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Where have all the black caddies gone? For decades, black caddies were a staple at country clubs and on the pro circuit. Today, the sport's changing dynamics have caused them to vanish from the links.

Kim Albert started caddying at Mount. Kisco Country Club at the tender age of nine. As he carried clubs for players and found their golf balls, he was mentored by older black caddies at the Westchester County New York, institution. It was 1970. and Albert estimates that 80% of the caddies at the country club were African American.

BUT TIMES HAVE CHANGED. TODAY, THE 47-YEAR-OLD INDEPENDENT caddy manager, who trains. recruits, and assigns caddies to players at different country clubs, has witnessed a steep decline in the number of black caddies over the past decade. When he's on a golf course. Albert can literally count the number of black caddies he sees on one hand. That's a huge difference from 20 years ago when 85% of independent caddies were black, and even 10 years ago when they comprised about 15%.

Why have the numbers dwindled? Partly because many country clubs contract companies to supply their needs instead of hiring independent caddies. And, according to Albert. these companies don't otter a very diverse pool at caddies. "Most caddies are being outsourced, which leaves no room for [independent] caddies to go to country clubs." he explains. "Work is hard to find since outsource companies have a lot of contacts with cop country clubs. They hire few black caddies to work with them, or have made things tough [for blacks] to come aboard."

There are about 10 major caddie companies in the United States and host of them were launched around 15 years ago. Bobby Dimeo, president of San Diego-based Caddie Connections. says his company has "about 5% to 10% black caddies depending on the day and services." He says that third-party service providers benefit country clubs by providing them with experienced caddie services and ensuring the availability of caddies. Dimeo says his caddies are paid $150 to $250 per round.

Albert finds little comfort in such assertions. He's disappointed by this recent trend In caddying and wants to see a return to the days when black caddies populated America's golf courses. But he knows that era may be long gone, For more than a century, African Americans served as caddies at the nation's leading country clubs, as well as on the PGA circuit. Some were amply rewarded for their caddying services with a snare of the lucrative purses from tournament play, and a few even managed to launch careers as professional golfers.

There are those like Albert who attribute the decline in the number of black caddies to large. undiversified caddie companies squeezing out the independent caddie. Also. professional golfers. including superstar Tiger Woods. rarely hire black caddies to assist them during major competitions. Others argue that caddie companies and pro golfers are not to blame for the shortage. They claim that the problem lies in the fact that many young African Americans have shunned the role of caddie, in part because seasoned black golfers and caddies haven't spent time cultivating an interest n the game among the youth. Richard "Jelly" Hansberry, vice president of the Washington. D.C.-based Professional Tour Caddie Association, has been a caddie for 38 years, including serving for five years on the PGA Tour. He says, "It's our fault for the decline of black caddies. We didn't continue to groom the next generation, The money was growing and whites started coming in to get a piece of the pie. Caddies are still in demand and whites seem to want the job now."


Over the years, African American caddies have been instrumental in desegregating the sport, becoming part of history long before Tiger Woods. Some have provided counsel to tour champions, others have developed into fine players in their own right.

Making such strides, however, did not come easy. African Americans had to deal with Jim Crow laws, the exclusionary practices of white-dominated country clubs and golf associations, and a torrent of slights and acts of humiliation. Most blacks were relegated to caddie quarters and earned minimum wages for maximum labor. A few gained the status of caddie master--middle management in title only. Others were employed by country clubs in various domestic capacities such as cooking, cleaning, and shining shoes. In fact, under United Golf Association rules that were put in place a century ago, blacks were allowed to carry bags for white golfers but not allowed to join clubs or compete in professional or amateur tournaments. Many blacks who had the desire to compete on a professional basis were forced to hone their skills elsewhere because of institutional racism. These men, however, were more than mere servants or bag toters. They were students of the game. A good caddie could be more important to a player than his favorite club.

From the caddie ranks emerged some of the finest golfers the country has ever witnessed. The exploits of such white ex-caddies as Gen Saracen, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Byron Nelson have become legend. Less known are the achievements of black ex-caddies Charlie Sifford, Ted Rhodes, and Lee Elder.

One of the first black caddies to make history did so more than a century ago. In 1896, John Shippen, at the age of 16, became the first African American to play in the U.S. Open. He started out as a caddy at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Long Island, New York. Shippen didn't know anything about golf until 1891 when Scotsman Willie Dunn was tapped to supervise construction of the Shinnecock Hills course. Dunn supported the local youth--including Shippen--sharing his knowledge of the game as well as training them as caddies. Shippen soon positioned himself to assist professionals, handling duties such as club repair and instruction for meager wages. Within a span of five years, he had vaulted to the professional ranks.

More than a half century later, ex-caddie Sifford would not only break barriers as the first black golfer to play on the PGA Tour but the first black golfer to win a series of professional victories, including the Greater Hartford Open in 1967. Called the Jackie Robinson of Golf, he challenged the PGA's "Caucasian only" clause and won more than $1.2 million during his career. In 1975, another former caddie, Elder, would become the first African American to play in the Masters Tournament.


Not all successful caddies made it to the pro circuit. A few had lifelong careers serving pro golfers. Take Jim Clark, for example. At 98, he is one of the nation's oldest caddies, having spent more than 80 years at his craft. He started caddying in 1922 at Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Golf Course, where he caddied for Goose Goslin, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Washington Senators. He also spent 30 years at Springfield, New Jersey-based Baltusrol Golf Club working with amateurs. Participating in 107 US Opens, Clark also caddied for pros such as Jerry Moulds and Lee Elder. He retired a year after being inducted into the Professional Caddies Association Hall of Fame in 2001. Freddie Burns is another outstanding caddie. He carried the bag for Hal Sutton, a PGA star in the 1980s, for more than 20 years, and was the only black caddy in the Senior PGA Tour from 2003 to 2008. (See "Caddie Hall of Fame" sidebar.)


Black caddies have also played an integral part in the history of the Masters Tournament. At the Augusta National Golf Club, golf legend Jack Nicklaus won his first Masters in 1972 with the assist of caddie Willie Peterson. And Carl Jackson caddied for the renowned Ben Crenshaw. In fact, before Elder played in the Masters 33 years ago, African American caddies could be found working the course full-time, providing valuable knowledge and assisting the players in their efforts to win the coveted green jacket. Non-Augusta caddies couldn't participate in Masters Tournaments prior to 1983. When officials lifted the ban in 1983, golfers began to bring regular tour caddies to the Masters. That's when black caddies began to disappear. Today, only a few black caddies regularly work the PGA Tour.

These days, caddies earn more than ever. In the 1980s and 1990s, the pay for caddies who work at country clubs rose to as much as $300. And today's tour caddies routinely earn anywhere from 5% to 10% of their golfers' winnings. Then there are caddie companies that make money by taking a percentage from the golfers who solicit their services, as well as a percentage from the caddies they employ. Caddie companies also withhold employee taxes on their caddies. So a caddie can work for four hours and make only $60. Independent consultant caddies who work at private clubs work for a set fee, not including tips.

During the 1980s, there were twice as many black caddies than white. Today, in addition to being replaced by whizzing golf carts and not being tapped for big-money tournaments, black caddies have been displaced by outfits like the Professional Tour Caddies Association. "With so many caddies fading from the greens, there is no consistent way for black youth to gain exposure to the game," says Burns. And while caddying has become more prestigious among whites, younger blacks have sharply turned against it, as they have a number of other menial jobs. But part of the solution could be more aggressive outreach efforts. Hansberry says, "This generation should really take over, but since we didn't teach them, it's tough. If we continued our legacy with the game of golf, we would probably have a lot more professional golfers than Tiger Woods."
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Title Annotation:Celebrating 15 Years of Memories
Author:Brown, Tracey
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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