Some of my all-time favorite rounds of golf have been because of the caddies leading my foursome.
Golf is hard enough. It's nice to have someone on your side, fighting the good fight together. Caddies help pick the proper club and the best line off the tee. They'll read your putts, rake your bunkers and heaven forbid, find that ball you just jacked into the forest. And when that happens, they just might crack the right joke to keep you from snapping that driver in half.
Caddies aren't just for private clubs anymore. They've gone mainstream into the public domain. Many of America's best public and resort courses now offer them. And it's not just an expected service in exotic, warm-weather destinations like California, Arizona and Florida, either. Forest Dunes in Michigan, SentryWorld in Wisconsin and Madden's on Gull Lake in Minnesota are among the handful of courses that have added caddies within the last several years. It's true that caddie programs at private clubs have shrunk over the last decade, but being a career caddie or someone who wants to make a few extra bucks caddying on the side is on the upswing.
CaddieMaster, a Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based business acquired in 2015 by Arizona's Troon Golf, supplies caddies to more than 50 public and private golf clubs, roughly half of them public-accessible courses. Those public numbers are higher than five years ago and "way up" from a decade ago, according to a spokesman from Troon Golf, the world's largest golf operator.
A new service called LOOPER is trying to further up the ante by offering caddies almost anywhere. LOOPER launched last fall in the Washington D.C. area. It aims to become the “Uber for golfers" who want caddies, debuting in specific markets later this year - northern California (San Francisco, Monterey Peninsula, Sacramento, etc.), Philadelphia/New Jersey, West Palm Beach, Fla., southern Ohio and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Other similar services are already doing well in individual markets: CaddieWalk in the North Carolina Sandhills and Premier Caddie in southern California. Both are talked about more in part 2 of this story.
My research into caddies digs deeper still:
Even the ladies are getting in on the action. The Caddy Girls started in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and have done well enough to expand to other cities after being seen on the TV show, 'Shark Tank'. It has competition from the CaddyChicks and other outfits, such as The Platinum Tees - available in San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Scottsdale - and the CaddyMates in Las Vegas. Kilt-wearing female caddies from the re-branded Thee DH Caddy Club call the Azalea Sands Golf Club in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. home. I used a female caddie once in Las Vegas, a hotbed of pretty dancers, models and performers who keep day jobs as caddies. It felt a bit cheesy with all the flirting and bad jokes about balls and shafts, but mostly, it was good, clean fun. I can see why a bachelor party or a group of guys would book a nice-looking lady over a green-reading male savant.
With so many public-accessible courses offering caddies these days, I attempted to break the data down into meaningful categories: Caddies found at walking-only resorts, courses that require mandatory caddies year-round and peak season only, courses that offer junior/student caddies only, states with only one facility offering caddies and other random facilities I couldn't lump into any other genre. Click here to read Part 2 of the story, profiling the 10 destinations with the most public-access courses offering caddies.
I've even added a 'Worth It? Rating' in both stories, detailing the courses where I think caddies will be most useful. Between part 1 and part 2, this is, without a doubt, the ultimate guide for public golfers who love the caddie experience:
Walking-only resort courses with caddies
Where: Sand Valley Golf Resort, Nekoosa, Wis. Irish and Straits courses at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wis. Erin Hills Golf Course, Hartford, Wis. Bethpage Black, Farmingdale, N.Y. Chambers Bay, University Place, Wash. Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald, Bandon Preserve and Bandon Trails at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon, Ore. Ocean course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C. Red and Blue courses at Streamsong Resort, Bowling Green, Fla. Black course at The Loop and Red course at The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club, Roscommon, Mich.
Comment: The late 1990s essentially changed public golf in America forever. In 1998, Whistling Straits debuted its Straits course, Pete Dye's faux links on the shores of Lake Michigan that has already hosted three PGA Championships. At the same time, Bethpage Black on New York's Long Island was being re-engineered by Rees Jones to gear up for U.S. Opens in 2002 and 2009. The following year in 1999, Bandon Dunes was the first course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort to introduce links golf on the Oregon coast. The model for the walking-only public golf course was born. The concept has gone bonkers. Expansion at Bandon Dunes, already with 85-plus holes, seems inevitable. Walking-only courses at Erin Hills Golf Course (2006) in Wisconsin and Chambers Bay (2007) in Washington are now U.S. Open venues. The latest edition to the walking-only club, Sand Valley Golf Resort in Wisconsin, has a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course ready for play this summer and a David McLay Kidd course in the works for 2018. Golfers who tee off before noon on Kiawah's Ocean course must walk, a policy that doesn't extend to the resort's other courses: Cougar Point, Oak Point, Turtle Point and Osprey Point (although caddies are available at all five). The Straits course at Whistling Straits is the only one listed where taking a caddie is mandatory. Streamsong, which will debut the Black course by Gil Hanse this fall, is walking-only in peak season (January-April 15) and at certain times in the mornings in other months. Tom Doak's reversible and walkable course, The Loop in northern Michigan, has been a hit since debuting last year.
Worth it? Rating:: Highly recommended for all of them.
Courses requiring mandatory caddies
Where: Straits course at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wis. CordeValle, San Martin, Calif. Pete Dye course at French Lick Resort, French Lick, Ind. Ocean North and Ocean South courses at The Resort at Pelican Hill (forecaddie only), Newport Beach, Calif. The Grand Golf Club at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, San Diego, Calif. Oconee course at Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Ga. Seaside, Retreat and Plantation courses at Sea Island Resort, Saint Simons Island, Ga. Players Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Mossy Oak Golf Club, West Point, Miss. Cascata, Boulder City, Nev. Shadow Creek, North Las Vegas, Nev. Wynn Golf and Country Club, Las Vegas, Nev. Tetherow Golf Club, Bend, Ore. Mystic Rock and Shepherd's Rock courses at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Farmington, Pa. Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Island, S.C. May River Golf Club at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, S.C. Tournament course at the Golf Club of Houston, Humble, Texas. Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Fla. Sawgrass Country Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Snake River Sporting Club, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Cape Cod National Golf Club, Brewster, Mass.
Comment: How do high-end courses justify expensive green fees? With extra special touches and services to act as a differentiator from the competition. Adding a caddie to every round does that. All of these courses charge more than $200 green fees except one – Mossy Oak's current $150 rate doesn't include the $25-$35 per bag for mandatory forecaddie. All of these courses are at a plush resort except Cascata and The Golf Club of Houston, a PGA Tour stop. Several resorts (i.e. Sea Pines, TPC Sawgrass and Nemacolin, for example) relax their mandatory caddie policy for late-afternoon tee times. The secondary courses at French Lick, Whistling Straits, Reynolds Lake Oconee and Sea Pines don't require a caddie, although they are available. Sawgrass CC, Cape Cod National and Snake River are mostly private clubs where stay-and-play hotel guests must take caddies.
Worth it? Rating (top three in order): Straits course at Whistling Straits, Players Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, Pete Dye course at French Lick.
Courses requiring mandatory caddies in peak season only
Where: Dye's Valley course at TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (January–May 29 and October—December). Blue Monster at Trump National Doral Miami, Miami, Fla. (October-May). Old White TPC (July 10-Oct. 22) and The Meadows (May 26-July 1) at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.V. Pinnacle and Monument courses at Troon North Golf Club, Scottsdale, Ariz. (January-April). Stadium course at TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Ariz. (Jan.-April). Champion course at PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Jan.-April). Miller and Sopher courses at Turnberry Isle Miami, Aventura, Fla. (November-April). Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne, Key Biscayne, Fla. (Nov.-April). Black and Gold courses at Tiburon Golf Club, Naples, Fla. (Nov.-April). Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at Pronghorn, Bend, Ore. (May-Oct.). The Ritz-Carlton Members Club, Sarasota, Fla. (Nov.-April).
Comment: Most of these high-end courses (all charge in excess of $200 in green fees) take advantage of their warm-weather locales by requiring caddies in high season when golfers are desperate to play. The exceptions are obviously The Greenbrier and Tethrow. Due to last year's epic flooding, Greenbrier's The Meadows (May 26) and Old White TPC (July 10) will be opening later than usual. The other courses at PGA National, Doral and The Greenbrier offer caddies, but they aren't required.
Worth it? Rating: Blue Monster at Doral, Stadium course at TPC Scottsdale, Old White TPC.
Courses offering junior caddies
Where: Cantigny Golf, Wheaton, Ill. No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 (Dubsdread) courses at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Lemont, Ill. CommonGround Golf Course, Aurora, Colo.
Comment: CommonGround, home of the Colorado Golf Association, founded its Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy in 2012 to develop leadership skills and enhance character in underprivileged children. The young caddies begin training in the two-year program the summer after eighth grade. They are free for any golfer to use. Afterward, they are placed in a private club in the Denver area. Cantigny's caddies, ranging from ages 14 to 21, are almost as affordable at $25 plus tip. Caddies at Cog Hill, a former PGA Tour venue, are also students ages 14 to 21 trying to win a coveted Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship through the Western Golf Association.
Worth it? Rating: Dubsdread at Cog Hill, CommonGround, Cantigny.
States with one public-accessible caddie program
Where: Tournament course at The Golf Club of Houston, Humble, Texas. Bulle Rock Golf Club, Havre De Grace, Md. The Donald Ross and Pete Dye courses at French Lick Resort, French Lick, Ind. Belgrade Lakes Golf Club, Belgrade Lakes, Maine. The Classic at Madden's on Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minn. Pines and Dunes courses at The Prairie Club, Valentine, Neb. Dye Canyon course at the Promontory Club, Park City, Utah. The Meadows, Old White TPC, Snead and Greenbrier courses at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.V. Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Mystic Rock and Shepherd's Rock courses at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Farmington, Pa. Snake River Sporting Club, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Cape Cod National Golf Club, Brewster, Mass.
Comment: Madden's recently started its program to keep up with the high-end courses in neighboring Wisconsin. Promontory is a private club that sells limited access to the public. Perhaps Belgrade Lakes, located in remote central Maine, is the most interesting surprise. Cape Cod National is only accessible with a stay at the nearby Wequassett Resort and Golf Club.
Worth it? Rating: Dye course at French Lick, Bulle Rock, Old White TPC at The Greenbrier.
More courses with caddies not mentioned yet
Where: Norman and Fazio courses at Red Sky Ranch, Wolcott, Colo. East, West and Mountain courses at The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo. Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Grande Lakes, Orlando, Fla. Plantation and Bay courses at Kapalua Golf (forecaddie only), Maui, Hawaii. Atlantic City Country Club, Northfield, N.J. Ballyowen Golf Club at Crystal Springs Resort, Hamburg, N.J. Saratoga National Golf Club, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Trump Golf Links, Ferry Point, Bronx, N.Y. Atunyote, Kaluhyat and Shenendoah courses at Turning Stone Casino Resort, Verona, N.Y. Gamble Sands Golf Club, Brewster, Wash. Fallen Oak Golf Club, Saucier, Miss. Nicklaus course at Hualālai Golf Club, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island, Hawaii. Point O'Woods Country Club, Benton Harbor, Mich. Harborside International Golf Center, Chicago, Ill.
Comment: This is quite a mix of courses, from high-end resorts (Kapalua, Turning Stone, Crystal Springs, etc.) to stand-alone hidden gems (Saratoga National and Gamble Sands). Hualālai (Four Seasons Resort Hualālai), Point O'Woods (a club cottage) and Fallen Oak (Beau Rivage Resort & Casino) require a stay to play. KemperSports just launched a caddie program at Harborside, a highly regarded 36-hole public facility in Chicago.
Worth it? Rating: Kapalua, Kaluhyat at Turning Stone, Atlantic City CC.