A quick look at my first couple weeks on tour

1988 was a blur, both physically and emotionally. I was escaping from a bit of misery, learning a new occupation, and trying to establish relationships with folks who didn’t want to be bothered with a new kid on the block. The grizzled veterans scoffed at my exuberance and didn’t want some veteran caddy’s brother tugging at their pant legs talking about golf. They had seen it all, done it all, when caddies had it tough. A naive newcomer wasn’t welcomed in the ranks. These guys remembered days “professional caddies” weren’t allowed to work certain tournaments, when there were signs announcing, “public welcome, no caddies allowed.

They called me “Stint” early and often. I’m not sure who pinned the title, but it wasn’t an honorable tag. Usually the veterans coined the label, and if it came from Bruce Edwards it was special. I think Dolph (Stadler), Boo (Maltbie), or the Growler penned mine. Story goes there was bet on how long I’d last, or they all were hoping I’d only be around for a short stint. They didn’t go out of their of way to help, but they weren’t abusive either. I think I was a slight amusement back then without realizing it.

I traveled in a fog, lost my car the second week on tour, and relied other’s kindness for quite awhile. After that first week in Coral Springs my Toyota broke down, I couldn’t afford the repairs (it was later repossessed), so I was at the mercy of uncharitable people. You’re taught early out here you have to take care of number one first, and most of these guys had learned their lesson well.

My skin wasn’t that tough and the cold shoulders were difficult to take, so I quieted down and went about my business surviving. Back then you could live on the road for $300 to $400 a week if you cut corners, hit the Happy Hour specials, shacked up with friends or piled a bunch of caddies in tight spaces. I’d been used to my space for a long time, loved others company, but not on a 24 hour basis. Four caddies in a Mom & Pop motel room or six to eight boys in a two bedroom condo stirs the blood a bit much.

I saw a lot of good friends(?) become arch enemies during the week, and guys can get pretty possessive at times, especially with food and sleeping space. There was a definite pecking order and specific rules you had to follow if peace was to be maintained. I was new, got the last bed available if I was lucky, and had no idea where I was heading from week to week.

These guys had been out here for years and had their “digs” mapped out for each tournament stop. “Alaskan Dave” was the best. He knew the little, cheap, clean spots, and eventually started sharing them with me. There’s nothing better than that spacious motor lodge room where you can back the car up to the door and unload. The place was usually off the beaten path, not many other caddies knew about it, both were fine with me.

After getting the check from Blackmar Sunday, I asked if he needed me down the road. He politely said he was set up for awhile, but I noticed there was a different guy on his bag each week. I guess my caddy skills weren’t that impressive. If you don’t have a job you still had to travel with the tour and be ready every Monday, at the latest Tuesday morning, for an “open bag”. I’d started during a difficult job hunting time because the next few weeks would be Invitational tournaments and the “open bag” would be scarce.

Luckily, the Florida swing provided a lot of sun and some short trips. I, or my brother, was able to line up a ride each Sunday. “Reptile” and “Philly Billy” escorted me from Coral Springs to Orlando and on to Ponte Vedra. I had to pair down my Toyota’s load and get it to the acceptable “hitch hiker’s” capacity. When they first picked me up, the laughter was overwhelming.

“You expect to travel the tour with all this crap,” they spouted. I had a lot to learn about everything, this life was so different. The next two weeks they pared down my belongings to bare necessities and taught me a few things about traveling “caddy style”. Basically, everything needed to fit in one large duffel bag, a small shoulder bag, and a briefcase of some sort. A well-traveled caddy could shower, pack a room, and be ready to go in 15 minutes if necessary. The talent came in handy after a late Saturday night and early Sunday tee time, or a missed cut Friday and someone had a good road trip in mind.

Well, they dropped me off at the Quality Inn parking lot on Sand Lake Road Monday morning and told me Bay Hill was down the road, take a left at the dead end, and follow the signs. Thanks for ride guys and the directions, that’s all that was promised and all I got. I think the ride, directions, and packing lessons cost $5 and a cold six pack. 

My brother was supposed to be checked in, wasn’t, so I had to fend for myself. The clerk allowed me to stash my stuff and another caddy offered me a ride to the course. If your at the “caddy motel” for the week you could always find a ride for a buck or two, but you had to be ready to go on the driver’s time, or willing to hang in the lobby or parking lot at least an hour before your scheduled departure. There were many a times you’d see that late caddy rushing from his room, trying to catch a ride, and having to hail a cab at the last minute. Scheduling was everything if you didn’t have your own car or dedicated travel companion.

Mondays at a tournament are for jobless caddies, an occasional pro-am, volunteers helping set up, TV personnel constructing camera stands, and tournament directors tying up loose ends. You’ll also find the tour officials in their trailer and a few pros scattered about the practice area. The number of pros on the range is directly correlated with the travel time from the last tournament, and the importance of the present tournament. Bay Hill is Arnold’s Invitational, the drive wasn’t long, so the practice tee was a bit crowded.

I wasn’t caddy confident by any means, still didn’t know how to line up a job, but kind of knew how to act like a caddy. My first stop was the practice tee and green, trying to surmise who might need a caddy for the week. The difficulty was trying to roam around without my mouth agape. I was still in awe of my surroundings, and needed to get over that if I was going to get a job. You had to exude a quiet air of confidence, but that would only come with experience, and right now I was very green.

My baseball skills had some relevance, and eventually the pressure packed situations on the mound helped me when we were coming down the stretch with a chance to win. Right now, I was intimidated, scared, and very unsure of myself. Walking around all I could picture was rejection if I asked someone for a job, plus I wasn’t sure who needed a caddy and who didn’t. It was a major faus paux to ask a player for work if he had a steady caddy. The trick was to find out who bounced around, switched caddies often, or who’d just fired their looper.

The week before I’d noticed a few guys looking for work stroll into the tour officials, spend a few minutes talking with them, and then reappear with a sheet of paper. This single sheet was invaluable and I didn’t see anyone sharing information; only perusing the copy, crossing off names, and making some notes. At the Honda I didn’t need this information, but this week I thought, “monkey see, monkey do”.

The tour officials were unfamiliar, but friendly, and luckily, after explaining my jobless plight they knew exactly why I was there because I sure didn’t know what the hell I was doing. They handed me the updated Hertz Bay Hill Classic tournament commit list and sent me back to the parking lot. The meeting was short, sweet, and definitely eye-opening. A note to self, “get to know these boys, and stay on their good side”.

This list contained every player’s name who planned to play, and the alternates in case someone withdrew. An experienced caddy could quickly whittle this list down and extract necessary job search info. In about five minutes they would know who had withdrawn, or may be withdrawing; which player needed a caddy or had just fired theirs; what caddies might not be showing up or were on the verge of losing their jobs; and, use all this info for a successful job search. If they didn’t land a job that week it was very helpful down the road, a seasoned unemployed caddy was always laying the groundwork for a future job.

Many things I needed to learn, I just looked at the list with a blank stare and quietly cried help, but I was on my own. Looking around the parking lot there were quite a few caddies, similar plights, and no one was offering any sympathy, guidance, or compassion. It was a tough crowd and I was getting tossed about, hopefully something would work out.

Late Tuesday afternoon, after hanging out in the parking lot all day and roaming the course, there wasn’t a job available for a greenhorn. A couple of veterans picked up an alternate or two, and I think a few foreigners showed up without caddies, so a few guys got lucky. The guys without jobs were talking about working the pro-am, checking with CBS for work, or maybe heading to some local courses who were tour caddy friendly.

During my twenty years I never had to resort to the last option, but the first two came in handy when there wasn’t much money in my pocket, or I was bored and just needed work to keep me out of trouble. This week was the first of many that the pro-am and network television would cover my expenses. You didn’t need a lot of experience for either job, but you could lucky and make a good check in the pro-am if you hooked up with a “fat cat”.

Every tournament, except majors, has a Wednesday pro-am. They’re designed to entertain corporate sponsors, tournament friends, celebrities, and they raise a bunch of money for the tournament charities. Back then it probably cost $1,500-$2,000 for a chance to play with one of the top tour players. The only charity I was concerned about was the Mark Huber Benevolent Caddy Foundation at that time, and I was wondering how to line up one of those “fat cats”.

There wasn’t a tried and true method, sometimes it was luck, but a few guys new certain amateurs who played many pro-ams and forked over a nice tip after the round. I was up early, standing in the Quality Inn parking lot waiting for a ride, and got to the course before sunrise. If I was lucky, maybe I could get a loop in the morning and afternoon, doubling my coiffures.

A lot of locals were hanging at the caddy tent, and I didn’t see many freindly faces. I signed up, asked the caddy master a few questions which gathered a couple of grumbles, grabbed a cup of coffee and a donut, and waited my turn. I was quite aways down the list, and learned that guys had been signing up all week, plus the caddy master’s friends and local caddies got priority over a “tour caddy”. A lot of times we were treated like fourth class citizens, it was tough to take quietly.

Finally, my turn came up and I was hooked with a young corporate exec. He wasn’t a golfer, and wasn’t quite sure about a lot of things, especially when it came time to pay the caddy. We spent a lot of the round looking for wayward tee shots, and I tried everything in my power to create some fun, but it was a general disaster.

We exchanged pleasantries as we were putting up the bag, and he started to walk off. I stopped him, explained the caddy fee structure, and he looked very surprised that I expected money for my efforts. It was his understanding that everything was taken care of and that he didn’t owe me a thing. The discussion became a bit heated when I realized he was sincere, and there may be no cash for my efforts. Like I said, fourth class citizens don’t garner much respect, and I was getting nowhere with this corporate snob, so I left him with one final comment. “Apparently, you need the money more than I do, thanks for opportunity to carry your bag, have a nice day,” and I walked away.

Mom told me never to speak when I’m angry, so I zipped it, walked to the caddy tent, and tried to explain things to the caddy master. He was preparing for the afternoon wave, had no time for me, so I went away broke, but had a wry smile when I thought about how I’d handled the freeloader. To me, it was an establishment rebuke, but it the grand scheme of things it was just another caddy getting stiffed. It happens all the time from the pro-am hacker to the seasoned pro, especially some of the old timers.

The quick lesson was make your deal up front, know what you’re getting into, and don’t pick up a bag until you know what they’re paying you. I’ve been stiffed by a few over the years and each time I let them know in no uncertain terms the gratuity wasn’t acceptable. Each time I got a “so what” look from the golfer, and from the corporate CEO to the PGA veteran to the Wednesday hack, they could care less about the caddy. Granted they were a minority, but there manner definitely left a mark on me.

Expecting $50-$75 for that morning loop, and with no chance for an afternoon bag, I was looking pretty destitute. There was a motel tab to pay and I needed to eat the rest of the week, but I didn’t want to break into my stash the second week on the road. My last chance for some cash was CBS, they hired spotters for the weekend telecast.

Before Golf Channel and ESPN the major networks televised most every tournament, and they needed a major support crew for their camera operators, announcers, scorers, and graphics personnel. Unemployed caddies were a knowledgeable source of workers, and we in turn were very grateful for the $50-$75 a day and the wonderful lunch they provided. I wasn’t sure how to acquire this job, just knew it existed.

The TV compound was set up between fifteen fairway and sixteen tee box so I strolled over there Wednesday afternoon after I’d cooled down. I wasn’t sure who to look for or where to go, just roaming around the compound was a neat experience. Lowly caddy backstage at a PGA Tour event, if the boys in the Stag could see me now. Well it wasn’t quite that cool, but there were some important people walking around, and for some reason I felt like part of the scene.

There were quite a few people mingling outside a trailer, I walked over, and somebody said, “Chuck’s inside, go on in.”

“Chuck who?”, I snapped back.

“Chuck Will, aren’t you a caddy looking for work?” came the retort.

“Yeh, how could you tell?” A few laughed but I wasn’t quite sure exactly why. Thinking about it that night, I realized, even though I was new, all caddies had a distinct look, feel about them. The folks working with, and around the tour, could spot us coming. You tried to cover it up sometimes, but eventually you thought, “&%^$ it, I’m a caddy, a good person, take me or leave me, I don’t care.”

Well, I walked in the door, glanced around the room, and noticed this frail, middle-aged, chain-smoking guy barking orders into the phone and working frantically on some paperwork. The receptionist asked if I was a caddy looking for spotter work, I nodded, and she told me to wait a bit until Chuck got off the phone. It was more than a bit and I started getting uncomfortable. This frail old guy had quite the vocabulary and didn’t seem to be very nice. He was constantly yelling something at someone with a lot of fucks thrown around.

I spent a lot of time in baseball dugouts and bullpens, and Chuck’s language would’ve fit comfortably. After about twenty minutes or so, he peered over his nose and cheap reader glasses. Every where in the office there were signs that read, Chuck this and Chuck that. There was Chuck’s desk sign, a Chuck’s ashtray sign, a Chuck’s pencil label, and so on. You knew right away this was Chuck Will’s domain and I felt like I was just about to incur the wrath of OZ, but there was no smoke and fire shooting out anyplace.

A diatribe erupted about everything going on, he wanted to know my life history, and then demanded to know why I hadn’t stopped by earlier in the week, “You know it’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’ve done all the hiring I’m gonna do this week!”

I tried not to stutter, explained my plight, and then spent the better part of an hour listening to Chuck Will stories (there’ll be a few of these during the book). As I was walking out the door, figuring I was jobless, Chuck said, “be here at noon tomorrow, maybe I’ll fire somebody, at least you can get a good meal.” He tossed me a CBS personnel badge so I could get by the guard legally, and I was off to Happy Hour someplace.

We’d found cheaper digs on International Drive so I had to find my way there. I hopped a couple of rides, got close, spent the better part of the late afternoon quenching my thirst and eating ten cent raw oysters, waiting for my brother to show. He had my luggage, the room key, and the motel name. I had no clue where I was spending the night, without clothes, and at my brother’s mercy. Thank God he showed up before my cash ran out, he escorted me to our new home, and tucked me in for the night. It had been a long eventful day, that pillow was all I needed right now.

I headed out to the course early, maybe someone whiffed their tee time and I could pick up a loop for the day. There were already a couple of experienced vultures checking the ranks, all caddies were accounted for and no reason to hang around. Lunch at CBS was a couple hours off so I roamed around, surveying the sights, and thought I was pretty cool with the CBS badge pinned to my chest. When it comes to the pecking order out here, a CBS weekend spotter may be one caste below a caddy, so I had no reason to feel special. But, what the hell, I didn’t no any better, yet.

That badge took me everyplace, I was still strutting for no reason, and entering the CBS compound Chuck called me over demanding to know my last name. I told him, Huber, and he bellowed, “why didn’t you tell me that yesterday? Are you Dan’s brother? Apparently Dan had talked with Chuck, told him I might be coming out for awhile, and I might be stopping by for work occasionally. I had the job, whatever that entailed, and Chuck told me grab lunch then wait for the orientation session.

CBS lunch is served in a large tent and everyone shows up. It’s the daily social event, and I sat there by myself watching Pat Summeral, Ken Venturi, Jim Nance, Frank Chirkanian, Gary McCord, and the other announcers fill their plates while hobnobbing with the crew. Everyone knew everyone, the tour officials were there, a few corporate bigwigs, and some local celebrities were all served about a five course meal fit for any good restaurant. By the end of the week I had a small group of spotters to eat with, and over the years some of my best friends have come from those TV compounds.

Lunch was good, orientation was short and sweet, we were given a few basic guidelines and a headset. The instructions were basically, “stay out of the way, but get as close to the action as possible without pissing of the pros or caddies. Pay attention to the caddies, they’ll tell you where to stand. And another thing, that headset is not for social purposes, only direct communication with Mr. Will. Speak only when spoken to and make it brief.”

Now I was real cool, a headset, inside the ropes, and helping CBS bring the telecast to millions of homes. My false ego was shattered early that first Thursday before we went on air. Prior to any telecast the networks conduct a mock broadcast just to make sure things, people are functioning properly. Apparently, I wasn’t, and caught hell from a couple of sides. My job was to position the handheld microphone next to the players in the fifteenth fairway, plus stay out of the way.

Bay Hill’s fifteenth is a challenging par four sharp dogleg right with a couple of penal traps guarding the right corner of the fairway and trees through the left side. I had to figure out how to be in three spots at once if the pros sprayed their tee shots, if I was lucky they’d all be down the middle. Well, me and my “want to be right in the middle of everything” attitude decided to position myself directly over the bunker so I could get a good view of the tee shots, getting a jump on my spotter positions.

The first group coming through included Bob Murphy (I look back, it must have been fate) and I wasn’t in the right position while they were on the tee. As they were walking to their balls, I strolled by Murph, started to say hi (since we were good buddies from last week’s pairing) when the tirade began.

“What the fuck are you doing standing over the edge of the trap, don’t you know you’re right in our line of sight and distracting the hell out of us? I started to explain my lack of experience which only fueled the fire, and he continued, “just get the hell out of the way and stay there, before that microphone ends up your ass and Chuck is missing a spotter!” Oh shit, I forgot Murph was a CBS announcer also.

Well, Chuck got wind of what was going on and barked into my headset, “Huber get the hell out of the fairway and stay there until I tell you to move!” Okay, Chuck. My first introduction to Murph’s Irish temper and my first wrath of Chuck experience coming up. My television debut could have been better, but I sure got every one’s attention, the rest of the day was rather uneventful.

When I returned to the compound Chuck was waiting for me, let me have it for awhile, and then he wanted to know about my family. These afternoon chats with Chuck became a ritual over the years, and an hour spent with him provided golf life insight you couldn’t get anywhere else. Whenever there was free time or I was working for CBS, many of us would gather around Chuck’s desk and let him ramble. He was a fair golfer in his time, Chirkanian’s right hand man since CBS golf inception, and loved a bit of the night life. He had stories of Arnold and Jack, opinions about everything, televised golf in it’s infancy, and everyone loved his reminiscing. Sure wish he’d sit down, write a book someday, it’d be a best seller.

There weren’t anymore screw ups that week, and Chuck even allowed me the privilege to segue to the eighteenth fairway Sunday afternoon. The TV crew definitely didn’t need the rookie over there, but I sure was glad Chuck let me see the finishing hole spectacle. The eighteenth was an ampitheather surrounded three quarters by people and one quarter water, with an air of excitement this country boy had never experienced.

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