By MARTIN KAUFMANN
Managing Editor/The Golf Life
I find few things more enjoyable than playing golf with a caddie.
I love walking the course and talking with my playing partners, unencumbered by my golf bag. I enjoy getting to know my caddie – discussing how long he has worked at the course, his other interests, sports, politics, whatever. I like taking the opportunity to wander around the course and study the architecture and landscape. And I like letting my caddie call the shots, particularly on a course I’ve never played. If a putt looks like it will break left and he says it will break right, I’ll never ask, “Are you sure about that?” Uh-uh.
For those four hours, he’s my messiah and I’m his disciple; his word is gospel. Caddies can be an expensive indulgence, but I’ve always found it money well spent.
But caddies, of course, are on America’s endangered-species list – a reflection of the golf industry’s self-destructive tendencies. (Many have noted that the demise of caddying has coincided with slumping golf participation, particularly among minorities.) Unless you’re fortunate enough to play regularly at elite private clubs, you’re probably riding a cart or toting your own bag.
In place of caddies, it seems an increasing number of courses, particularly at major resorts, are turning to a poor half-measure: forecaddies. These are, as best I can tell, perfectly pleasant people who do a perfectly pointless job.
I’ve used forecaddies several times the past year, usually at resorts that should know better, and found the experience to be unsatisfying at best, annoying at worst. At one prominent resort that hosts a PGA Tour event – I’ll withhold the resort’s name to protect the innocent – the forecaddie experience was so miserable that I subsequently turned down a free return trip.
Forecaddies exist, I’ve been told, to help direct players around the course, steer them away from hazards, find errant shots and perform all of the other services of a regular caddie, save carrying bags. If only it were so.
Wayward drives sometimes go unfound; if you’ve ever employed a forecaddie, you probably know that blank stare when you reach him 200 yards down the fairway and ask, “Did you see where my drive ended up?” With one forecaddie for four players, clubs and balls go uncleaned, flags go untended, bunkers go unraked. This is what some resorts tout as a “guest service”?
And forget developing the same camaraderie with a forecaddie that you experience with a regular caddie. At one resort, the forecaddies were so scripted that they sucked the life out of the caddie-player relationship. At another, the forecaddies were forbidden from riding on the backs of carts; I couldn’t help but feel guilty watching our guy running alongside the cart like a boxer in training, trying to keep pace with a cyclist.
More troubling is my sense that forecaddies slow down play, in contrast to their raison d’être. The scenario goes something like this: The forecaddie is on the other side of the fairway assisting a playing partner. So you grab a club, get a rough yardage and prepare to play. After your playing partner hits, you step up to the ball, only to have the forecaddie walk over, yelling, “You have about 140 yards! You want to keep the ball left of the hole!” So you step away, bite your tongue, offer an obligatory thanks and finally hit your shot.
Imagine this same scenario on the greens. Now, imagine this process playing out repeatedly with four golfers over 18 holes. Then imagine yourself shelling out $50 for this “service.”
And finally, imagine yourself vowing never to return to that golf course.
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Martin Kaufmann is the managing editor of The Golf Life. To reach him e-mail email@example.com.