Memorable courses can be transformed into once-in-a-lifetime experiences with the engagement of a caddie. Caddies tend to be utilized by the greatest courses across the world. They’re there to assist you in navigating course challenges and hopefully come away with a wonderful experience.
They were traditionally used in early times to carry clubs as the role started before golf bags were developed. More importantly, they also located balls. The old feathery golf ball (literally stuffed tight with feathers and hand-stitched leather) were expensive items. Keen-eyed caddies were expected to ensure players returned with their featheries at the end of each round.
Not much has changed. Caddies still carry clubs and locate balls, but they also do much more…
First game with a caddy
Playing with a caddie for the first time can be a little intimidating. There are often delicate cultural matters that you need to be aware of so that no faux pas are made and you don’t become the topic of later conversation in the caddie shack.
Removing the flag for a fellow golfer should not be attempted — that is the caddie’s job and they’ll quickly grab it from you. Some caddies in Europe won’t carry your clubs if you turn up with a 50-pound staff bag stuffed with equipment you’ll never use. Their professional organizations insist, for health and safety reasons, that a backpack-style carry bag is used. At some clubs, caddies will be able to swap your staff bag for a carry bag. Make contact ahead of time and check what bags the caddies will and won’t carry.
Rates and gratuities
Caddies generally get paid a “flat rate” for the course for a single player and may add an additional fee for fore-caddying. That is, sharing their spotting and reading skills among the group.
A supplement or gratuity is generally given and tends to be at your own discretion. If you are lucky enough to have a caddie who gives you excellent club suggestions, course tips, reads the greens expertly and regales you with history and humorous anecdotes, don’t be afraid to tip him (or her) well for the round. When there are two or four of you sharing a caddie, then be sure to express your gratitude in the tip — it is no mean feat to be guiding two or more players on a course.
If you are unsure about gratuity rates, check before playing. Also, make sure you bring the correct cash with you — it is a cash economy. If you are sharing a caddie, you needn’t pay twice as much, but be fair and reasonable so that it reflects the professional assistance and attention rendered.
Offering a hot dog or sandwich and a refreshment at the turn is good manners. In some countries, such as South Africa, it is a standard expectation on the top courses — regardless of whether the caddie decides to eat lunch or not. The caddies gratefully accept their lunch stipend and retreat to the rear of the shack and take refreshments there. Others will politely turn down the offer, as it may not be usual for them to accept such generosity, so don’t take offense.
In the interests of goodwill, it is appreciated when you make the offer, regardless of the custom in place. If you are in unfamiliar territory, check with the pro-shop staff or else have a discreet chat with the caddie master. This saves red faces all round at the turn!
Female caddies are very common in Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and China. While their spoken English might appear basic, they are fluent in the language of golf and will interpret your game and abilities after the first hole. Despite any reservations you might have, these women are skilled operators. They are well-trained, know the course inside out and can expertly read putts.
Playing at Nirwana Bali Golf Club with female caddies reminded me that guys often take a few extra holes and some “proof” before they trust the female caddies. My playing partner waved away their caddie’s advice on the first few holes, only to witness me sink superhuman putts by following the advice of my 110-pound, 4-foot-3-inch caddie, who looked no older than a 17-year-old. You won’t be surprised to learn that he started draining putts once he placed his trust in her suggestions!
Talking on the course
Great caddies will entertain you with their local historical knowledge, colorful life stories and sense of humor. If you are not the chatty type, don’t panic. There is no obligation to conduct a four-hour conversation with your caddie.
Keep the initial exchanges to a minimum and they will generally get the hint that talking on the course is not your bag. However, proactively asking detailed advice on every shot will probably encourage a more interactive experience from your caddie.
Pace of play
Don’t forget that caddies are also charged with the responsibility of maintaining the pace of play. They will be under pressure from course marshals to keep up with the group in front. While they are happy to take photos of you standing on iconic stone bridges, in front of flowering azaleas or on island greens, they will also be keen to get you around in the recommended time. They will be diplomatic about enforcing this and you can help by making sure you also remain aware of the group’s pace.
— N. Incoll