Late July, a Monday, we have the caddie championship, a one-day, eighteen-hole tournament. The prizes for each winner in the senior and junior divisions are one free golf lesson with Lou the Pro and the pride of having played out a real-life partial re-enactment of the drama of Danny Noonan in Caddyshack.
The championship is something to look forward to once the 4th of July has passed and the days of the summer drag on, repetitious and dreary, and when everybody’s verdant optimism for the season has faded along with the grass to a yellow malaise.
Last year, a week before the championship, as the caddies were getting excited and it became the thing to talk about in the morning, there was all of a sudden a piece of paper posted inside the shack reading, THERE WILL BE CADDIE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR DUE TO CADDYING. – MR. LORD.
“Fucking Far Side!” yelled Big Tom, referring to Mr. Lord, who is tall and beady-eyed and has a hunchback and a potbelly. Big Tom had begun saying Mr. Lord looked like a character from The Far Side comics and the nickname stuck.
At that time, Mr. Lord was in charge of the club committee that oversees the caddie program and that summer he had become a zealot of improvement, wanting us to forecaddie on nearly every hole, to carry excessive amounts of golf supplies in our caddie bibs, and to consistently walk twenty to thirty feet ahead of the golfers so that we couldn’t listen to their conversations.
Mr. Lord was also giving out bad ratings—unheard of and humiliating 1’s and 2’s to the caddies he felt were being lazy. Mr. Lord was even watching what caddies were doing in the groups playing in front of or behind his foursome, and if he saw those kids slacking, after the round he would ask for their evaluation cards and make a note about their mediocrity.
Lord also wanted to be the only person with the power to dominate the caddies. One time, Sandy Fields, the assistant pro, was annoyed that the caddies were making a mess in the kitchen of the halfway house and spilling saltines everywhere and leaving the cheese out. Sandy then put up a sign in the halfway house saying NO CRACKERS FOR CADDIES. When Mr. Lord saw this, he ripped down the sign and stomped off the course and into the bag room, getting right in Sandy’s face, saying the caddies work hard out there and that it’s unfair and cruel to take away their snacks at the halfway house.
Mr. Lord grew up poor in Chicago and caddied from when he was 11-years-old until graduation from college, his tuition paid for by an Evans Scholarship. Mr. Lord then began working in advertising with a job that he received from one of his regular loops.
Mr. Lord is now the executive of a company that designs and manufactures Happy Meal toys for McDonald’s. He drives a Ferrari and likes to loudly and playfully boast about being the kind of solid guy who can drive a Ferrari but still go through the drive-thru of Portillo’s to order a combo sandwich. He also has a dozen pairs of Foot Joy golf shoes in his locker and is careful to match the color of the uppers to the colors of his shirt and hat and sunglasses.
It was a busy Saturday morning when we discovered the CADDIE CHAMPIONSHIP sign. Once Big Tom ripped the sheet of paper from the wall there were mumblings of “strike,” “caddie strike,” and “walkout.”
When the bag assignments from Clam printed inside the shack a few minutes later, Big Tom took the printout and stood up on a bench, removed a lighter from his pocket and set the assignments on fire.
The younger caddies were bewildered and didn’t know where to look or what to do. The older caddies were clapping and cheering. None of us had been part of a caddie strike before, but we had heard stories of the most recent one in the mid 1990s.
“No caddie championship? Forecaddying on every hole? Ten paces ahead at all times? Bull shit! Those philistines! Those hypocrites! Those unhappy men! Don’t they have anything better to do with their time than play golf and jerk us around?!”
A few golfers had arrived and were parking their cars. Tom demanded that no one go fetch their clubs.
Mr. Webb popped his trunk, stepped out of his car and looked down towards the shack. We stared back at him and nobody moved.
“You’re gonna get this, right?” he asked, pointing to his open trunk. He turned and walked up to the pro shop.
Mr. McCleary then opened his trunk, saw that no one was jogging to shag his bag, looked at the pro shop and back at us, and then removed his clubs and carried them up himself.
Next Dr. Kowolski pulled into the lot and got out of his car. The Doc was a friend of the caddie. He paid well and if you were leaving for college or to start a professional job he would often give out a $500 bonus. He was a good golfer and all he asked of the caddies was that he always be referred to as “Dr. Kowolski” and never as “Mr. Kowolski.” He was a dentist and some of the caddies made fun of him for being so picky about his title.
One time Surly, after the Doc corrected him for having said “Mister” instead of “Doctor,” went on a rant at the shack saying, “Oh, well can we call him, ‘Mr. Dentist?’ Or how about ‘Dr. Dentist?’ Or ‘Dentist Kowolski?’”
“He’s a nice guy,” said Sulloway. “He gave me a ride home last week and made me a turkey sandwich at his house. He’s just a good guy.”
“He’s just a dentist,” Surly said bitterly.
“Yeah and you’re an anti-dentite,” said Sulloway.
“I am not an anti-dentite,” Surly said, raising his voice to a Seinfeldian pitch, making both himself and Sulloway laugh.
Dr. Kowolski saw that no caddies were coming to the parking lot to fetch his bag and shouted to us, asking what was going on.
“We’re on strike!” Big Tom yelled back.
“Oh Christ,” the Doc muttered. He sighed and approached us.
Big Tom showed Dr. Kowolski the notice cancelling the caddie championship. Kowolski frowned and tilted his bald head left and right in contemplation.
Kowolski said that Mr. Lord wasn’t playing that day, that there was nothing anyone could do about it until tomorrow, until Sunday, when Lord would be at the club.
“Not good enough,” Big Tom replied.
“Walkout! Walkout!” people were shouting again.
“We want Lord off the caddie committee and we want our caddie championship back,” Big Tom said. “Until then, no caddying. Let’s go everybody!”
Big Tom walked to his car, asking if anyone needed a ride. Most of the other caddies followed and got into their cars and onto their bikes. A few stayed behind, sitting on the benches. Big Tom rolled down his window as he was leaving and screamed at them, “Scabs! Scabs! Bad caddies!”
That afternoon, with most members carrying their own bags or riding in carts, some of the caddies harassed the players from afar, driving by the club and aggressively honking their car horns as someone was teeing off, or sneaking up to the property line and blowing air horns and lighting firecrackers as someone was putting. A couple of kids launched water balloons and shot mortar fireworks towards the golf course from a neighboring park until the police were called.
Big Tom kept everything organized via Facebook and text messages. It was lucky for us that the president of the club didn’t like Mr. Lord and was annoyed by his ostentatious Ferrari and brightly colored matching outfits and had been waiting for an excuse to remove him from the Caddying Committee.
The decision was made the next day at the Sunday morning club meeting to replace Mr. Lord with Dr. Kowolski, and the caddies were immediately called back to work. Big Tom, however, was told he wasn’t welcome to caddie the rest of the summer.
The caddie championship was reinstated and Lorena Manzano won the junior division with a 79 while Adam Sulloway won the senior division with a 74.
Big Tom was seen during the caddie championship standing with his bicycle by the fence at corner of the golf course, watching play and inviting caddies over to smoke a cigarette and catch up on the latest news from the shack. He said he was more than happy to be done caddying for the summer and that he was mowing lawns and tutoring a neighbor in his cul-de-sac to make up for the lost income.