The motorized golf cart has severely curtailed the use of caddies in most parts of the U.S., and now a bureaucratic enemy, the Internal Revenue Service, is poised to deliver the fatal blow to the country's remaining caddie programs.
The IRS is threatening the existence of these caddies through an audit of Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y. The IRS contends that Westchester's caddies are club employees rather than independent contractors, even though club members pay caddies in cash out of their own pockets.
If the IRS succeeds, Westchester—and all other courses with caddies—could be forced to put the loopers on their books and then deduct income and social security taxes from the caddies' wages and contribute to social security on their behalf. The cost of keeping such records and paying social security taxes would at best drive up the cost of using a caddie and at worst give all but the most tradition-bound clubs a good excuse to replace caddies with carts.
The loss of caddies would be irreplaceable. Although I have only been fortunate enough to have played with a caddie three times, I know what a difference one can make. Caddies, unlike carts, chat with you, tell you what club to hit, clean your clubs and take strokes off your game. They are an integral part of golf's rich history, and caddying should be encouraged and protected.
Think of the jobs that would be lost if caddying vanished. The caddie ranks are split between teenagers, for whom the work is a great summer job, and full-timers, men for whom lugging bags pays the rent and feeds their families. Teen caddies also have the opportunity to tap into well-funded college-scholarship programs. It would be a shame to see efforts such as the Evans Scholar and the Francis Ouimet Scholarship funds die out because of a lack of takers.
If the IRS wins, golf loses. People fortunate enough to play at courses that still have strong caddie programs may soon find their fairways crisscrossed by cart paths. Gone will be the uninterrupted acres of green where men walked a game, replaced by the cement legacy of the IRS's decision.
Mark Twain called golf a good walk spoiled, and it sure will be if the IRS gets its way. In the meantime, I'll keep walking and carrying my bag, looking forward to the day when I can join a club. I just hope there'll be a caddie waiting for me when I arrive at the 1st tee.