Fifty Million Dollar Suit
Caddie’s and musicians share the same history – sleep in the stables, be heard, not seen, or the other way around. Musicians have mostly climbed out of the pit of inequality, but golf caddies are still trying to get that last leg up, and break the stereotype that has kept them in what they see as unappreciated servitude in a rich industry.
Yes, upper end caddies are paid well. The story of Tiger Wood’s former caddie, Steve Williams, is pretty well known, and he won’t be selling matches in the snow any time soon. But, as I read the chat rooms on this subject, I find a surprising amount of sentiment against the caddies of the pro tour, because they want to be paid for carrying around corporate ads on their persons while they do their job. Contributors to these conversations complain that they are already well paid, and should quit while they’re ahead.
In a recent tournament, Kevin Kisner was taken to task by a course official for wearing inappropriate shorts even though they fit the publicized dress code to the last word. In the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his shorts were red, and someone in authority took exception to the color. Just one more straw that’s threatening to make caddie situation turn “catty.”
Somewhere around 160 caddies of the PGA have filed a fifty million dollar lawsuit on the basis of “restriction of trade.” The money made from the logos on their backs, hats, towels, and shoes all goes elsewhere. An association of caddies negotiated with the PGA over the matter last year, but got nowhere, leading to this class-action suit.
Behind all of this is an old, old view of the caddie’s cultural and personal profile. He has been described as a “shifty drifter,” especially by movies of the 30s through 50s. He has the label of a smart-aleck kid who’s looking for a chance to play the game himself. He is, no matter what twenty-first century word you want to use for it, a “commoner,” hired to serve a member of the “elite.” We’ve dressed it up, and given it a salary that one can live on in many circumstances, but in the brain, it’s still the fifteenth century, and everybody on the course knows it.
Caddies are, on most of the prestigious courses and tournaments around the world, not allowed in the clubhouse. That is the manor for members, people who can afford it, and people of the proper breeding necessary for being there. It’s not a place for the mixing of classes. The clubhouse isn’t really the big problem, though, only the symbol of the underlying principle. Two centuries ago, a caddie could be flogged. Perhaps that has improved over the years, but in the recent Honda, it is reported that caddies were “caught in the tent,” which means that they sought shelter from lightning and thunderstorms with the rest of the human beings. There they stood, with the members – eek.
In terms of corporate sponsorship, even the modern-day caddie might be associated with his professional as a sort of right arm, literally. You don’t have to pay the right arm if it’s a true extension of the guy who’s already being paid. That idea is supported by the player and caddie being a “team” of sorts.
On the other hand, however, they are not the players’ llamas for toting luggage around the course. They are not pizza cars or people in cartoon character suits standing on the street corner to advertise tax preparers, insurance companies or sandwich shops. They are as independent from the player as is their job. The player swings, the caddie carries and advises.
Musicians may have gotten out of the stables, but in 2015, caddies have still not gotten into the tent, along with everyone else who can make it without being struck by lightning. They are, then, still expendable in the minds of the “members.” Let’s get this item of evolution moving, shall we?