Caddying: Coveted jobs in tight summer market

Hanging at "The Beach" - the spot at St. Davids Golf Club where caddies wait for work - is Mark Baker (center), 22, who wants to be a golf pro. He goes to Delaware County Community College.
Hanging at "The Beach" - the spot at St. Davids Golf Club where caddies wait for work - is Mark Baker (center), 22, who wants to be a golf pro. He goes to Delaware County Community College.
Posted: June 25, 2009

It's a sunny, glorious day at St. Davids Golf Club in Wayne, and wedged between the 4th hole and the tennis courts are what look like two dozen fraternity brothers, but better dressed and not playing beer pong.

Without warning, one of the guys sneaks up and dumps two cups of water on another guy's socks, sending the group into hysterics.

"We pretty much do anything to pass the time," said Mark Baker, 22, who like the rest is wearing a bright red polo with crest and khaki shorts, resembling Lego people or someone who just hit the last-call sale at Abercrombie.

It's another day of caddying, as much a part of summer in the suburbs for high school and college students as swim clubs and complaints about there being nothing to do. With caddies earning from $45 to $65 a bag, these are coveted jobs in this tight market.

There are seven private clubs within a three-mile radius of St. Davids, and each hires from 20 to 40 caddies each summer. For newly minted teens, it's a first job that can easily net a cool $100 a day, if they carry two bags or work a morning and afternoon round. Try making that much cutting lawns or babysitting your little brother.

This year, though, the rough economy has sliced into earnings.

Like pretty much every other industry, golf is suffering amid a recession that's rougher than a sandtrap at the U.S. Open, with television viewership and equipment sales down, and the number of rounds played at private courses barely holding on to last year's levels.

Rounds at St. Davids are down by less than 10 percent, better than anticipated, said head golf pro Stephen Wright. But with May and June as soggy as that guy's socks, the club's caddies have been spending more time on the bench than the fairway.

"It's not too bad," said St. Davids' caddy master, Tim Mallowe, 27, who started caddying at 14 at the Overbrook Golf Club. "The weather hurt us more than the economy."

Between rounds caddies wait . . . and wait. Some sit quietly on benches, reading a newspaper - the Wall Street Journal, natch - or a book. Members of another group razz each other the way boys do when girls, or their own mothers, aren't around.

Mallowe's job is to wrangle the 20 to 30 caddies who show up every day and assign them to golfers. Sounds easy, but he has to know which golfers want someone more experienced, which caddy is due for a turn, and how to keep the rest from getting too loopy while they wait.

He is the bespectacled straight man of the bunch, the Danny Noonan character to the unhinged Bill Murray in Caddyshack.

So how does he make his caddy picks?

"The best-looking," someone shouts out before he can answer.

Sometimes the caddies play cards or nap, but yesterday they entertained themselves by practicing their putts and pouring water on socks.

And they swapped stories about goofball club members like the guy who fell into a bunker or the one that swung at a ball like he was holding a bat and nevertheless hit it 55 yards.

"I was fore-caddying, and someone stepped up and hit a duck hook and hit me in the head" with the ball, added Todd Katona, 22, a communications major at Cabrini College who works two other jobs - in his father's insurance office and as a busboy. Caddying is more fun, he said.

"I'm walking around outside and making more money than everybody who's behind a desk all day . . . and it's cash," he said.

While the college guys are yucking it up, the younger ones are trying to ignore the shenanigans. At 14 the youngest of the bunch, Harry Welsh and Jake Lowry started caddying last year.

"I love golf, it's a great sport, and caddying is a great way to make money," said Welsh, looking sporty in wrap-around sunglasses.

The waiting can be tough and there are no guarantees they'll get a round, but the likelihood of picking up $50 a bag keeps them coming back.

"During the summer, there's not a lot to do. Some of my friends are here, so we hang out," said Lowry, a soon-to-be ninth grader who managed to earn between $600 and $700 last summer working just a few days a week.

Waiting for hours only to be sent home without a round "is the worst," said Lowry, who still has a lot of growing to do. "If that happens, Tim will try to get you out the next day."

Welsh said his father, "who was a really big caddy" when he was young, persuaded him to give it a try. His mother, however, "thinks at 14 I should have a life" and do other things. Though he plays lacrosse, "I like making money more than I like getting hurt" by a lacrosse stick, he said.

Then there is the Lone Ranger, otherwise known as Alexa Weaver, 17, the only female caddy at St. Davids - or basically any other golf club around, she said.

She's played golf with her father at St. Davids since she was a little girl, and caddied sporadically over the last three years. This year, she wants to work more, though she's given up playing inter-club golf competitively in favor of basketball, her favorite sport.

Weaver was always the only girl when she played on the St. Davids inter-club team. She said she didn't mind being the lone female, but "the general assumption is I'm not good because I'm a girl," she said - never mind that she's taller and stronger than, say, Lowry and some of the other younger caddies.

Spending so much time with a platoon of guys can be awkward, but she finds a way to "just chill out."

And being a female golfer gives her one distinct advantage over the boys. With so few girls in the sport, she said, "you can get a college scholarship very, very, very easily."

And that is a hole-in-one.


Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.

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