Frequently I opine about topics that I know relatively little about. Often times I’m googling in between paragraphs trying to learn more about the topic I’m giving my opinion on. In the case of this column — caddying – it’s a subject that I know a great deal of first-hand experience about.
I recently came across a story about 250 caddies at Montclair Golf Club filing a class-action law suit against the well-to-do private club (with an initiation fee of $40k to $70K and yearly dues of $5,000 to $15,000) for allegedly violating the state wage laws and for the manner in which they are treated. The caddies are seeking all of their unpaid minimum wages and overtime pay, damages, and reimbursement of attorney’s fees.
The complaint alleges that caddies are under the strict control of a “caddy master” who determines who gets work, how much work they get, and requires them to do unpaid chores like setting up for tournaments, cleaning bathrooms and golf carts, and making “ drink runs” to fetching beer for golfers from the clubhouse bar. The caddies, who are paid $60 a bag plus tips (and sometimes work two shifts per day), contend that they have to work up to 14 hours a day during peak season. According to the complaint, caddies are expected to stick around, unpaid, in the caddy shack, even if there are no work prospects.
From the age of 13 to 20, I spent my summers at Commack Hills Golf Course, a semi-private club, in Commack, Long Island. Over those summers, I carried thousands of golf bags over thousands of miles. For the first few years, I carried one bag (loop) for around five hours for $5 (that included a pretty standard $1 tip). As the low kid on the totem pole, I did a lot of waiting around for a loop. When I was seventeen I graduated, based on seniority, to two bags – getting $10 for five hours of schlepping.
There was no “caddy master” at Commack Hills – the starter doubled as the caddy master and he enforced the seniority-based rules of the game. If you were a regular and got there each morning by 7:00 am, loops would be dispensed based strictly on the basis of seniority. If you got an early loop you could get you back by 11:00 am and catch another loop and be done by around 4:30 pm with twenty dollars in your pocket. Do it seven days a week and you could make well over $100 a week. That was a lot of money for a seventeen-year-old in the early 1960s.
I put myself through college, without any funds from my parents, and without college debt because of caddying. Not only did caddying pay for my college education, it was my first real exposure to people who were employed in non-blue collar jobs. I can remember to this day that my weekend regulars included a corporate attorney, a hardware store owner, a real estate developer and the owners of well-know Long Island wedding caterer. The caterer foursome played for a considerable amount of money and each of the players secretly made it known to me that if their ball landed in an unplayable position in the woods it was incumbent on me to stealthily improve their position.
The players would often talk about their kids and their college plans, their foreign vacation plans and new luxury purchases they were contemplating. These were not topics of conversation in my house.
Other than being asked from time to time to police the area around the caddy bench (no caddy shack at Commack Hills), I was not asked to do unpaid tasks. At Commack Hills seniority reigned supreme. It sounds like at Montclair Country Club the “caddy master” reigns supreme and has the ability to “punish” caddies arbitrarily for various transgressions. If that is the case, it would appear to be an unfair labor practice.
There were days early in my caddy career in which I spent 3-5 hours at the course and was never selected because of a lack of seniority to work and was not paid. There were also some days that I spent 14 hours at the course and was only paid for working ten hours. For whatever reason, I never was upset about the fact that unlike many of my friends, I didn’t have a summer job that paid a minimum wage.
I’m not sure why that didn’t bother me. Maybe it was because if you caught a really good day you could every once in a while make big bucks – $25 — if you caught two high-paying loops. After caddying for many years at Commack Hills, I graduated to being the course starter which paid a minimum wage plus lots of tips. On a good day when there is a 3-4 hour wait to tee-off a good starter working with an aggressive ranger could generate frequent tips, but that’s another column.
Irwin Stoolmacher is president of the Stoolmacher Consulting Group, a fundraising and strategic planning firm that works with nonprofit agencies that serve the truly needy among us.