The History of the Golf Caddie

The Golf Caddie – how did they originate?

What is the history of the golf caddie? Where did the name caddie come from? Who were they?

Caddies for hire at golf courses are less seen these days, but even as recently as the 1970’s and 80’s if you played the Old Course at St Andrews there was a long line of caddies waiting to be engaged in carrying your bag. 

Indeed, you were not allowed to play the course unless you either carried your own bag or engaged a caddie. Pull trollies were not allowed.

Today you can still hire a golf caddie before you play at St Andrews, as you can at a number of prestigious golf courses around the world. 

But you will seldom now see any caddies at the vast majority of courses around the world.

Buggies and electric trolleys have ended the need for the majority of golfers to have a caddie carry their bag.

A typical caddie of the 17th century, carrying his Master’s clubs under his arms.

Mr. William Innes, Captain, The Royal Blackheath Golf Club, with his caddie, 1778 by Lemuel Francis Abbott, R.A

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Where did the name caddie come from?

The term caddie is derived from the French term ”cadet”, which means the son of a gentleman. One theory is that cadets accompanied Mary Queen of Scots when she returned to Scotland in 1561

The term cadet first appears in the English language in 1610 and the term caddie (or derivative) in 1634. 

Initially caddies were general errand boys, carrying things around, until eventually the term became to be used for those who carried a gentleman’s golf bags.

The early golf caddie

The very early Scottish golf caddie usually doubled as a professional. They were often very good golfers in their own right who could make some money at playing golf, but who would carry a bag, for less money, if they were not engaged to play. 

Most golf links would have an army of caddies waiting to be hired. Some of them would have a good understanding of the game and would therefore be able to offer very sound advice on club selection, whilst others might not have such a good understanding, but would overcome this by offering their master praise for his shot-making, even if he did not deserve it, in the hope of being given a large tip at the end of the round.

Caddies at St Andrews, probably photographed in the late 19th century, looking like a motly bunch of characters

Reproduced from “Chick Evans’ Golf Book”, published 1921

An early unsavoury reputation

Punch magazine, in the early 1900s, used to lampoon both the golf player and the golf caddie, through a series of cartoons. 

 

 

 

 

Here are some more examples:  

Player (after a bad shot); ‘Golf’s a funny game, isn’t it?’

Caddie: ‘Aye, but it’s no’ meant to be’. 

Real Enjoyment.—Non-Golfer (middle-aged, rather stout, who would like to play, and has been recommended it as healthy and amusing). “Well, I cannot see where the excitement comes in in this game!”

Caddie. “Eh, mon, there’s more swearing used over golf than any other game! D’ye no ca’ that excitement?”

From Mr Punch's Golf Stories, "Golfers as I 'ave known", By a Caddie, published 1912

 

 

and not always what we would now call politically correct! . . . .

A Last Resort.—Miss Armstrong (who has foozled the ball six times with various clubs). “And which of the sticks am I to use now?”

Weary Caddie. “Gie it a bit knock wi’ the bag!”

Also from Mr Punch's Golf Stories

 

 

and that has crossed all of our minds from time to time! . . . .

Golfing Amenities. (Overheard on a course within 100 miles of Edinburgh).—Hopeless Duffer (who continually asks his caddy the same question, with much grumbling at the non-success of his clubs).  “And what shall I take now?”

His Unfortunate Partner (whose match has been lost and game spoilt, at last breaking out). “What’ll ye tak noo! The best thing ye can tak is the fower fifteen for Edinburgh!”

Also from Mr Punch's Golf Stories

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“Feckless creatures”

It was not uncommon for these golf caddies to be scruffily dressed, dirty, eccentric and drunk.  

As time progressed at the turn of the 20th century and professional golfers had moved on, into running shops, playing in organised competitions, increasingly being called upon to make clubs, the ranks of the golf caddies were drawn more and more from labourers, gardeners and handymen, who pottered about looking for odd jobs and presented themselves at the local golf club at weekends looking for a bag to carry.   

Gentlemen golfers were warned not to tip their caddies too much since the money would be squandered on drink. 

James McDonald, famous old caddie of St Andrews

Reproduced from “Chick Evans’ Golf Book”, published 1921

In 1900, Horace Hutchinson, the celebrated writer, wrote:

“The professional is a feckless reckless creature. In the golfing season in Scotland he makes his money all day and spends it all night. His sole loves are golf and whisky. If he were but ordinarily thrifty, he could lay by in the autumn sufficient to carry him through the season of his discontent when no golf is played. He can earn seven shillings and sixpence a day playing two rounds of golf or, if he does not get an engagement, three and sixpence a day carrying clubs. These are about the fees paid in St Andrews and Musselburgh, Scotland.”

The golf caddie wit

The period between the wars was the golden age for the golf caddie, and it was during this time that caddies gained a reputation for being wits and humourists with regards to their master’s golfing prowess (or lack of it!).

Fiery

“Fiery”, real name John Carey, was so called because of his ruddy face, and was one of the most famous caddies of the early golf years. He was, effectively, a professional caddie, as Willie Park Junior never played in an important match, home or away, without his famous caddie.

Fiery was always attired in his Balmoral bonnet and was a man of few words. He never gave the golfer full credit for his shots or match. He rarely congratulated or praised but indicated his approval by a slight but significant nod of the head. He had a fairly stern expression, which rarely ever changed, even in big matches when everyone else was getting excited.

Unlike many caddies of the day he was well spoken and well-mannered. He was in great demand and caddied for many of the distinguished amateurs and professionals of his time.

“Fiery”, was the regular caddie for Willie Park, who started out as a caddie himself, before going on to win four Open Championships, including the first one held, in 1860

Photograph from Horace Hutchinson’s book “Fify Years of Golf”, published 1919

“Big” Crawford

The first golf caddie to gain notoriety was ‘Big’ Crawford who caddied for Arthur Balfour, later to become Prime Minster, and for Ben Sayers.

‘Big’ Crawford had a habit of saying to his clients ‘with my brains and your golf we ought to go a long way’. This was obviously In the hope of gaining a huge tip at the end of the round. 

He hailed from North Berwick and, as well as caddying, he was the “keeper” of the Ginger Beer stall behind the ninth hole of the West course.

“Big” Crawford, caddie for Lord Balfour and Ben Sayers, pictured at his Ginger Beer stall at the West Course, North Berwick

From Horace Hutchinson’s book “Fifty Years of Golf”

The origins of the golf caddie in the United States

Given that golf came to the United States very late in its evolutionary cycle, it missed out on the establishment of the so called “feckless”, “drunken” period of caddies, that occurred in Scotland.

Golf became poular in the United States in the early decades of the 20th century, when the construction of golf courses and golf clubs boomed.

In this “New world”, golf clubs and golf resorts established a different philosophy and a different type of golf caddie regime. They created caddie schools for young boys, where they were instructed on the fundamentals of the game, how to behave politely and how to carry look after a set of golf clubs,

They were looked after by a golf caddie superindentant, who made sure that they followed the “caddie code”.

Each club produced a handbook that all caddies had to learn by heart,

In the evenings, when they had a lttle time to themselves, they played the game themselves, Many famous golfers of the early part of the 20th century started out as such caddies, earning just a few cents for each round.

This included Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Chick Evans, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and many others..

The golf caddie handbook

Here are just a few of the pages from a golf caddy handbook, which illustrates the type of information provided to the young caddies, and what they had to learn.

This is reproduced from the Caddie Handbook of the Hinsdale Caddie Association and the Ravisloe Caddie Association, published in 1914 and 1915.

The whole handbook is 38 pages long.

(Click on each one to see a larger view pf the page image).

The modern golf caddie

Nowadays the golf caddies at these prestigious courses tend to be well trained and well presented.

With the advent of televised, professional golf circuits around the world over the past fifty years, it is the norm for the leading professional golfers to engage a permanent golf caddie. 

These caddies are often very good golfers in their own right and don’t just carry the bags. They give advice on club selection, keep their man’s head level in the heat of the championships, act as psychologists, keep the crowds at bay and quiet, measure the course yardages, liaise with officials, and do a fantastic job. 

Most successful professional golfers now keep the same golf caddie for many years, recognising the valuable contribution that the caddies provided to their success.

Next – Discover about the early professional golfers

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