Monday, January 21, 2013

The Caddies Thank You Dr. King!

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day which brings up images of the Civil Rights movement – sit-ins, marches and throngs of protestors, arms joined, chanting, swaying and singing “We Shall Overcome.” 

So it is only natural to think back and reflect on our remembrances of that era, a highlight revolving, believe it or not, around my experiences at the caddy shack.

When I was 10 years old I began caddying at Glen View Club, located appropriately enough in Golf, Illinois. At the turn of the 20th Century, when Glen View was first established, the main form of transportation to the club was via the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad line. There was no established station nearby, so members who wanted to stop for a round on the links would yell out to the conductor “Golf” when they approached the country club. Thus and such, the stop, and eventually the village, came to be named.

Anyway, when I started caddying the established rate was $3.50 for carrying a bag 18 holes, or $1.75 for nine holes. with no tipping allowed. That seemed to me a princely sum, though the set fee had been in effect for some time and continued to apply for years thereafter. To facilitate the tipping ban, no cash passed hands between golfer and caddie.  Golfers signed a ticket at the end of the round, which we would turn in to the caddiemaster, who paid us out of his cash box. Members were billed at the end of each month.

Glen View Club, 18th Hole and Clubhouse
The Glen View Club membership was well heeled, powerful and connected.  Members included the  CEO of Jewel Tea, the scions of Kemper Insurance and GD Searle & Co, the CEO of the Chicago Northwestern Railway, the CEO of Standard Oil of Indiana (which became Amoco before merging with BP to become BP Amoco), namesakes of tony Chicago law firms and a doctor who was orthopedic surgeon to the Chicago Cubs. 

Golf was revered, its traditions well represented. Glen View Club had hosted the U.S. Open in 1904. Honorary members included an amateur (Chick Evans) who had won the US Open in 1916 and a retired immigrant pro from Scotland (Jock Hutchison) who won the PGA Championship in 1920 and prevailed at the British Open in 1921 on the Old Course at St. Andrews. I caddied for both multiple times. Money (or the lack thereof I should say) was not an issue for this crowd.
We caddies compared notes with our brethren at neighboring clubs.  Near neighbors North Shore Country Club (which once hosted the US Open and twice hosted the US amateur) and Indian Hill Club (where Bill Murray and his brothers caddied, giving rise to the very real world experiences portrayed in the movie “Caddy Shack”) were among several dozen Chicago area golf courses that had caddie programs. There was much to compare. As the years ticked by caddies at the others clubs came to be paid more than us at Glen View Club, largely due to the no tipping policy. We became unhappy.  

Estherville (Iowa) Daily News, September 27, 1962
Being a rowdy reckless rabble of teenagers and adolescents, an inexperienced and unworldly mob, clad in crusty t-shirts, cutoffs and holey sneakers, we caddies did something extraordinarily mature. We caucused, set an agenda, established objectives and selected a committee to negotiate for a raise with club management. The club manager’s name was Broms, “Baldy Broms” to us.   Our committee visited him armed with quotes from key members attesting that we were the best group of caddies around, data concerning consumer price inflation and evidence that our colleagues at other area clubs were better paid. We wanted tips or we wanted a raise. We had an ironclad case. Baldy said he would get back to us. Our committee met with Broms again. Baldy said he needed to do some research. A third meeting was scheduled -- and cancelled.   It went on and on. We were being played. We were livid. We decided to take matters into our own hands.

Bob Broms priority was
sampling wines and keeping
the wine cellar stocked.
Golfdom Magazine, August, 1968
Sunday is the busiest day of the week on the golf course. Men’s golf started early morning followed by couple’s golf starting at 11:00 am, with tee times scheduled every eight minutes through 3:00 pm or later. Any caddie who wanted could easily get in 36 holes and a big payday ($14.00 if you carried two bags 36 holes). We set the next Sunday as the day for action. We pledged to show up at the caddy shack for work as normal early Sunday morning.  But when the first of us was called to go out on a loop, the day would veer in a distinctly abnormal direction.  

When the caddiemaster walked out on the caddy shack porch with the assignment tickets for the first loop and called out the caddie numbers, he was met with a unified chorus. “Strike” he heard from the basketball court. “Strike” he heard from the picnic tables.  “Strike” he heard from the benches along the porch.  He saw the caddies unified and firm. Members walking to the driving range to warm up just about dropped their buckets of balls.

Ed Oldfield Sr.,
Head Pro Glen View Club
1961- 1989
It took the caddie master but a few minutes to figure out the issues were larger than himself, so he headed up to the clubhouse. The limited supply of drive carts was ferried out to the first tee. Calls were placed to nearby country clubs to borrow additional drive carts, which showed up in short order on the flatbeds of semi-trailer trucks. Pull carts normally reserved for late day and off-season play were taken out of storage. Then autos driven by other than the usual Sunday morning crowd began trickling into the parking lot. The head pro, his Sunday duties unexpectedly expanded from schmoozing the husbands and flirting with the wives, emerged from his Cadillac El Dorado rubbing sand from his eyes. The "never before noon on Sunday" Club Manager appeared. The Club President drove up the entrance road. The Chairman of the Caddie Committee, who thought his volunteer assignment would be satisfied by emceeing and handing out awards at the end-of-the-year caddie banquet, was retrieved from a church pew. He wasn't pleased. None of them were happy, not in the least.

To make it clear we were united, we caddies massed and organized.  We marched out to the center of the driving range.  We sat down on the target practice greens, preventing golfers from using the range, at least not without risking serious injury to the young men sitting thereon. And being good 1960’s protestors, we chanted slogans and then sang at the top of our lungs “We Shall Overcome.” The refrains of the civil rights anthem echoed across the greens, over the sandtraps, and through the forests.

We were invited to send representatives to the clubhouse. Our reps were told the caddies were all fired; we must immediately vacate the grounds. The incumbents would be replaced by carts until an entirely new crew of caddies could be trained and hired. Two among us who had been awarded full-ride caddie scholarships to start in the fall were informed the scholarships would be rescinded. The Club President and the Manager were adamant. Us caddies were disloyal. Our behavior was reprehensible. 

The Caddie Committee Chairman then said wait just a second, I’d like to hear what is going on from the perspective of the caddies.  Our representatives explained what we wanted and why, and how we had been trying to negotiate a settlement. They recounted the history of unfulfilled promises, dodges, delays and cancelled meetings. The Caddie Chairman looked at the Club Manager.  Baldy said “I've been very busy and haven't had the time.” The club pro intervened. By the end of the hour Baldy was begging to keep his job.

Post strike caddie ticket with increased pay.
We caddied later that morning for the husband and wife crowd, some irate and others sympathetic. The flatbed trailers were reloaded and exited the grounds.  Based on a quick survey we were granted a comparability raise to $4.10 a bag, which was adjusted shortly thereafter to $4.50 per bag as a quality premium.  In the weeks that followed we negotiated a new compensation structure that went into effect the next spring, where the most experienced and highly rated caddies would net $5.25 a bag, and not long thereafter $5.75 a bag. The club committed to reviewing and increasing caddie fees as necessary. 

The last time I looped I earned $7.25 a bag. Our bargaining committee disbanded.  To this day, Glen View Club uses the pay structure we negotiated, with a top rate now of $60 a bag.  The caddies of today probably don’t realize it, but they have, in a small way, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fellow protestors to thank for their bounty.  Dr. King, thank you for showing us the way that day.  We did overcome.

March on Washington
"We Shall Overcome at 19:00 Min


  1. $60 no tip is pretty low these days. 80 to 100 is probably more common at better courses

  2. There are different pricing structures between clubs that have adults (aka pro jocks) as caddies and those that rely on youth. Is the $60.00 a bag out of line with what clubs pay these days for a transitional youth workforce? I mean, two bags translates into $120 for four hours work, which is a hell of a lot more than teenagers can get for doing anything else these days.

  3. Double bagging is really hard work, as I'm sure you know. Here on the West Coast, it's mostly "pro jocks" and not many kids, so the 80 to 100 is definitely for pro jocks. Not sure what kids are getting at the few clubs that have Evans Scholars programs, but it is probably more in the 40 to 60 range, so good point!

  4. By the way, the Evans Scholar Foundation is pushing to open a scholarship house in Oregon or Washington.

    I can say from personal experience it's a fantastic program.

  5. Today. Student athlete football players at my alma mater voted whether or not to join a union. Hmmm. 46 years before, GVC loopers went out on strike. True trailblazers led of course by the ultimate trailblazer--ME