"How 'bout a wee nip, my new friend?" inquired the ruddy faced caddie as he pulled up his sweater to reveal a flask of whisky to the American at the first tee of a world famous links course in Scotland.
Thanks to a frosty, late-November ocean breeze, the American was chilled with cold, stiff fingers that felt as flexible as popsicle sticks. He politely declined the offer. Not because he didn't need or want a liquid heater. Rather, he'd never utilized a caddie and didn't really know if bartender was one of the services he should expect.
In this age of sprawling, unwalkable layouts, golf cart-only courses, GPS systems and elaborate course guide software, a dwindling number of American golfers have ever played golf with a caddie. Often, many participate in the experience for the first time when they travel to the British Isles on a dream trip to golf's original playing grounds.
Luckily, Americans still have access to caddies at high-end resorts that have kept the service alive. Among the high profile courses that offer caddies are Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, Streamsong Resort in Florida, TPC The Players Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida, Harbour Town Links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and Pebble Beach Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula in California.
(At the end of this post, see a list of other U.S. places where caddies are available.)
Golfers who venture to England, Scotland or Ireland can still acquire the services of a good, knowledgeable caddie. Yet, even there, Americans shouldn't be blinded by the romanticized notion of the all-knowing, wisecracking caddie so often stereotyped in golf literature. Major courses such as the Old Course in St. Andrews, Trump Turnberry and Gleneagles have strong caddie programs as do several other major courses in Scotland and Ireland.
Other popular resort locales that offer caddies are Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Two places where I had superb caddie experiences are Royal Isabela in northwest Puerto Rico and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic.
Unfortunately, in certain places around the world, some amateur caddies offer little more assistance than toting your bag and assuming the role as a personal cheerleader.
"A solid, professional caddie who knows his trade can make a difference of at least two shots in a round to a scratch golfer and more to higher handicap golfers," a veteran Old Course caddie once told me while we enjoyed frosty pints at the Dunvegan bar in St. Andrews. "Carrying the bag is probably the least important thing a caddie does."
Here is the appropriate behavior you should expect from a competent caddie:
* Prior to the start of a round, the caddie should clean clubs if needed and count clubs.
* A well-informed caddie should know the local rules of the layout and be familiar with the course designer. A thorough understanding of the history of the course is also helpful.
* A caddie should rake bunkers, replace divots and tend the pin.
* A caddie should not offer advice to a players until asked. He should never say, "I think." The only time a caddie should volunteer information is when reporting yardage to the green.
* If caddying for the first time with the golfers, the caddie should be able to club correctly after 4 or 5 holes.
* A caddie shold get to the ball first and study the shot before the player arrives--the lie, turf, wind and target. He should form an opinion quickly in the event the player requests advice.
From a player's viewpoint, a caddie is not a servant. The relationship between a player and a caddie is a subtle partnership where the ultimate goal is to maximize performance.
As a player, if you display poor golf etiquette, a futile skill level with little dedication to the game or boorish behavior, you can generally expect sarcastic responses, especially from veteran caddies in Scotland.
Finally, what about that wee nip? Should you indulge?
It's definitely a personal choice. Just like guys who knock down a six-pack of brewskis during a round--some can handle it, some can't.
On a recent visit to Scotland, one of my caddies summed it up best when he said: "If your golf game is so bad that you must take a drink before a round, it's predictable your consumption will greatly increase after the 18the hole."
Now, that's great advice you can only get from a caddie.
Other courses and resorts with caddie programs, include:
Bandon Dunes (Oregon)
Bethpage Black (New York)
The Broadmoor (Colorado)
Cabot Links (Nova Scotia, Canada)
Cordevalle Resort (California)
Erin Hills (Wisconsin)
Madden's on Gull Lake (Minnesota)
Nemacolin Resort (Pennsylvania)
Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort (South Carolina)
Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando (Florida)
Whistling Straits (Wisconsin)
Chambers Bay Golf Club (Washington)