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U.S. Career Caddies on Endangered Species List : Invention of Motorized Golf Cart Is Driving Away a Tradition on the Links

November 27, 1986|JERRY COHEN | Times Staff Writer

Whoever was the first man, or woman, to strike a ball with a club into a hole--and the Scots claim it was a Scotsman while the Dutch claim it was a Hollander--one thing is certain: the arrival of the caddy was not far behind.

For as the game of golf developed in complexity, anywhere from 500 to 600 years ago, the single club grew into an assortment. The assortment required a bag. And the bag demanded to be carried by someone other than the ball striker. Ergo, the caddy was born.

Ever since, the caddy has been the golfer's beast of burden, alter ego, father confessor, adviser and psychologist--for the player who could afford one.

A Nasty Turn

But evolution has taken a nasty turn for the caddy. In the U.S. anyway.

The career caddy in this country has become a rarity, much like the old-fashioned drugstore soda fountain, the corner newspaperboy and other institutions which once were part of an inimitable part of the American scene.

"He's become a vanishing species," observed Herbert Warren Wind, New Yorker magazine's graceful golf writer and the game's most respected historian, during a recent conversation.

"They're a dying breed, a dying breed," Chick Ruzic said with even greater finality. "And a breed apart," added Ruzic, who believes it unlikely men of such ilk ever again will walk a golf course in this country after the few remaining expire.

Ruzic, 70, former caddy master at Wilshire Country Club, one of the few courses in the Los Angeles area where men who have devoted all their lives to caddying still can be found, said: "The old-time caddy normally lives alone, the few still around. Very rarely do they marry. Sometimes they'll live with a gal for a while or they might have their one-night stands. But they normally don't play around with gals too much. Don't ask me why, what the reasoning is.

"They're loners. They live from day to day. They've got no real responsibilities and that's the way they want it. It's just the most independent life in the world. A caddy is, one, a loner; two, independent; three, a drinker, and, four, a horseplayer. All the old caddies are horseplayers. I used to get so mad, I'd need caddies and they'd all be gone to the races.

"I don't think anything compares to the old professional club caddy. He knew every blade of grass on that golf course. A few still exist today. But they're dying off. It's funny, they fade away. They'll be dead two or three days before their landlady'll find them or something. When old 'Red Shoes' died, the landlord found him in the room. And this is the way most of them die in their room, all alone."

"But the old-timer thinks it's the greatest life in the world: 'I have absolutely nothing to worry about. I make 12 bucks or whatever--three for rent, three for food and I've got six to party with tonight. The only bad thing that could happen would be for it to rain for a week. Then I might go hungry for a couple of days.'

"But what's amazing is their loyalty to the player. The guy they're packing for. The kinship between the caddy and player is almost sacred. When the old-timer is packing that sack, the player is 'my man,' good or as bad as the player might be."

A distinction needs to be made here.

Ruzic, who began caddying as a boy during the Depression, as did most of the breed of whom he spoke, was not talking about the caddies employed by touring golf professionals who are familiars on the television screen. Tour caddies endure a regimen that is anathema to the free-spirited, easy-come-easy-go old-timers to whom Ruzic referred.

He spoke of the man who began caddying as a boy and made his primary living, such as it was, as "an independent contractor" for club players--and in the long, long ago even for public links amateurs.

No one disputes that the word caddy-- sometimes spelled caddie although caddy is preferred by most golf writers--is French in derivation and that it owes its present use to Mary Queen of Scots, a devotee of the ego-humbling game over which many another addict has lost his head if not quite with the same finality that Mary did hers.

However, different versions exist as to how Mary brought the name caddy into the sport's nomenclature. Palo Alto-based Robert Trent Jones Jr., son of the legendary golf course architect and himself a links designer of international acclaim, offers a version that sounds reasonable.

During a period of residence in France, Jones said, "Mary had a little course built around her chateau. She had her own sort of Secret Service, which guarded her everywhere she went. It's members were called cadets, pronounced ka-days in French. One carried her bag and the others were around to protect her as she walked. So the people took to saying, 'There goes Mary Queen of Scots playing her native game and there are her cadets following and carrying her clubs.' "

The loner:

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