There’s a list system that operated when I was a caddie, and there was almost no exception to that. Each day, you were a different number on the list, and that dictated the order you went out in.
One warm day there was a man on the tee, I don’t remember his name, but what I did know is that I should have been waiting an hour before my name was called. The man in question had pointed at me, and said to the caddie master ‘I want her’.
It was an awkward situation, but I was summoned to the tee, apologizing to those on the list in front of me. He gave me an uninvited big bear hug after the 2 iron I suggested he hit landed in the middle of golf’s widest fairway, and slapped my ass when he holed his birdie putt on the first. At 19-years-old, I had no idea how to react and was too shy to tell him that it wasn’t OK, rather thinking that I didn’t want to be badly paid should I protest. But I did keep my distance after that, insisting high-fives only and rebuffing his offer to see me out on the town for a drink later once the round was over. I didn’t talk about it again.
That was the first, and by far the worst. The second incident I remember was very different, but was no less degrading. I had walked to the tee with a few other male caddies and when I introduced myself to my golfer, he smiled, and then spoke to the caddie master. I was pulled aside shortly after, and told ‘Camilla I’m sorry, he doesn’t feel comfortable having you caddie for him. Could you go to the group ahead and caddie for his wife, and send one of the other guys back.’
I’m not ashamed to say I failed to fight back the tears as I walked up the first fairway alone, mortified and angry, knowing that it was a judgement purely made on my gender. His wife seemed embarrassed, and I brushed it off, trying to be a professional in my place of work. In the end, I almost felt fortunate given the wonderful day I’d had caddieing for her, but there was always a little asterisks next to that round.
I still recall those particular moments and rounds as clearly as any other I’ve played myself on that golf course, but as I get older they are experiences I now look back on which make me appreciate my self-worth a little more. On both occasions, I was at work, employed to do the same job as the men, and my gender should not have ever dictated different treatment. But what I will stress, and emphatically so, is that for 99% of the time, this behaviour was exceedingly out of the ordinary.
On reading Maggie’s piece, leaving these two isolated incidents out, I’ve realised just how fortunate my experience was.
Being lucky to be a female caddie in St. Andrews
For the large majority of my time, the players I caddied for were delightful. I occasionally got the ‘are you OK to carry this’, and there were often cautious glances when I introduced myself. But by the end, they were (almost) always complimentary, and I found that there was nothing more satisfying than hearing a golfer tell you that you’ve made the experience for them on a day they’ve been looking forward to for months, even years.
I found it amusing when on the odd occasion I’d be told how well I spoke English, relished the moments when my golfer would hole a huge putt I’d given them a read on, or successfully coached them out of a pot bunker. The stories shared between caddies are a hilarious perk of the job, and I knew I felt happier even out in the cold than I did serving 50 portions of burgers and chips or pulling pints.
Truly, I felt that caddieing was one of the most gratifying jobs I’ve ever done. No two days are the same, and you spend more than four hours getting to know someone, sharing an experience with them as they go through the highs and inevitable lows of golf.
Whether it was a former fireman from New York, an NFL hall of famer, an Australian in real estate, a Spanish TV producer or a dermatologist whose family literally inspired the film Defiance, there are memories I associate with that time which I feel so privileged to hold. And I thank them all.
My parting shot: Why I was lucky, and why you should do it
I caddied for two years and left it behind when I graduated, but whenever I go home or hit my ball on to a certain part of one of those golf courses I’ll often remember some moment that keeps me smiling.
For instance, every time I stand on the first tee of the New Course I’m instantly reminded of my favourite story to tell. It involves a man who was the only English-speaking person of the three players in his group, who told me his handicap was 26. His father and uncle were both single figure handicappers, and we were still able to communicate through yardages.
I ushered the 26-handicapper to tee off first, taking off the cover of his brand new-rental set 3-wood (a warning sign) and handed him the club. He teed up his ball, and practiced his one-of-a-kind four-piece swing that in hindsight would have been a viral sensation. Fresh Air Shot.
I put that initial whiff down to nerves, and told him to give it another go. He touched the protruding butterfly decal on his belt and went for another go. Fresh Air number two. Once more, he pressed the butterfly.
Before I could ask, he stepped up and swung even harder. He topped it, ran after it, and topped it again. He came back towards the tee to let his father and uncle play, and once again pressed the butterfly. This time, he did it twice.
‘Excuse me, I’m really sorry to ask. But what is the butterfly you keep pressing after each shot?”
“Oh, it’s my counter.”
“I’m sorry? I’m your caddie, I can happily count for you so don’t worry about that”
“Oh it’s just something I do, so I can make sure I record every shot. When I get to 14 shots, I pick up.”
Over the course of those 18 holes, he picked up ELEVEN times.
That, before the unbelievable seven holes he didn’t pick up on, comes to 154 shots. Without finishing the hole. I put another little asterisks next to his 26-handicap.
That round took me nearly six hours. He lost 9 golf balls, we let five groups through, and every single shot was excruciating. And yet, there is not one moment when I think about that day that I don’t smile. I just wish I’d kept the scorecard.
So to Mr Butterfly-Counter man, thank you for the stories. And I hope by now you’ve managed to finish a full round.
Perhaps I was just lucky. With the setting, the golfers, the colleagues. But to all the young girls who have wondered whether they should ever caddie? At least at the home of golf, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.