I’ve had the chance to write about of lot of great golf courses I've played. But this is something different: caddying for Davis Love III at the grand opening of the Club at Irish Creek, a course redesign he did just north of Charlotte, North Carolina.
It’s a perfect, chamber-of-commerce day as I meet Davis on the range following a clinic for members. The former Tar Heel is dressed in his Carolina colors: light blue polo and white pants. I was told he had a yardage book and ask if he wants me to handle it. “That’s okay,” he says, looking at me as if I were a child asking to hold a loaded gun.
Thankfully his brother and sometime caddie, Mark, who now works with Davis in the design business, has lightened his Titleist staff bag considerably for the round on the rolling 7,099-yard course that’s routed along a beautiful lake. Playing with him is NASCAR celebrity and good friend Kyle Petty, who's dressed in a long-sleeve red polo, black plus fours and matching argyle socks. They often go for cross-country motorcycle rides together, from Traverse City, Michigan, to Savannah, Georgia, for instance.
“He doesn’t mind riding 400 or 500 miles,” says Petty of Love, who has a whole collection of bikes. “He’s got all the show pieces. His driving is a lot better than my golf.”
After Davis hits a towering 320-yard drive down the left side on the opening hole, Petty steps to the tee and comments on all the tall pines down the right. “Didn’t you work on this course?” he asks Love, pointing his driver down the fairway. “Why didn’t you take out all those trees?”
Of course he hits his ball right into them. With the trees blocking the green on the 406-yard hole, Petty has a problem since he has to hit a slice to reach the putting surface. “All my shots go left,” he says, which is understandable since he’s been going left his whole life on the track.
Walking the uphill 382-yard 2nd after he's bombed another 300-yard drive, Love, 44, talks about designing a course not far from where he was born in 1964 when his late father, Davis Love, Jr., had his first head pro job at Charlotte Country Club. “It’s great,” he says. “I’ve always been well received and well supported here. That’s part of the reason why we got the job, in addition to our traditional style of design.”
At the green of the 186-yard 3rd, I make my first mistake by completely spacing on some of my caddying duties. I forget to pull the flag for Love when he gets ready to putt. But to be fair, I was distracted by someone in the gallery when he started talking to me. Where are the gallery ropes when you need them? But that’s not half as bad as a few holes later when Davis’ bag falls over right in the middle of Petty’s swing, causing someone to ask, “You’re not Davis’ regular caddie, are you?”
Love’s only bogey of the day comes when he drives it past the green into a hazard on the downhill 322-yard 5th. Petty also drives into the hazard from a forward tee, but his drop ends up sinking well down in the rough while Davis’ drop winds up nicely on top of it. “How’d you do that?” Petty asks. Responds Love, without missing a beat: “I’m a professional.”
Petty has attracted an “Our Gang” gaggle of 10-year-old boys to caddie for him, leading to all kinds of hilarious advice from them on reading putts. When I mention his caddie contingent is bigger than his pit crew, he responds, “Smarter, too.”
I wish I had some help. It’s exhausting trying to do all the things caddies have to do while lugging around a 30-pound bag up and down hills, but at least I don't have to look for any lost balls. It's a huge treat to watch Love’s phenomenal ball striking from such close range (he hits it as well and long as he ever has) and to be able to pick his brain about any subject I wanted.
Is it easier playing a course he designed? "It is great to play a course that we built. It creates a lot of pride and excitement for me, and it's always fun to test out one you had a hand in to see how it actually plays. I always seem to play better but I have never really found an advantage on the greens. The speed and condition of the greens and variety of angles you get when you play tends to limit any knowledge you may have acquired during construction."
What does he like about designing courses? “I like giving something back. I like coming to a club like this and the members telling you, ‘We love our course. It’s so much better than it was before.’ I like being out in nature. I like actually doing the work on the equipment. When I’m done playing I’ll have even more fun with it because I’ll be able to drive a tractor. Now, I just come out for a day, and they’re like, ‘No borrowing the tractor. Don’t mess up what they’re doing.’ But I love learning what they’re doing.”
Does he see himself doing more design work as his career winds down? "I would like to be able to be more hands on as I play less. I'd like to spend more time in the field and actually on equipment. I'd still like to limit it to a couple of courses a year so that we can really control the process."
Davis winds up hitting 12 fairways and 17 greens in regulation, while making four birdies to shoot a three-under 68. I wind up passed out in a chair in the grillroom. It's a lot easier playing and writing about a course than it is caddying and writting about it, that's for sure.