The Caddies

I have to admit it: being a golf caddie was one of the best jobs I ever had.

Just think of it. You could go to work whenever you wanted, work as long as you desired, and then go home with money in your pockets. It wasn't much, but it was spendable. And really, what more does a teenager need out of life?

I was 13 when I first toted a golf bag at the Youghiogheny Country Club just outside Boston, PA. The golf course was six miles from our home. Fuzzy was the caddy master. He was a short unsmiling man with a limp that originated in his childhood.

the_caddies

He took a look at me and said, 'You're hired. Take a number. Don't swear in front of the golfers and watch your gambling.'

All the caddies gambled. We pitched quarters against the wall of a building in the parking lot and played poker.

I made friends with the other caddies. One of them was Whitey. He was 16. We called him that because of his white hair. I asked him what his ambition was and he said he wanted his own gang.

'What will you do in a gang?' I wanted to know. Whitey shrugged.

'Bring girls over to our clubhouse, steal things, whatever we wanted,' he said.

His father was a doctor and had a liquor cabinet where he kept scotch, vodka, beer and other alcoholic drinks. Whitey knew where he concealed the key to the cabinet and sometimes he would sneak home when his parents were away, open the cabinet and bring something to the country club that we could drink behind the caddie shack.

He also gave me a tip on how earn more money from caddying.

'When your golfer hits a bad shot, make sure you get to the ball before he does,' he said. 'If it's a bad lie, pick up the ball and move it to a good lie. Trust me, they'll increase the size of your tip.'

I tried it and it worked.

On Ladies Day, the course would be filled with women of all ages, sizes and shapes. While most of them were in their 40s or 50s -- ancient by my standards -- there was one 16-year-old beauty who would come to the course with her grandmother.

She always wore shorts and had great legs. I was grateful to Fuzzy for picking me to be her caddie on a couple of occasions.

There were a lot of wooded sections on the course and I always liked it when the girl would slice her ball into the woods and we would have to go looking for it. Nothing ever happened, of course. I was just 14. But a kid can dream, can't he...

Caddies could play free every Monday as long as you had the clubs. We would borrow a bag from one of the members and would clean them after using the clubs.

And there was the annual caddies golf tournament that we could play in for cash prizes, even a college scholarship. A wealthy member named Shaw who owned a department store in McKeesport paid for the tournament.

After the tournament, we always had a caddies banquet at the country club. Shaw paid for that, too, and we would be served steaks, baked potatoes and a great dessert before the trophies, cash prizes and scholarships were awarded.

Most of the caddies got pretty good at the game and could shoot a round of golf in the 70s. I never broke 80 but I came close. I could drive the ball nearly 300 yards and was accurate with my irons. My putting was pretty decent and I learned to love the game.

Golfers would pay us $2.50 for nine holes and $4 for 18. If you carried a double, you could earn twice the regular rates.

When my younger brothers became teenagers, they joined me at the country club. We caddied there every summer and on weekends during our school years until we turned 17.

I still remember the year our father went on strike with the other workers at Irwin Works, a steel mill in Dravosburg. He wasn't bringing home any money and my brothers and I worked extra hard to earn money for groceries and to help pay the rent and utilities. We were proud to contribute money to the family budget and Mom boasted about that for years to her friends.

I hated it when electric golf carts replaced the caddies. It ended a colorful era in my life. While it made money for the owners of the golf courses, I think it destroyed a part of America that I wish could be restored. Maybe that was what Donald Trump was talking about when he said he would make America great again.

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