Caddies Give A Golfer What A Cart Can't

Posted: May 04, 1989

Two years ago, during the Philadelphia Amateur Golf Championship at Torresdale-Frankford Country Club, Jay Sigel chose a 4-iron with which to tee off at the 210-yard, par-3 14th hole.

Sigel, one of the country's renowned amateurs, was set on his choice until Ray Koschak, the caddie assigned to him by the club, spoke up.

"I said, 'No, Jay, take a 5 (iron),' " Koschak recalled last week. "He took the 5 and got a hole in one. He wound up winning the tournament, and I don't think he lined up a putt all week. I lined 'em all up. Jay said, 'Tell me where to hit it, Ray.' "

Such is the unique relationship between golfers and caddies, a relationship possibly like no other in sports.

Some might liken caddies to batboys in baseball or ballboys in tennis. But imagine Mike Schmidt asking a batboy to critique his last swing or John McEnroe consulting a ballboy on his next serve.

It just doesn't happen.

In recognition of the importance of caddies, regional golf officials are trying now to discourage the use of carts by golfers. The Philadelphia Cricket Club has even banned the use of carts by anyone 65 or younger who cannot produce medical dispensation.

Purists put it bluntly: Golf courses were meant to be walked; therefore caddies are integral to proper enjoyment of the sport. For others, caddies mean more than just a better round of golf.

"I can say without question that most of your real skill players recognize the value and role of a good caddie," said O. Gordon Brewer, of Huntington Valley, chairman of the regional Caddie Preservation and Promotion Committee.

Caddying is a calling - not a flashy one - and those who embody this tradition unique to golf are the old pros, people such as Koschak, Mike Prince and Stephen Hazzard, who began caddying as youths and fell in love with it.

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When Mike Prince first came to Aronimink Golf Club in 1936, Route 252 through Newtown, Delaware County, was a dirt road, and the minimum caddie fee for an 18-hole "loop" was $1.

"You'd get maybe a quarter tip or a 50-cent piece," he said. "You could go to a movie, buy a pack of cigarettes and still have change."

Now 72, Prince still commutes daily by bus to the corner of 252 and West Chester Pike, where the club pro, a member, or someone sent by caddie master John McCardell gives him a lift the remaining two miles to Aronimink.

In the intervening years, Prince has become a fixture at the club. He knows the members, the members know him, and he feels at home there.

"One guy - an old-timer like myself - called out to me the other day, 'Well, Mike, looks like we're here for another year,' " Prince said one morning last week. "It's a warm club, a real warm club."

While he talked, Prince sipped coffee on the southwest patio of the clubhouse and basked in the brilliant, mid-morning sunshine. He gestured toward the first hole, which starts atop a hill, drops breathtakingly through a forested hollow and rises to a well-bunkered green roughly opposite the tee.

"If you go down in the woods on the right there, you're done for," he said. "You couldn't find a Greyhound bus in those woods.

"I know every plug of the course."

Prince has caddied in big tournaments, but always close to home. At the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, Prince carried for Champion Spark Plugs heir Frank Stranahan, a former British Amateur winner who turned bodybuilder, but never turned pro. "He had dumbbells in the trunk of his car when I put his clubs in," Prince said.

At the 1958 PGA Championship at Llanerch Country Club in Havertown, Prince caddied for three players, including Bob Toski, the one-time U.S. Open champ. ''I got taken off Toski - he was a little, jockey-sized guy - because he didn't need to ask for yardage," Prince said. "One of the members saw he didn't need a real caddie and got his kid put on him."

Prince has caddied for Sigel, an Aronimink member, and for guests such as former Philadelphia A's baseball star Gus Zernial and the late TV actor Forrest Tucker, "a top-shelf guy."

His favorite player, however, was the late J. Wood Platt a dapper amateur who golfed in a jazz bow tie and long, cuff-linked sleeves, "even in 100- degree weather."

Caddies were a favorite of Platt, too. In the late 1960s, he established a caddie scholarship fund that has doled out $2 million over the years. Currently, 160 collegians - who are still caddying weekends or summers - are sharing more than $200,000 in payments from the fund, Brewer said.

Prince has seen many younger caddies pass through, and he counsels them right off on a cardinal rule: Do not speak unless spoken to. The rule is fine with Prince.

"We're not out there to give lessons," he said. "We have a pro for that."

Prince has outlasted caddie masters as well.

"He's one of the nicest men I've ever had work for me, and I've been in this business 34 years," said McCardell, Prince's fifth boss. "I've never had a complaint about Mike."

Prince isn't sure he'll continue caddying until 1992, when Aronimink hosts the PGA Championship. "I can only go one loop now; the wheels are gone," he said.

Still, when he walks each morning into Aronimink's lush surroundings, the feeling that has kept him coming back all these years sweeps over him again.

"You get out there, you smell that nice green grass; that's what it's all about," he said. "It makes you hungry, though. You get up in this high country and breathe this air, you get hungry."

A fat green divot off Larry Goldberg's pitching wedge arced into the middle of a sand trap at Whitford Country Club in West Whiteland, Chester County, one day last week.

Before Goldberg's ball had stopped on the green, Stephen Hazzard set down two bags, handed out putters and pulled the flagstick. While Goldberg's foursome putted, Hazzard moved swiftly and silently, raking footprints, wiping clean clubs, retrieving the offending divot from the sand. As the last putt fell, he was back on the green to return the flagstick, exchange drivers for putters and fix an almost forgotten ballmark.

By the time the golfers reached the third tee, Hazzard was halfway down the fairway, bags at his sides, enjoying a cigarette.

"Goldberg treats me good," he said. "He gets the best I got."

At Whitford, what's best in the eyes of many members does not come with a steering wheel or electric motor. As at Aronimink, the members are walkers, aggressively so, and caddies are valued.

"Golf is a game of the next shot," said Goldberg, the former club president. "A caddie helps you with that next shot."

Hazzard, who lives in West Chester, began caddying at the country club there when he was 9. Now 40, he works for a restaurant from 4 a.m. to noon so that he has time in the afternoon to head for Whitford.

"I'm an outdoors guy," he said. "I watch the weather every day in winter. If it goes over 50, I come here. These people are golfaholics."

Although his job is to attend to the golfers, he does not feel subordinate, Hazzard said.

"They're on one side of the street and I'm definitely on the other. But we talk, and they expose me to things they go through in life, and sometimes it's not all that different."

Goldberg agreed, and noted that, with few exceptions, the better the player, the higher he regards caddies.

"Those players who are grown up enjoy the game more and enjoy their caddie's company," he said. "Those who aren't can sink to belittling caddies or blaming their bad game on them."

Brewer's committee surveyed 80 private clubs in the region to ascertain caddie-cart preferences and trends. Responses from 34 cart-oriented clubs indicated a 6 percent increase in cart use between 1987 and 1988; 29 caddie- oriented clubs indicated a 9 percent increase in caddie rounds in that year.

Although rough, the numbers "suggest a higher percentage increase among caddie users," Brewer concluded.

"One overriding issue is that carts generate revenue," Brewer said. "In some instances, part of a pro's compensation comes from cart revenues.

"One thing we try to stress to club boards is that there are a lot of hidden costs to maintaining cart fleets. Besides the cost of the carts, there's wear and tear on the golf courses."

Another tack Brewer and his committee members take is to try to convince golfers that walking is more healthy than riding.

They have only to point to Koschak as proof.

At 79, Koschak spent two recent weeks of vacation from his light construction job carrying bags at Torresdale-Frankford. He did so despite an 83 percent preference for carts at the club.

"I have no objections to carts, but I can't play with one," Koschak said. ''I like my walking, and so do the men I carry for. I don't do it for a living, I do it for exercise."

A self-described "coal-cracker" from Pittsburgh, Koschak was 8 when he first picked up a bag at the South Hills Country Club.

"That was the Depression then," he said. "My father was out of work and I was caddying, but he caddied afterward, just to survive."

At the age of 10, Koschak won his first caddie tournament. He won his last in 1986, and his grandson carried his clubs. On a given weekend, you might find three generations of Koschaks at Torresdale.

Other caddies complain about "TV golfers" who eye the shot from behind, inspect their club, take three practice swings, change clubs and finally hit the ball. Koschak's choice as the biggest change since he started was in a similar vein.

"The goddamn bags are heavier; that's the big difference," he said. ''They're suitcases now and trunks. Before they were little burlap things."

Koschak thought on this a second.

"Well, you know what they say about caddies," he said. "You gotta have a strong back - and a weak mind."

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