Live from the TCO…

3 06 2010

It’s Thursday morning, 10:00, and I’m sitting in the corner of the players’ lounge  at Uplands Golf Club trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. To my delight Tim Horton’s are one of the main sponsors of the Victoria Times Colonist Open and I’m doing my best to work through the full range of their products as I write this and basically try to kill time until Brian tees off (on #10) at 1:20. I slept at my son Joe’s appartment last night – very well as it happens, which is good as I was definitely still a bit jet lagged yesterday – and I’m ready to do battle with Brian’s bag again today. There can be no doubt that Brian’s was the biggest and brightest (think deep orange) bag on the driving range yesterday. I started lugging it towards the first tee ready for the practice round and had barely got 50 yards before Brian questioned my carrying technique. “You carry it like that, Bagger, and you’re going to do yourself some serious damage”. It’s one thing to have an iffy golf swing but I think I’m plumbing new depths when it turns out I’m a 27 handicapper bag carrier too.

I’d arranged to meet Brian at 9:30 yesterday morning for his practice round, so that meant I was off and running at 6:00. The rain was coming down hard in Comox when I left home, still dodgy at Duncan and only brightened up as I got south of the Malahat. By 10:30, when Brian teed off with fellow pros Alex, Liam and Oliver, it was warm and sunny. Once I’d got my balance with the bag sorted out I was able to keep up and, for the most part, stick to my plan of speaking only when spoken to. All four players were very friendly and I think my divot retrieving, flag attending and new improved bag toting technique passed muster. Liam picked up the bag at one point and wondered aloud if Brian had maybe put a half a dozen bricks in it as some kind of caddie initiation thing. (I checked surreptitiously a bit later but there was no evidence of any malpractice). The guys were playing a skins game and Brian more than held his own. He did miss a shortish birdie putt at one point so when on the next hole he had another chance, I said I’d buy him a beer if he made it. He promptly drained it, from 30 feet. Excellent motivation technique from the caddie, I would say, if a bit costly. Probably didn’t sound too professional either, yelling ‘No’ as the ball fell in the hole. Brian probably shot around even par (nobody was keeping track, other than how the skins game was going) and seemed reasonably happy with his game. There was no post round putting or driving session as  Brian’s just been elected to the players’ board and had a meeting scheduled with the tour director. I think his honest, down to earth personality will make him a good representative of his fellow professionals.  Anyway, that meant that I went back to Joe’s instead of going to the driving range, which was fine by me. Now I’m back, fully rested, Ibuprofin in hand, ready to do battle with the bag once again. I’m hoping Brian does the business on the course, so I can keep complaining all the way through to Sunday.

I’ll try to do an update tomorrow after Round 2. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed…for both of us.

All da best.

Dave B.


We’re off!

19 05 2010

There’s a tricky balance that I’m trying to achieve in this week’s blog. On the one hand, I want to let folks know about our schedule and give some links to the courses (pun intended) that we’ll be playing in Ireland and Scotland. On the other hand, I want to do this in a sensitive manner so that it doesn’t look like I’m gloating. Much.

The four of us – Glenny, Robin, the Chief and I – leave tomorrow for our much anticipated pilgrimage to the home of golf. In our usual dysfunctional fashion we are leaving from the same airport (Vancouver) but at different times, landing in the same city (London) but at different airports (Heathrow and Gatwick) and then flying to Ireland with different airlines. Potential for a cock up of monumental proportions? Pretty high, I would say. It has to do with a) Glenny’s obsession with air miles and b) my need to be back by June 2nd to caddy for B B at the Times Colonist Open in Victoria. The others, fairly sensibly, are extending their stays to do a bit of tourism – the Chief getting extra points for involving his wife in his visit. The rest of us will have to hope that expensive gifts for our spouses will do the trick, although Bandito Juan is on record as saying that the likelihood of this ploy working is about the same as our chances of breaking 80 on any of the courses we’ll be playing – slim to none.

Volcanic ash permitting, we land at Shannon airport (Ireland, for the geographically challenged) on Friday afternoon and tee off at Lahinch the following morning. On Sunday we play the Greg Norman designed Doonbeg before travelling to Ballybunion to play 36 holes at the Ballybunion Old Course and Cashen. (We’ll be staying at the gorgeous sounding Teach de Broc hotel. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it – Gaelic isn’t one of my languages). By this stage we should have discovered whether the Chief being teetotal has given him an unfair advantage. If it has, clearly the committee (Robin, Glen and I) will have to make the appropriate handicap adjustments for the remainder of the trip.

On Tuesday we leave the west coast of Ireland to fly to Edinburgh. Unfortunately, the trip organiser (that would be me) failed to realise that there are no direct flights from Shannon to Edinburgh on that date, so that instead of nipping across the Irish Channel we’ll be flying south to London in the morning and then catching a flight up to Scotland in the afternoon. Guess who’ll be paying for supper that night?

We’ll be staying at the Greyfriars Hotel in St Andrews, and over the next five days we’ll be playing Kingsbarns (twice), Carnoustie, the New Course (built in 1895) and finally, of course, the Mecca of golf, the Old Course itself. As I plan to make haggis and whisky my staple diet for those five days, this second part of the trip could be considered more a feat of endurance rather than an opportunity to show of my golfing skills to caddies who may or may not be impressed by my attempts to clear the Swilken Burn with my nine wood.

So to sum it all up: the trip’s been a long time in the planning, and we’re hoping to behave fairly respectably, score reasonably well and not bring shame on the name of Glacier Greens Golf Club (oh god, I’m feeling the pressure already). One of us will return to the Valley as the newly crowned King of the Celtic Challenge, but I hope all of us will be able to resist the temptation of giving you a blow by blow account of the nearly 1,000 shots each we’re likely to make over the course of the nine rounds. Unless you ask, that is, in which case you have been warned…

All da best.

Dave B.

P.S. My good friend Peter came round last night to share some good news about his battle with the Big C. He was bearing a ten pound note on which he’d written in felt tip “Four beers, please” and said it was to go towards our expenses. When I pointed out that it might not be quite enough to pay for a round he made it clear that Robin, Glen and the Chief took priority and I would have to go without. So when it happens, as it inevitably will, that I drive a ball into one of the scariest sand traps on that side of the Atlantic, I do solemnly swear that as I try to extricate myself from the bunker I will shout out ” This is for you, Dobbs!”

P.P.S. Many thanks to Ben Davies for his patience in showing me how to attach links. He’s created a monster! I can link anything now! With any luck, he’ll be able to show me how to attach photos when I get back. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but this week’s blog is only 812 words long…

The art of caddying (theory and practice)

17 03 2010

I played 18 holes at Glacier this morning with Robin, el Bandito Juan and The Chief. My game was – to put it mildly – slightly off, but somehow I didn’t seem to mind as much as usual. I found myself thinking about what I would be doing if I was caddying this round instead of playing. As a matter of fact, Robin and John had pointed out early on in the round that I had been behaving rather oddly, when I had refused to give John a yardage on #3 or tend the flagstick for Robin on #4. My point was that, now that I’m a professional caddie (gross earnings to date in 2010, after four rounds: $100 US, 4 pints of Guinness and a ticket to the Champions Tour event in Newport Beach, California), they shouldn’t expect me to work for free. Their point was that if I’m as crappy a caddie as I am a golfer I shouldn’t be charging at all. The debate continues…

However, it does bring up an interesting point: just how good or bad a caddie am I? After my very first day as a looper I emailed my future employer, Brian Benedictson, to tell him that I’d found work and gave him a brief summary of how I thought it had gone. Ever the pro, Brian replied with a list of helpful caddie tips which I thought I would share with you, and attempt to analyse my strong and weak points:

1. Show up. Definite success, seeing as I’d travelled all the way from Comox to San Diego, walked the course the day before the tournament and waited five hours until I was finally taken on as a caddie.  Score: 10/10

2. Keep up. Not as easy as you might think. I’m pretty fit for my age (honest) but cleaning a club before putting it back in the bag, scurrying down the fairway after your player and having the next club to hand without making him wait is surprisingly tricky to do. Score: 6/10

3. Shut up. Anyone who knows me would have guessed that this would not be easy for me. Stan birdied the very first hole he played with me as his caddie, draining a 30 foot putt. I must have been nervous, because I found myself saying: “A birdie. Is that the best you can do?” The look on Stan’s face, not to mention his playing partners, was a strong reminder that it was best to keep my funny comments to myself if I wanted to keep my job. It definitely helped two holes later, when Stan hooked his tee shot out of bounds. I handed him a new ball, tried not to make eye contact, and walked up the other side of the fairway for a couple of hundred yards. Score (by my standards): 5/10. By anyone else’s standards: 2/10

4. Don’t let clubs rattle while walking: successful for the most part, except when I dropped my towel (aka club quietener) half way down the 5th fairway but didn’t notice until we’d arrived at the green and I was supposed to clean the ball. Oops. Score: 6/10

5. Be relaxed. I was amazed to see how nervous I was the first day, absolutely dreading that Stan might ask me what club to use for an approach shot, or how much break there was in a putt. I used the ploy of asking what he thought and then agreeing with whatever he said – maybe not that useful, but at least I avoided putting doubt in his mind. By the second round I felt a lot better. Score: 5/10

6. Build my player’s confidence up quietly. I think I was pretty good in this area, in that although I honestly thought just about every shot Stan played was well struck I kept my comments low key. The idea was to act as if I expected all his shots to be good. I think it worked, but you’d have to ask Stan what he thought. Score: 8/10

7. Stand in the same spot every time he’s hitting (i.e. 10 – 12 feet to one side). I did ok with this, mostly by standing wherever the other players stood. They were scrupulous about not standing in eachothers’ line of sight. Score: 8/10

8. Wear flat sole runners rather than golf shoes. Luckily I’d read about this in the Canadian Tour caddies’ manual, so it wasn’t an issue. Score: 10/10

9. Be helpful to all players, but remember my first loyalty is to my player. I tried to help out by raking bunkers for all the players and offering to attend the flag whenever anyone was about to putt. I think my gestures were appreciated, but I also think the players were used to having to do it for themselves usually, so we sometimes got our lines crossed. I might get bonus points here for bringing some fruit, granola bars and water for Stan and reminding him to rehydrate every few holes. Of course, I might have just sounded like his Mum nagging him, but my intentions were certainly good. Score: 9/10

10. Finally, concentrate for the entire duration of the round. I was determined to really concentrate hard for all 18 holes (just as I try to do when playing), but it’s easy to let your guard drop. My low point was walking off the 15th green, congratulating one of Stan’s partners, who’d just made a good par saving putt. We’d got half way to the next tee, when he looked at me kind of funnily and said ” How far are you gonna carry that thing?” I still had the flagstick in my hands! Score: 5/10  Must try harder…

So I make my total 72%, which is a C+/B grade. What do you guys think? Any comments, either on my self assessment or on what you think a good caddie would do?

BTW: many thanks to Brian Benedictson for taking the trouble to send me his caddie tips. With any luck it will make me slightly less of a liability at the Times Colonist Open in Victoria, the first week of June, when I get my first chance to caddie on the Canadian Tour. I can’t wait!

All da best!

Dave B.

The Links at Summerly

5 03 2010

On Wednesday morning I met Stan at the driving range at 9:30, thirty minutes before his tee time, as arranged. Like everyone else on the range, he was booming a succession of impressive drives towards the dusty hills overlooking The Links at Summerly, as the two year old course at Lake Elsinore (southern California) is called. I wasn’t quite sure what my job was (saying ‘shot’ every time he hit the ball didn’t seem too helpful), so I busied myself wetting his towel and cleaning the grooves of his irons. Every now and then he’d stop and chat to a passing player – everyone seemed to know everyone else and I definitely felt like the new kid in class. Ten minutes before tee off time we went over to the putting green, where Stan showed a nice relaxed stroke. Then it was on to the first tee, for introductions to our playing partners – Brett, a red headed veteran of the Nationwide tour, originally from Red Deer, Alberta, and Ajay, a delightful Kenyan Asian, who had once gone to school near my home in England.

Stan and I had briefly discussed my role: carry the bag, keep up and stay out of the way as much as possible. He’d ask if he needed help, which was fine by me, as I was surprisingly nervous and scared stiff that he would ask me the line of his first putt.

Stan was first on the tee, hit a great drive, a second to within 25 feet – and three putted. The rest of the round was equally tough: a birdie would immediately be followed by bogey or worse. To Stan’s credit, he remained positive throughout, never blamed outside factors, such as unlucky bounces – of which there were a few – and took my rookie mistakes (leaving his rangefinder in the middle of the fourth fairway was the classic) in his stride. Net result, a 76 which left him way down the field and the cut (top 30% of the field and ties) looking next to impossible.

On Thursday, things went better. This time round, Stan birdied the first hole and got it to three under after ten holes. Down the stretch, though, the putts just wouldn’t drop and his 69 left him two strokes above the cut line. Once again, Stan showed himself to be a class act – in fact I was very impressed by the way all three players went out of their way to encourage eachother, particularly if they’d made a good par save from a tough lie. Although our agreement had been that I would only be paid if he made the cut, Stan put some money in my hand as we walked off the 18th green and said ‘Good job, Dave – and I’m not discussing it.’ I shoved the money into my pocket, and when I looked later I realised he’d given me $100. That may not seem much for three days caddying, but Stan must have been $1500 or more out of pocket for his week’s work, and was facing an eight hour drive back home to Stockton where he planned to practise while saving up to play in his next event. There’s not an easy living to be made on the mini tours, so if you see the name Stan Mathews on a leaderboard sometime soon please wish him luck – the guy deserves it.

I caddied for Brett today. He was disappointed with his T12 finish and couldn’t wait to get on a plane back to Alberta and his wife and baby daughter. I talked to Mike, the tour director, after today’s round and he said that the next two events were carts only, and that the chance of any caddying was very remote. So what I’d been told turned out to be true: there’s no chance of caddying regularly on a mini tour – these guys are struggling just to keep their heads above water. They’re either going to make it to the next level, or sink without trace: There’s no treading water here.

As it happens, Brett is a friend and neighbour of Tom Pernice Jr, who plays on the PGA Champions Tour, and said he could get Tom to leave me a ticket for Sunday’s round at Newport Beach, an hour or so up the road, so that’s where I’m headed tomorrow – as soon as I’ve had one more chance to play The Links at Summerly, and see if I’ve learnt anything over the past three days. I know one thing: I won’t be playing the tips like these guys. 7100 yards seems a bit excessive, so it’s off the white tees for me – I know my place!

Right now, after three nights in a row in the camper van, my place is a little more upmarket: the Rodeway Inn in Temecula with free wifi access, a comfy kingsize bed, unlimited hot water and a continental breakfast. Sheer luxury!

After this weekend I shall wend my way slowly north. I plan to take the Interstate 101 all the way up through California, Oregon and Washington until I reach Port Angeles and the ferry to Victoria. Caddying will resume when I hitch up with Brian Benedictson at the Times Colonist Open at Uplands, Victoria, in June, but before then Glennie, Robin and myself have our golf trip to Ireland and Scotland to look forward to. You’ll be hearing then of how Bagger Dave hits the links (and no doubt the Guinness) at the home of golf, but until then…

All da best.

Dave B.