Loopers in the Loop

Boosters try to bring caddying back to the fore.

Chunk Foster graduated more than a decade ago from the University of Wyoming with a degree in communications, and when a friend jokingly recommended that they head to Florida to caddy for a season, he signed on without a second thought. It was just the sort of half-work, half-goof gig that new grads are supposed to find before agreeing to be an adult. "I thought it'd be great -- drink a bunch of beer, hang out, carry some bags," he remembers.

Thing is, he couldn't stop. For Chunk, caddying wasn't just a lark. He was never good enough at golf to be a serious player himself -- he didn't even make the UW team -- but looping kept him around the game he loved, and the money was swell. He discovered that, with enough hustle and a thick application of charm, a polite and reasonably knowledgeable caddy could earn enough money during one half of the year to keep him in beer the other six months. After one loop at Castle Pines a few years back, a guy flipped him $350. No matter how much others joked about it, Chunk simply couldn't join them: He loved caddying.

And so the years passed. Moving between Colorado in the summer and Florida in the winter, Chunk never stopped caddying, stalking the fairways of courses in most states across the country. He became that rarest of golfing accessories: the full-time club caddyshack dweller.

Fred Harper

There are days, though, when he wishes he'd stopped -- like one recent gray and unseasonably cold May evening at Littleton's Columbine Country Club. Chunk stood surrounded by a gaggle of teenagers near an early green. Matt, another caddy instructor, who shares a striking resemblance to Tiger Woods, prepared to putt; Chunk was at the flag. The day's lesson was the proper placement of caddies around the green.

"Where is the one place you don't want to stand in relation to the putter?" Chunk asked the kids, who slouched in giant, untied sneakers. A large boy with unruly hair and a "Big Daddy" sweatshirt answered. "In front of him?"

Chunk sighed. "Yes," he said. "Right. Don't stand in front of him. Don't get in the way of his putt. But also, don't stand behind him."

Caddying is to golfing what dress whites are to tennis -- a relic from the way the game used to be played, something that is now found only in the most fossilized sporting preserves. Of the 243 public and private golf courses in Colorado, just over a dozen give duffers the opportunity to have someone lug around their bags. All of them are exclusive country clubs whose names bespeak wainscoted clubhouses and parking lots crammed with Jaguars: Cherry Hills, Denver Country Club, Castle Pines.

Given such a swanky pedigree, it's not surprising that what most golfers know about caddies comes from watching weekend TV. The Professional Caddies Association estimates that 95 percent of golfers in this country have never used a caddy. The reason is no surprise: Americans are a lazy lot, and nine out of ten golf courses in this country offer customers the use of a cart. Both socially and mechanically, hiring a little man to do one's lifting has become obsolete.

This is not discouraging news to Dennis Cone, however, a former jock who founded the PCA fourteen years ago to bestow some respectability on an occupation that, thanks to the use of golf carts and the release of the Bill Murray comedy classic Caddyshack, had become wedged between hard times and a running joke. Rather, he says, it's an opportunity.

In an effort to revive his stumbling profession, Cone and others have been pushing loopers not as a plummy add-on, but as an experience enhancer, along the same lines as a personal shopper. "You gotta make sure your customer has a great experience out there," Cone says.

The industry appears to be coming around, too. Like a modern equivalent of the British finishing school, North Carolina's CaddyMaster Inc. supplies and trains caddies for 35 U.S. and international resorts desirous of adding a little more crème to their de la crème.

In less rarefied air, other proponents insist that caddying is good for today's youth. "I learned more from my years caddying at Denver Country Club than I did in all my years since as a golfer," says Bob Mate, executive director of the Colorado Golf Association. "When you're a caddy, you're in a much better position to observe and learn. When you're caddying for some guy and he asks you to kick his ball out from under the tree in order to win his bet, you learn something. Or if you're at the tee box and some rich guys are telling off-color jokes, you learn something."

And more than just what boors and cads some golfers can be, apparently. Not only does caddying burnish a teenager's adult-interaction skills, but it could also give him a leg up, career-wise. "Where else does a teenager get the chance to meet and interact with substantial businesspeople in the community?" asks Tom Alley, who three years ago revived the caddy program at Columbine County Club.

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