The seasons don’t change much in St. Andrews. Blessed with a temperate climate and cursed with a bleak landscape, the Auld Grey Toon sees little in the way of fall foliage, winter blizzards, spring showers or summer scorch. Indeed, the view from our bay window, over the ancient links to the North Sea, although splendid, is pretty much the same every day.
Thus, at this time of year, when many of you are welcoming the first robin or daffodil or crocus, I remain seasonally insensate. There is, however, one undeniable rite of spring: the reappearance of the Old Course caddies. With precisely the same timing as the swallows of Capistrano, they return at this time each year.
In winter, you see, the vast majority of golf in St. Andrews is played by locals who, being equal parts hearty and thrifty, have no use for caddies. Indeed, a fair percentage of them are caddies. However, once March flows into April and the tourist season begins, the loopers resurface.
For a brief, unguarded moment—just prior to moving here—I had visions of becoming a caddie. After all, what better office could there be than the Old Course? Not only is it the world’s most eternally beguiling links, it’s dead flat and therefore easy to walk, even for someone who’s had a double hip replacement. Since I’m a morning person, the specter of checking in at the caddie pen at dawn was far from daunting. Indeed, I rather liked the notion of being able to knock off work by noon.
The money was attractive—about $100 for a single bag (assuming a reasonable tip). And best of all, it seemed to require little in the way of preparation or training. Cultivate a three-day stubble, soak the morning bran flakes in gin, learn to roll my own cigarettes, and I’d have the job—or at least the role—mastered.
Or so I thought. My, was I wrong. The auld grey caddies, they ain’t what they used to be.
For the past three decades, golf in St. Andrews has been managed by the Links Trust, a non-profit body created through an Act of Parliament. They maintain the town’s six (soon to be seven) golf courses, control the starting times, and oversee all the employees, from greenkeepers to starters to caddies.
And they run a tight ship. As a consequence, it is folly for anyone—even Steve Williams or Fannie Sunesson—to breeze into town, stumble over to the caddie shack and expect to get a loop. The 21st-century St. Andrews caddie is a fully licensed practitioner of the bag-carrying profession, vetted by 30 hours of training and 120 hours of supervised internship. He or she has also passed a written exam, a sort of caddie SAT developed by Links Trust caddie manager Rick Mackenzie, consisting of 74 questions on golf history, the Old Course, rules and etiquette, golf terminology, and the duties and responsibilities of a caddie.
I was able to get my hands on a copy of that test. I figured it would be fun to fill it out and see how much I knew. Granted, I had neither taken the training course nor had I caddied since I was 16 years old. But hell, I’d been a golf writer for 30 years—that had to be worth something. I’d also lived alongside the Old Course for three years, and that had to be worth even more.
The cover page of the test said it must be completed within two hours and the passing grade was 80 percent. The Rules of Golf book could be used as a reference as needed but the test taker was advised to page through the entire test carefully before answering any questions.
That page-through persuaded me that taking the test wasn’t such a good idea—the resulting sense of inadequacy would be far too much for me to bear. None of the 74 questions was multiple choice or true/false, most called for answers of more than one word, and a few required mini-essays. One question was not aquestion at all but a command: “Draw in detail the 4th, 7th and 16th holes of the Old Course, showing all relevant lines of play from the tee, including carries, run-outs, bunker locations and green details.”
This was a test of not simply knowledge but perception, organized thought and communication skill, not to mention schematic draftsmanship. Had such a qualifying exam existed for journalists 30 years ago, I’m fairly sure I would have become a dog trainer.
Herewith a few sample questions from the test. See if you can do any better than I did.
1. Where does the term “caddie” come from?
My best recollection was that it had something to do with the French term ‘cadet’ but I had no idea whether the cadet was a schoolboy, a toy soldier or a breed of terrier.
2. When was the first mention of the St. Andrews caddie?
No clue on that—couldn’t even narrow it to a century.
3. Who played the most significant role in shaping the Old Course as we know it?
I was torn between Old Tom Morris and Allan Robertson, but the answer they were looking for may well have been God.
4. Which green on the Old Course is the largest?
This I knew to be the double green shared by holes 5 and 13. In fact, at 37,900 square feet, it’s large enough to hold the first 10 greens at Pebble Beach—but I don’t suppose that little tidbit would have earned me any extra credit.
5. How many red flags are there on the Old Course?
This is a trick question, the correct answer being eight. All of the front-nine flags are white as is the flag at the home hole, allegedly because a red flag at 18 would be difficult to distinguish against the sandstone faade of Hamilton Hall (now the St. Andrews Grand).
6. How many times has the Open Championship been played over the Old Course?
The number 28 rang a bell, but I was off by one—it’s 27.
7. What are the most important Rules for caddies?
All I could think of was the classic “show up, keep up, shut up.”
8. Name five things the caddie should have with him on the golf course.
My answer would have been a wet towel and four boxes of breath mints.
9. The caddie positions himself on or close to the extension of the line of putt behind the ball when the player is holing out. Has a Rule been violated, and if so, which one?
Unearthing that answer would have entailed a lengthy wrestle with the Rules book, and the test included five more questions just like it.
It’s no wonder that, of the 180 or so currently licensed St. Andrews caddies, an estimated 50 percent-plus are college graduates. These days, when you walk to the 1st tee of the Old Course, the fellow who shakes your hand and hoists your bag could be a retired accountant, a professor on sabbatical, a former bank manager or a Princeton senior majoring in philosophy. But no matter what his background may be, you can be sure of one thing—when it comes to the art and science of caddieing, he’s far better educated than you are.
If you’re interested in becoming a caddie at St. Andrews, visit caddieconnect.com or contact Janet Finlay of the St. Andrews Links Trust at 011-44-1334-466-666 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.