"I guess I was 12," Clark was saying the other day. "The older boys, my older friends, they told me about it. They told me it was a good way to make a little extra money. The first day, I carried one bag - Goose Goslin's. He was just practicing, and he went out alone that day.
"He's lefthanded, and I stood right behind him," Clark said. Right behind a golfer is the wrong place for a caddie to stand, a potentially distracting place, as he soon found out.
"He says to me, 'Jimmy, have you ever caddied for a lefthanded man before?' I said, 'Mr. Goslin, I've never caddied for anybody before.' He laughed, and then he showed me what to do."
With that, a golfing life began. The going rate at Rock Creek was 50 cents a bag, "with maybe a dollar tip," Clark said. Given inflation, that works out to about $17 today, nowhere near the going rate for a caddie in 2007. But while he enjoyed the money, he said it wasn't what kept him coming back through the decades - in Washington and then in New Jersey, even as he held a second job working for a pharmaceutical company, even as 70 turned to 80 and 80 turned to 90.
"Right away, I got into caddying," he said. "It was just the thing for me. I didn't even play much baseball anymore after I started. I just loved the game, being outside. That was it, the love of the game."
This weekend, James Henry Clark is one of the honorees, one of the African-American golf legends, who will gather in Philadelphia as part of the 10th annual James Hughes Memorial Scholarship Fund Weekend. His is an amazing story. He told it while sitting last week at Baltusrol Golf Club, the site of seven U.S. Opens. Baltusrol is where Clark caddied from 1967 until he retired in 2001, a place where he says "I love the members," a place that flew him to Florida first-class when the Professional Caddies Association Hall of Fame inducted him in 2000.
"I was still carrying two bags at 91," Clark said. "Two bags and it didn't hurt or nothing."
But the arthritis began to creep in, and his family persuaded him to retire. Today, his walk is a little slow, but quite steady - and his memory seems flawless. He can tell you about his time caddying in the U.S. Open, and his friendships with people such as Gary Player and Peter Oosterhuis, and caddying for Lee Elder at a tournament in 1968, and winning a caddy golf tournament at age 67.
Clark says he was a pretty good player, one whose first club "was a sapling I pulled from the ground - and you know the big root, I just shaved it down with a knife and used it as a club." Later, a member at a club in Maryland would leave him permission to use his clubs.
"Then somebody gave me a 2-iron," he said. "I carried it around with me everywhere. I hit every shot with it."
Clark laughed. "There was a time I would have hoped to be a golf pro, but that wasn't possible," he said, and his voice trailed off a little, but only a little. He says he is a religious man, and he is altogether upbeat.
In all of his years, Clark says he can recall only two instances when he was treated badly because of his race. In 1927, he applied for a caddie's job at a New Jersey club and was told, " 'We don't have colored caddies here,' " Clark remembered. "I said, 'What?' I had no idea."
The other time, he said, was more than seven decades later when a golfer from Texas said to him, "Boy, you didn't give me my putter." Clark can still tell you what hole it happened on, and where he was standing, and how long he held his tongue before telling the guy off. And then, with a laugh, he can tell you that the embarrassed golfer went out of his way for the rest of the day to use his name - "Yes, Jim . . . No, Jim . . . Thank you, Jim . . . Jim, Jim, Jim." Clark can also tell you that the embarrassment led to a big tip.
And he laughed some more. In all of those years, from 1922 to 2001, Clark says he caddied for exactly two African-American golfers: Elder in 1968, and a woman guest of a Baltusrol member in 2000. Two.
"It really is amazing," he said.
As is the man.
Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/hofmann.