Caddies take the road less traveled

Carrying a golf bag for money often a labor of love

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Carmen Garcia is enjoying her second year as a caddie.

“The opportunity was offered to me... and I thought it was interesting and different,” said Garcia, a sophomore-to-be at St. Mary’s Academy in Cherry Hills Village. “I never played golf but I’m getting the hang of caddying.”

Garcia is among the dozens of youths taking part in the Solich Caddie and Leadership Academy at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora. The academy is part of an effort by the Colorado Golf Association to keep caddies in the game.

Caddies, while very visible on the professional tours, seem to belong to a bygone era when it comes to amateur golf, where most players opt to traverse the course in a cart. But in the Denver metro area, the trade of carrying a golf bag for money is amid something of a resurgence.

Jake Pendergast, who will be a junior at Regis Jesuit, is a caddie at Colorado Golf Club in Parker.

“I picked up caddying because I love golf and learning about the game,” he said. “There’s not too many ways to make money and have fun. Caddying is fun.”

The evolution


Caddies go back to the beginning of golf. Historians believe that Mary, Queen of Scots, came up with the term caddying in the late 16th century. She grew up in France, where military cadets carried golf clubs for royalty.

The game began to rise in popularity in the United States in the 1900s and caddies were a fixture on public and private courses alike — for at least the first half of the century, until the emergence of the golf cart.

“Since the mid-1950s the spread of the motorized golf cart has been popular with golfers and a financial boon for the courses,” the Professional Caddies Association states on its website. “Carts have quickly become the caddie’s worst enemy. Caddies, and walking, aren’t in the equation. By the mid-1970s the conversion was virtually complete. Even the cost of a cart rental is less expensive than hiring a caddie.”

In Colorado, though, Caddies were down but not out.

The Colorado Golf Association purchased and re-designed the former Vista Mira Golf Course and in 2009 opened CommonGround, located near East Alameda Avenue and Havana Street. The Solich Caddie and Leadership Academy was started there in 2012.

Today, there are 11 Denver-metro area caddie programs, including the Solich Academy, which is the only one at a public course

Ed Mate, Colorado Golf Association executive director and a former caddie at Denver Country Club, calls the program a “game changer.”

CommonGround has 45 eighth- and ninth-grade students as caddies this summer and has tutored more than 100 caddies since the Solich Academy started. Five have been awarded prestigious Evans scholarshipsto the University of Colorado. After two summers, CommonGround caddies are placed in existing Denver-area caddie programs.

And there are hundreds of caddies in those programs.

Columbine Country Club, which saw its caddie program go by the wayside 15 years ago, has 60 caddies working this summer. Cherry Hills Country Club has one of the top caddie programs in Colorado with 155 caddies working this summer. There are 50 caddies at Lakewood Country Club, and there has been a noted increase in loops — rounds caddied — so far this summer.

What they do


Caddies must have a certain measure of physical fitness. They carry bags that average about 25 pounds — though many bags have double straps, which make them more like backpacks. Years ago, bags were leather, as opposed to today’s lighter-weight materials, and single-strapped, making them more difficult to tote.

It’s been estimated that caddies probably walk about seven miles during a day’s work, depending on the loops.

During their treks, caddies do more than carry the bag. How much they do depends on their skill and experience level. All will help locate balls, rake bunkers, tend the flagstick and clean clubs and balls.

More advanced caddies also help players make the proper club selection and read the greens on putts.

In pro golf, “the caddie just has a gigantic role now,” said Bill Loeffler, owner of The Links at Highlands Ranch course and a former PGA Tour player.

“He’s a coach, mental coach and father figure sometimes,” Loeffler said. “He’s a guy to lean on in bad times and enjoy good times, too. There are a lot of friendships.”

Local caddies have a more reserved responsibility.

“These are 15- and 16-year-old kids, and the best ones are the most attentive and don’t get distracted,” said Pilo Troup, Lakewood Country Club assistant caddiemaster.

The payoff


Through caddying, young loopers learn about the game, earn money and some even secure college scholarships.

The Evans Scholarship, awarded by the Western Golf Association, provides full tuition and housing to students attending one of 14 universities across the country, including CU. Recipients must perform well as caddies, be strong academically and show good character, leadership and demonstrate financial need. The scholarship is named for Chick Evans, a top amateur golfer who won the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in 1916.

Keane McClintock, a Cherry Creek High School graduate, Evans scholar and sophomore at CU, still caddies at Cherry Hills.

“When I started caddying five years ago, the main goal was to win a scholarship,” he said. “It’s a great summer job just based on the amount of money you make — and you’re outside and not in an office building.”

While caddies on the PGA Tour can earn hundreds of thousands to more than a million dollars a year, local loopers are paid on a more modest scale. They usually get a base salary plus gratuities from golfers.

There are basic rates depending on the skill and experience of a caddie and the country club. For example, the rate at Cherry Hills is $25 for a rookie, $30 for a “B” caddie, $35 for an “A” caddie and $40 for an honor-class caddie. CommonGround, on the other hand, uses an educational grant to pay caddies, so golfers don’t have to pay, except for tips.

For many, the money is nice, but it’s really a labor of love.

Molly Lucas, a Cherry Creek graduate who will enroll as a freshman at North Carolina State next month, has completed 45 loops this summer after racking up 100 last year.

“Golf is a passion of mine,” Lucas said. “I feel there is not a better place to be than a place you love, being outdoors, great work, you meet amazing people — and I couldn’t ask for a better job.”

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