6:30AM. the country club was stirring. Muffled sounds of clanking pots resonated from the club house kitchen. The occasional sputtering golf cart broke the morning stillness as grounds crew workers readied the course for the day’s events. Boys hoping to “get out” early began trickling into the caddie yard a few at a time. Calumet Country Club glistened in the morning dew and a slight haze hovered over the eighteenth fairway. The caddie shack was about to come to life.
Likened to the sound of a starter’s pistol, the loud slam of the spring loaded screen door at the rear of the club house kitchen signaled the arrival of caddie master Wes and his assistant Pete. Coolly they made their way across the yard after having breakfast with their friend the club house cook. Their dusty appearance and wrinkled clothing gave them the appearance of having just hopped off of a passing freight car.
Eager boys began to muster around Old Wes who would soon be calling out badge numbers for the day’s assignments. Those boys who didn’t “get out” on the first call would scatter around the yard, passing the time pitching pennies, throwing knives, or contesting who could hold a lit match between their fingers the longest. There was almost sure to be some poor kid who would have to scramble up onto the roof of the caddie shack to retrieve his trousers after having been depantsed by the older boys.
In 1964 the flat rate for a caddie carrying a full loop was $3.50. The majority of golfers added a tip bringing the caddies earnings to $5.00. More generous players paid anywhere from $7.00 to $10.00. The elite caddies were commonly requested by the higher paying golfers; but if the opportunity presented itself to the rest of us we had better take it.
Mr. Zografos, otherwise known as “Zeus” paid $7.00 but he was an unpleasant assignment to say the least. Few boys caddied for him twice, most opting to pass on him and drop to the bottom of the call list rather than put up with his abuse. This morning would be my turn at Zeus. Thinking, “How bad could it be?” I accepted the challenge.
I headed over to the pro shop to pick up his clubs. Leaning against the bag rack was his mammoth red and white leather Wilson Ram golf bag. The bulging pockets made it appear to be nine months pregnant. Lifting its weight to my shoulder had me second guessing my decision; unenthusiastically I lumbered out to the first tee.
Zeus walked up. Gnarly looking, he appeared to have forgotten to shave for the past several days. Black wiry hair could be seen tufting out from around the collar and sleeves of his yellow polo shirt. His wooly caveman arms made me think that another day or two in his mother’s womb and he would come out as a gorilla.
I extended my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Eugene, your caddy.” He responded by sticking an empty beer bottle in my hand and yanking his driver out of the bag.
The bag pocket that usually contained the golfer’s rain gear was instead full of Becks Beer bottles. He actually kept a bottle opener hanging by a cord from the umbrella ring on his bag. The remaining pockets contained dozens of golf balls and a ton of additional golf paraphernalia. I handed him a ball and off we went.
His first drive landed in a fairway sand trap. He responded by shouting an obscenity and throwing his club at my feet. I hoped that wasn’t an indication of what the rest of the day had in store for me.
Zeus expected me to have a beer opened and ready at each tee. He ran out of beer after the sixth hole; apparently that was somehow my fault? He chain-smoked cigarettes and seemed to get a kick out of flicking the butts at me and the other caddies. Zeus also threw a club about every other hole of which he expected me to chase after as if I were a golden retriever.
By the end of the front nine he had lost two balls in the water, one out-of-bounds and another he just threw in the woods after four putting a par three. More importantly, he hadn’t had a beer for three holes, so we stopped at the club house where he restocked his bag.
My neck was raw with caddie collar from the weight of his bag. I grabbed a towel from the locker room and used it to pad the strap. On the eleventh tee Zeus asked for that towel, blew his nose in it and handed it back to me…nice.
The back nine was no different than the front; I chased clubs, opened beer bottles and dodged his cigarette butts as he hacked his way down each hole. His swing was so often finished with a flurry of obscenities that I began to think they were just part of his follow-through. By now I figured that the humiliation wasn’t worth the seven dollars I was hoping to earn. Arriving at the seventeenth tee I thought, “Thank God only two more holes.”
The seventeenth was a short par three over water. Zeus’s tee shot leaked right; caught a tree branch and bounced back into the pond. As expected, he reacted by throwing the club. It helicoptered through the blue sky and quietly splashed into the pond.
Zeus turned to me and ordered, “Go get it.”
I had had enough of this wooly mammoth. He hadn’t called me by my name once the entire day. He ordered me around and treated me like a pack mule. Now he expected me to go diving after his nine-iron. This fat kid was putting his foot down.
I shook my head no.
He said, “Go get it or you won’t get a tip.”
One of the other golfers in the foursome interrupted, “Hey kid, I’ll give you twenty bucks if you leave his club in the water.”
When I returned home that afternoon my mom asked, “How did you do today?”
I replied, “Best day ever, I made $23.50.”
(Zografos is a pseudonym, but his story is real.)