Necessary Burn

A picture of caddie life on one of its combustible days
This blue-collar gig often requires a white one.
This blue-collar gig often requires a white one.

There was a time, years ago, when just a couple of adults were among us kids in the caddie yard. Now our shack is dominated by guys in their 30s, 40s, 50s and older. Last August, about two dozen of us sat slumped and nearly broken in the late-evening glow. We were beyond exhausted, our faces burnt. But we had purpose.

“You did it!” shouted one looper.

“You made it, bro!” shouted another as the last of us came off the course, ignoring camaraderie in favor of the beer cooler for the moment. 

It was Turn and Burn Day at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, the pro-am for the local Korn Ferry Tour event. Two bags for 36 holes, nonstop from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ninety-plus degrees in the midday soup, your eyes going sideways, begging for a lonely cloud to block the sun.

Insurance agents and corporate types had come from all directions to play a tournament course with a caddie on their bag. They were to be treated like the pros, and we obliged at every turn. We raked their traps. Chased after divots. Gave perfect reads. 

We knew most of these guys brought Al Czervik bags and 20 handicaps. On the first tee, when your first guy sniper-hooked it right and your other guy banana-sliced one into the 18th fairway, you just kept smiling and encouraging. 

As the sun finally disappeared, Alan Mogan, or “Mogey the Bogey,” came through. He’s 60-something, looks even older, but his spirits were good. Rumors were he slept in his car one winter. Homeless or not, he was on the bag when a small-town pro set Scioto’s course record.

Brian “B.” Smith and his 18-year-old son, Devin, had towels draped around their beefy necks. There was Schmike, a lifer and the most popular amongst members.

My twin brother was there, sitting by my side. We’ve been looping since puberty. We talked about never doing it past 30; that was almost 20 years ago. He teaches autistic teenagers. I work with at-risk youth and foster children in a state besieged by addiction. If we didn’t have the shack at Scioto—and the generous members who walk—we’d both be close to broke, and maybe even wife-less. 

This day is always in the back of our minds, like the Ohio State-Michigan game. 

“Will I make it the entire 36?” If you bail, you’ll be forever branded a you-know-what.

“What’s the temperature going to be?” Over 90—book it. If anyone knows climate change, we sure as hell do.

“What kind of player am I going to get, and will he tip?” There’s a good chance you’re getting a grass-hockey player with three high-school-age children.

Blue-collar men don’t sit on steel girders 50 stories high eating their lunch anymore. The factories around here have gone away. Those of us without a skill scrambled for whatever we could get. The country club can help, but you gotta know golf. You gotta kiss ass. And you gotta quickly learn to read those Donald Ross greens, which, for some of us, might as well be deciphering Sumerian.

So now we haul around metal sticks in the punishing sun for millionaires. But there is purpose in this pursuit. We are the same age, caddie and player, so we talk about our kids and how we are going to pay for college. We talk about all the cow-pasture public courses we can play. We don’t talk much about work, because, for us and them, it dominates our life, seven days a week.

My brother and I often caddie together, often for guests brought to Scioto. We have nearly six decades combined there, and we put on a show. We entertain, we encourage, we cheer, we read the putts that break three different ways.

During the off-season, strangers come up to both of us and say, “You carried my bag that one time I played Scioto. That was a great day.”