How golf screws over its lowliest minions

Caddies are subjected to an avalanche of indignities. In return, they keep getting shafted by their filthy rich bosses. Greg Bruce pleads on behalf of golf’s little guys.



There is nothing in all of sport as cute and sad as a caddy. There they go, marching up the fairways, their little rounded backs bent at considerable angles against their heavy loads, leading to premature degenerative conditions.

We look at them and we can’t help but wonder, “What is life like for you?” Thanks to Steve Williams’s endless chitchat, our knowledge improved a little, but still we new nothing until last year, when a bunch of caddies filed a class action lawsuit against the PGA Tour.

The physical demands of the caddy’s job are nothing, it turns out. They are slaves to whoever they are working for – their “man”, as top golfers are unironically referred to on the men’s tour.

Caddies work hard as hell, but get repeatedly shafted. During a thunderstorm in a PGA tournament last year, while players whooped it up in the clubhouse, caddies were forced to take shelter in a metal shed.

That is not even a full step away from taking shelter in an electric chair during an execution in that chair.

This was just after caddies had filed the lawsuit, which is probably a bit more complicated than I’m about to make it sound but which basically comes down to them wanting $4 million per year from the advertising on the bibs they’re forced to wear each week. The bibs generate around $1 million of advertising revenue a week. How much of this $1 million a week do the caddies currently get? None.

In his ruling, last week, the judge wrote, “The caddies’ overall complaint about poor treatment by the Tour has merit, but this federal lawsuit about bibs does not.”

“Caddies have been required to wear the bibs for decades So caddies know when they enter the profession, that wearing a bib during tournaments is part of the job… for that reason, there is no merit to the caddies’’ contention that contracts somehow prevent the Tour from requiring them to wear bibs.”

I’m not sure that something being a certain way for decades makes it ok. Some things that have previously been a certain way for decades: child labour, sweatshop labour, forced labour, the Labour party.

Caddying has no job security. It’s easily the least secure job in the world. Caddies are sacked if players turn up to a tournament feeling a bit tired. It’s well paid if you’re at the very top, but most of the caddies hang out with guys ten times richer than them, get ordered around brusquely, and take shelter from electrocution in electricity-conducting structures.

For all that, the PGA Tour offers leading caddies a yearly health stipend of $2000, which, in the US, covers the cost of one chiropractor’s visit and a course of homeopathic cold medicine.

Caddies wanted $10,000 a year per qualifying caddy – only about 195 qualify – for health care and another $10,000 per year for a pension plan, totalling about $4 million a year.

I’m not going to guide you through the arcane legal bullshit of this whole affair, mostly because I don’t understand it.

I know one thing, and one thing only, and that’s the narrative of the little guy standing up to the big guy, and I will crusade for it every time.

If you take nothing else away from this caddy dispute, take this: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem took home $4 million in bonuses in 2010, according to the most recent result I could find on the first page of Google search results. I don’t want to sound like a commie, but that’s exactly the amount the caddies were asking for, and I’m nothing if not solutions-oriented. I’m not denying that giving up his bonuses would be a big sacrifice, but if Finchem brought his lunch to work for a few weeks instead of buying Nandos, and took an Uber to work instead of the chopper, maybe it would be possible both for him to live on his reported 2008 salary of $1.3 million and for the children of caddies to get antibiotics for their ongoing respiratory infections.

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