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Dealt a Bad Hand
Rick Reilly
May 30, 1994
CADDIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GOLF'S UNDERCLASS, ENDURING LOW PAY AND NO BENEFITS. NOW THEY'RE ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION
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May 30, 1994

Dealt A Bad Hand

CADDIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GOLF'S UNDERCLASS, ENDURING LOW PAY AND NO BENEFITS. NOW THEY'RE ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION

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Yeah, even Bill Murray might have a hard time finding anything funny in the Pinehurst caddie shack today. Take Big Eddie. He's been sleeping in the cemetery again, seeing as how they took away his car. Least he could afford a car for a while. Or take William. He's been walking the eight miles from his home in Aberdeen, N.C., to Pinehurst almost every day for 57 years. Still does it in a tic and a wool suit. Guess some guys never lose their dignity. Or take Loosetooth. When the famous No. 2 course at Pinehurst was closed for six weeks in 1992 to get set for the PGA's $2 million Tour Championship, Loosetooth was found picking up pears on the grounds. Got a family to feed.

Check out ol' Fletch over there. The club members don't argue anymore to see who gets to hang his bag on Fletch. They don't sneak the caddie master a five just to get the best eyes in the whole Pinehurst caddie yard. But they used to. Time was, Fletcher Gaines could look at any green for the first time and tell you grain, speed, break and the approximate weight of the guy who mowed it last. Fletch won the Pinehurst caddie tournament 10 years running. And that was when there were 500 caddies in the yard.

But these days there's something funny about Fletch's 73-year-old eyes. They water constantly, and they have a kind of glaze across them. Might be cataracts. Might be glaucoma. Hard to say. It's not like Fletch can afford an eye doctor. Some days you see him just following the Man to the ball instead of the other way around. The truth is, Fletch doesn't know where the ball is.

He's not alone. Probably a third of the guys in Pinehurst's caddie room have that glaze in their eyes. What, you think these guys have health-care packages?

There's no caddie yard at Pinehurst anymore. No caddie shack, either, come to think of it. What there is now is a smoky little room with a Salvation Army couch along the side and a weak-kneed card table in the middle and a lot of caddies waiting all day for loops that might never come. These days there are only 52 caddies at Pinehurst. And even with five courses to caddie on, 52 is too many. Most people use those damn golf carts.

"Lord a' mighty," says Fletch, rising a little off his chair. "When's the last time a golf cart took five shots off your score?"

To be sure to get a bag these days, caddies get to the room at 4:30 a.m. Then they whittle at the hours, playing cards, laughing some, arguing some, sharing one sports section among the 30 of them.

Carl is looking at a dollar bill, adding up the digits in the serial number. If they equal his age, 42, he won't spend the buck. "Bad luck," he says.

Right now it looks like luck hasn't been within a par-5 of this room. There are almost no young faces. Everybody is at least 30, most are 45 to 60. Many are alcoholics, many have health problems, many have left their families. You have to be a little detached to be a caddie in the first place, because caddies are among the last of the great disenfranchised workers. They have no benefits, no overtime, no worker's compensation, no vacation and no job guarantee. They are as outdated as inkwells, and paid accordingly. Pinehurst is one of the cheapest resort golf clubs around: $25 for a single loop, $40 for a double, and maybe a tip.

This is still less than a living wage, but what are the caddies going to do? They can't even get their own restroom. Caddies are not allowed to use the bathroom near the cart barn. They must walk 300 yards to the Port-O-Let in the parking lot. The Port-O-Let fills up in two days, yet it's emptied only twice a week. By day three, the caddies have no choice but to go into town to relieve themselves.

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