The caddies have to get to the golf course by seven in the morning. Play starts at eight.
The caddieshack is at the end of the parking lot, at the bottom of a hill. Behind it are woods and a creek, and behind that, a subdivision.
At the top of the parking lot is the pro shop and the clubhouse. They’re designed like a castle, except it’s a castle that looks like a fat man laying on the ground, a man who looks very tired of being alive. The castle’s feet are the two little towers of the pro shop—one tower is for our boss, the caddiemaster, and one is for the head golf pro. The castle’s abdomen is the clubhouse proper, with the bar, the locker room, and the restaurant. The castle’s head is where the owner of the golf course used to live and have his workshop—the same guy who was the architect of everything here, a sort of Midwestern renaissance man/rapacious industrialist—but now it’s just a cottage for out-of-town guests.
For as imposing and anthropomorphic as those buildings are, the caddieshack is humble and lifeless. It’s a rectangular, one-story building, with cinderblock walls and a few windows. There’s a brick patio in front built around an old oak tree, and next to that an open field with a vegetable garden and apple trees. The garden was used by the clubhouse when this area was rural. Now it belongs to the shack.
The way it works in the morning is that, around seven o’clock, this tiny door slides open on the back of the pro shop—the heel of the castle’s right foot. In this door is a dumbwaiter that raises and lowers a tray from the caddiemaster’s tower. On the tray is a clipboard, a pencil, and a sign-up list. We write our names under the column of our caddie rank: B, A, Honor, or +. Some caddies put notes by their names saying what time in the afternoon they have to be done by. A new thing this year was to try and impress Clam —the caddiemaster—by signing your name in some special way, so kids started bringing pens, markers, customized stamps, printed labels, while others went for Hancockian flourishes.
The tiny door stays open for ten minutes. If you come late and the list has ascended, you have to find one of the assistant pros and tell him to tell Clam you’re here.
If the sign-up process sounds a bit impersonal, it’s supposed to. Clam, who almost no one, ever, has seen face-to-face, seems to really enjoy these theological distancing effects, making it seem as much as possible that he exists like some minor suburban deity in some other realm “up top,” with us pitiable caddies “down below.” He even uses the assistant pros like some mediating clergy; anything to or from Clam goes through them.
Most of us just find it funny, but maybe he’s on to something, as it does seem to really get to some kids, to instill in them some old-fashioned authoritarian fear.
The scene at the shack before the list comes out looks like a cross between Raphael’s The School of Athens and a Toulouse-Lautrec brothel drawing. The reason for this tableau—Caddies at the Shack, Morning—is that we have to spend a lot of time waiting around together for our chance to serve. The reactions to this idle free time range from enjoyment and being happy by making good use of it, to loathing, and being miserable, and wasting it away.
Some of the kids who get into it, really get into it.
One of the few girl caddies, Jenny, or JSam, is a frantic high school overachiever. She tends the caddie garden around dawn and hauls crates of vegetables to a homeless shelter down the street and then starts practicing her cello outside the shack as we show up. She gets a lot of requests for “that one thing you play, you know, the really nice one,” which is the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, and which, to listen to, does make you feel pretty good to be healthy and young and sipping a strong cup of coffee while an oak tree above you is shimmering with summertime A.M. sunlight.
The coffee is another product of precociousness. The golf club’s town has a zest for evangelicalism. Part of this is a center that brings refugees in from all over the world to settle here, some of whose children become caddies.
One of these kids, originally from Ethiopia and whose real name is Hntsa, but is unfortunately called Jackie on account of him being the only black kid and also being really good at softball, actually roasts coffee beans in the shack’s old fireplace, grinds them, and then brews bowel-stirringly-good coffee. Another caddie is called Schwaz. Josh Schwarz is his real name, and he’s the only Jewish caddie. It’s not lost on anyone that the minority caddies seem to be the majority in regards to doing creative, enlightened things—so Josh teamed up with Hntsa and got a deal with the staff in the kitchen to bake bagels in there before they start breakfast. Enterprising young Americans that they are, Josh and Hntsa load all this stuff onto an endearing little wagon and wheel it down, across the creek, over a bridge they built, to the Anglophilically-named Brighton subdivision behind the golf course, in order to sell this stuff to their loyal and sleepy subscribers and make more money by 7:00 A.M. than most of us will make in two days caddying.
A good quantity of the coffee and bagels also gets consumed by a shack reading group that meets at 6:00 A.M., M, W, F and discusses, with nerdy enthusiasm, suggested summer reading material for upcoming AP English classes.
No one complains. Hntsa and Josh share the leftovers, Jenny plays requests, and the reading group makes for amusing eavesdropping. That and the bean roasting fumes cover up the usual rank musk of the shack.
I can’t say as much for the caddies who sit around and look despondent while waiting for the list to be put out, or even for the other caddies like myself who, while not displeased to be there, aren’t going to carpe diem and wake up any earlier than necessary.
So when the tiny door finally opens, the caddies forget what they were so emphatically saying and drop what they were so ambitiously doing, and head up to the tower. Even Jenny carefully puts down her cello and darts ahead. Some of them run and shove to get there first, others hurry to not be last, and others, the older ones, saunter with the apathy of experience and the confidence of being able to cut in line. A lot of cell phones start ringing, with caddies who are running late calling their friends to sign them up.
A typical gag this time of morning is that the Murray brothers, who drive into the lot right about when the list comes out, and steer their car towards the line of caddies. The younger kids who don’t know what’s up scurry out of the way and look frightened, but the older ones play along and fling themselves onto the hood of the car and roll across it screaming.
There’s four Murray brothers that caddie at the club, four of eight Irish Catholic siblings. One of the brothers, Joe, started smoking a lot of pot this summer and has become eyebrow raisingly neurotic. Instead of putting a simple “in by 2:00 please” next to his name, he’s been writing, with a David Foster Wallace-type flourish, footnotes at the bottom of the sign-up list. Footnotes that explain how while he doesn’t absolutely have to be off the golf course by 3:00 P.M., he has a soccer game at 4:30 P.M. and though the fields are less than a mile from his house, which is less than a mile from the club, the assistant coach has really seriously made it clear to him that what’s been missing from his performance this summer isn’t anything having to do with his ball-handling or his stamina or anything physical, but seems to be something “between the ears,” such that the assistant coach has rather sternly asked, etc., etc., etc. and taking up so much space that Joe has even occasionally taped on extra paper to the bottom of the sign-up list to extend these dope-addled petitions.
To everyone’s surprise, Clam doesn’t seem to get annoyed with Joe’s excess, and usually gets him out to caddie in the morning.
And so we all sign the list, sending our names up into the tower, into the inscrutable lottery of the caddiemaster’s head, letting him know that we are here, and we want to work. And we walk back down to the shack, to take a seat on benches and lawn chairs, on sofas and mattresses, to stand around, to lounge, to chat, to finish our coffee, and to wait for our assignments to come down from on high.