(Part 2 of a series on work).
I worked as a caddie at the local country club, a job that probably bordered on illegality. The way the caddie program worked is that they recruited a whole gaggle of kids at the beginning of summer and gave us shirts and hats to wear and got us all excited about all the money we would make. On days that we wanted to work, we showed up at the caddie shack in the morning (really the garage for cart storage at night) and the caddie master would put our names into a lottery and that would determine the order of jobs for that day. You either waited until your number came up to go out on a round or got tired of waiting and went home. It often happened that I would wait five or six hours for a round, then go work a four hour round of golf, and earn nine dollars for my trouble.
There was nothing for us to do while we waited. There weren’t even any benches or anything to sit on. There was a half falling-apart basketball hoop in the back, but Dave, the caddie master, didn’t want us getting dirty or too sweaty before we went out. Instead, he sold us snacks at inflated prices and gambled with us, taking more of our money on elaborate penny-pitch games.
The other luck of the draw was the size of the golf bag. I don’t know much about golf trends now, but back then was the heyday of the super-big-leather-golf-bag-with-73-clubs as status symbol. Some of these bags weighed more than the youngest caddies. No carts for us either; we had to schlep them around on our shoulders. I was very self conscious of my lack of upper body strength then and always worried if I could make it through the round with a huge bag. People assumed that because I was tall I could carry a heavy bag.
On one really hot day, I waited around for hours and finally got my round. I had only eaten an overpriced candy bar for lunch. When I arrived at the tee, my golf bag was a white leather PING monstrosity. Our group teed off and I hoisted my bag on my shoulder and got about ten feet from the tee and suddenly saw grass, as if a green wall had sprung up in front of me. I had fainted and now looked around and saw only dim images and sound as if through a tunnel for a few minutes. The kid from the golf pro shop shoveled me onto a bench, gave me a Coke, got another caddie for my bag and then called my parents to come pick me up. I did not see a medical professional that day.
Some of the members could act like real, well, members. We were supposed to track our player’s ball and walk along and set up next to it, walking ahead to be ready for the member when he got there. One guy realized that I kept losing track of the ball and was following him to try to anticipate where it was and rush ahead when I finally spotted it. He started to walk in a zig zag pattern and got the rest of the foursome to laugh at me. He also threw his putter at me in a high arc to see if I could catch or if I was paying attention.
There was another guy with a fiery temper. He always got mad at himself, and cursed a blue streak. Some of the younger kids were afraid of him, but he actually was good to caddie for because he often would get so mad that he would cut his round short and storm off to his Porsche but give the caddie the full fee with a good tip and a good rating. Ratings were important; we started off as B Caddies and then as we grew experienced, progressed to A Caddie and then Captain Caddie (yes, really). When you had a higher rating, your base fee was higher. Eventually, if you were enough of a sycophant, you could get promoted to working in the pro shop inside the main building where it was air conditioned.
You could be nearly guaranteed to go out quickly on Mondays, which was Ladies’ Day; no one wanted to go out then because (according to the caddie lore) the ladies never tipped well, if at all, and they took much longer to finish their round.
I also worked some unique events. One foursome did a charity event and they were trying to break some sort of record for the number of rounds played in a single day. They got permission to use a whole fleet of carts, at least ten. I was thirteen and somehow got in charge of driving a cart. I hit more than one garbage can on my driving debut. I ended up with a sunburn and a severe nose bleed; a player’s wife took care of my nose until it stopped enough to go home.
We also worked the MIS 500 event. The country club was only a few miles from Michigan International Speedway where they used to run an Indy Car race (today it’s just NASCAR). I worked a foursome that included Bobby Rahal. The other big event was Greg Norman arriving at the course in Roger Penske’s helicopter. That same guy who scooped me off the course that day got to be Norman’s caddie. I remember seeing him walk around like Greg Norman’s little blond flunky, basking in all the attention. Norman pretty much ignored him as he played to the crowd.
Some of the kids really took to the job. They saw themselves as members some day. They liked the exclusivity, the “club” in the name “country club.” I never took to it.
There were good members—they would tip well and talk to us instead of treating us like scenery. At the concession stands out on the course they would buy us Cokes and burgers. If we made a mistake, such as walking across the putting line, or letting your shadow fall across the hole when you were standing and holding the pin, they would gently correct us. They were actually out there to have fun, I realized, and some members were out there to cause grief.
But they were not the norm. Waiting forever to make a few bucks from half-drunk wealthy men was the norm.
I finally got fed up and stopped going back. A few weeks later, Dave gave me a call. It seemed his management style had worn on too many kids and he was coming up short with caddies. “We have a lot of rounds scheduled this week, maybe you could come in and work?” I told him no, I was done with that job. “But you just made Captain,” he said. I was pretty sure that was a lie, but I said maybe I could come by a day or two, just to get him off the line. I never went back.
Later on in my teen years I did odd jobs doing yard work, which I thought was the worst job ever. I worked on the church music director’s yard. He paid me well and worked along side me to make it go faster, but I hated it. I also did yard work for my English teacher. Her husband was also a good employer, and helped me sometimes, but doing those tedious jobs out in the sun, like digging up sod for a new driveway, or pulling stumps, seemed like slave labor to my teenage self. I started to feel guilty about having such strong resistance to this kind of work; I began to worry that I was lazy.
I often did these jobs alongside other teenagers I knew, and although they complained and seemed by what they said to dislike it as much as I did, they didn’t have trouble just bearing down and getting through it like I did.