The ‘Joy and Wonderment’ of Caddying

I think the first thing that struck me about this ad—brought to my attention by reader Elly Heim whose letter on the subject you must also read this week—is the stress on the word “free,” as in “Free Caddie Information Sessions.”

Free Caddie Information Session Ad, Municipality of the County of Inverness


Is this actually the come-on? Did would-be caddies in years past have to pay to find out what caddying entails and how to become one? Knowing the seemingly bottomless appetite for profit of the local golf baron, I can’t entirely rule it out, and certainly it makes more sense than the alternative: that the Municipality of the County of Inverness Recreation and Wellness Community Department thinks its youngsters are dumb enough to believe that listening to an employer describe a job is a privilege for which one must usually pay.

The next thing that struck me was that 14-year-olds can legally work in Nova Scotia which, I have to admit, I did not know. I thought the cut-off was 16, but it turns out that children aged 14 and 15 are also permitted to work, albeit with restrictions.

And the NEXT thing that struck me (really, this little ad packed a lot of punch) was that caddying for someone who’d paid the exorbitant rates charged at Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links would be a lot to ask of a 14-year-old. Caddies are supposed to be full of wisdom and course lore, able to offer advice as well as schlep clubs, and the 14-year-old who could do that—without getting bored and wandering off into the rough/spending the entire 18 holes describing Fortnite/laughing uncontrollably every time a hedge fund manager missed a putt—would surely be the exception, not the rule, right?

Certainly, this photo of the caddies of Cabot (which sounds like a reality TV series just waiting to be pitched) suggests they skew older than 14:

A group of golf caddies.

Source: The Toronto Star

Which brings me to my final thought, which is that I can no longer look at a picture of a man in white clothes with a red hat on a golf course without seeing this:

A photo of Donald Trump on a golf course.

Source: YouTube



Elly Heim has done the heavy lifting this week, asking why a municipal government would be facilitating recruiting sessions for Cabot, a private company—and it has to be Cabot because there are no caddies at the public Cape Breton Highlands Golf Course—which leaves me to do the fun bits, like consider why so few courses these days have caddies.

It’s because most courses (including the Cape Breton Highlands) have replaced caddies with carts, a development looked upon with sorrow by the kind of person who believes:

The art of carrying a golfer’s bag and of properly fulfilling that role has a long history, a detailed protocol and a rich legacy, all of which extend well beyond the golf course to include crucial life skills.

The kind of person who thinks caddying is:

…good for training young boys and girls as they mature into adults.

A photo of a man teeing off, a second watching and two boy caddies

The good old days: Mr Clampett and Mr Downes with their juvenile caddies at Tramore Golf Links, Co. Waterford, 1907. (Source: National Library of Ireland on The Commons, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons)

The kind of person who could write:

As state and local governments began imposing rules on youth employment and casual outdoor work like caddying, the administrative burdens of managing a caddie corps rapidly outstripped the purview of the traditional caddiemaster. Rules governing minimum wage rates, payroll taxes, disability insurance and workplace safety multiplied.

The adult members of the old caddie yard – often comprising school municipal employees seeking secondary income, plus some “lifers” who had more or less dropped out of the blue-collar labor market – also became subject to burdensome labor laws that completely changed the old golf culture. It didn’t make organizing a caddie corps impossible; just more difficult.

This person, in case you are wondering, is not a barrel-chested British squire wiping pheasant juice from his chin and waving a glass of claret around as he curses the laws that have robbed him of his servants, but an American golf journalist writing in 2019:

Today, if a facility wants to make a go of having caddies, it can help having someone do the organizational work and deal not just with personnel but with bureaucracy, payroll and work rules.

Actually, all you have to do is make caddies (or “loopers” as they are apparently called) independent contractors (which they are at Cabot, and which is, again, surely, a lot to ask of a 14-year-old) and convince the local recreation department to help you with recruiting.


God on the golf course

As you have probably realized by now, I have a very low (read: no) tolerance for the romance of golf, which is why when I see a headline like this one, from the Toronto Star—”‘Caddying has given us purpose again.’ Why carrying the bags at these elite Cabot Cape Breton courses is a never-ending spiritual loop“—I want to drop what I’m doing, fly to Toronto, track down the author and bean him on the head with his nine-iron.

Never trust a golf journalist.

I was going to add more to that sentence but I’m actually happy with it as it stands: golf journalists are industry cheerleaders, bought and paid for by the “elite” courses they so love to play and I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could drive them.

This particular piece has the author (oh, give him a name, call him Jason Logan) posing as a caddy at Cabot for a couple of days to learn why it’s such a wonderful job—it’s not just about the pay, you see, although:

An ‘A’ caddy, meaning someone with experience who can read greens and provide the golfer advice, costs $70 plus gratuity. All cash goes to the caddy, which means the standard take from a loop is $100 or more, sometimes paid in American bills. Do the math on 10 to 12 loops per week, which some take on.

Do the math: it takes about 4 hours to play 18 holes, so the base rate for caddies is about $17.50/hour. Do the math: the most experienced caddy, doing 12 loops a week, can expect to make $840 plus gratuities. I can’t “do the math” on the gratuities because there’s no way of knowing what they’ll be.

A photo of a divot repair tool

Divot repair tool.

But lets accept it’s a lucrative gig for an experienced caddy, what Logan doesn’t tell us is what an inexperienced caddy—the kind the Inverness recreation department is trying to recruit—can expect to make and that is an interesting omission.

Mind you, our under-cover caddy isn’t the sharpest divot repair tool in the box—he doesn’t even notice that his time is being stolen from him:

I am to arrive 30 minutes before my group’s tee time and park in the designated caddy lot. I am to check in with caddy services 20 minutes before our time and be on the practice green with my guest 10 minutes prior. This is known as the 30-20-10 rule. I am to present myself neatly, which I can manage, and come prepared for all types of weather, which I cannot.

Do the math: that is half an hour ($8.75) stolen from every caddy, before every round of golf. Do the math: if you are doing 12 loops a week, you are losing $105.

But Logan doesn’t notice because he’s too busy waxing poetic:

Yes, the caddies of Cabot loop for many reasons. For the money, for the exercise, for the setting, for the community pride, for the therapy. And yes, for the $10 green fees, plus tax, to play either Links or Cliffs when they can find a tee time. But so much of it is about people. The bonds formed over four hours. For the golfer, there is nothing like playing the game with the freedom of having nothing to carry or push or pull. Having someone there to guide you through your round, tasked with heightening your happiness. And for the caddies, it’s about witnessing such joy and wonderment.

Oh, I can’t with this.

Don’t trust golf journalists.



Three levels of government banded together this week to make a “transformative” $24 million investment in water and wastewater treatment in the Town of Inverness.

I do not begrudge the good citizens of Inverness their new systems one bit (I am very well aware that I sit in the glass house of the CBRM which has received millions in provincial and federal funding for its various wastewater treatment facilities).

But I do have a question: given that the strain on the existing system is being attributed to “the rapid commercial and residential growth the Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses have brought to the town,” shouldn’t that success have translated into enough money in municipal coffers to upgrade its water and wastewater systems?

I asked the municipality’s communications and community engagement lead, Joe Carew, if the county has put a dollar figure on the economic benefits accrued as a result of the Cabot golf courses.

He told me council has not requested such a review.