Rubenstein: A caddie program with characters
Published on Thursday, May. 09, 2013 12:01PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2013 08:10AM EDT
Jupiter, Fla. – The man who supervises Derf, Chisel, The Rev, and other caddies at the impeccably-maintained Loxahatchee Golf Club here–and I mean maintained that way in all departments–is sitting in the funky Oceana coffee shop a few minutes north. His name is Hugh Stacy. During my visits to Loxahatchee, which Jack Nicklaus designed, I’ve had the pleasure of walking the course with one of the club’s caddies carrying my clubs, offering wise counsel, and telling stories. Stacy has been Lox’s caddiemaster since 1995. The club is in many ways his home.
Derf, you have no doubt figured by now, is Fred, spelled backwards. Chisel is the nickname for another caddie, because, well, he’s not exactly chiseled. And The Rev, whose given name is Jimmy, became the Rev for no particular reason. “It just evolved,” Stacy says as he tucks into his excellent coffee, roasted on the premises. It’s not his first coffee of the morning. If you’re going to be a caddiemaster, you need to strike the proper mixture of being revved up and calm.
Stacy’s job, like the Rev’s nickname, has evolved. So has he. He’s 64, and he’s been in golf almost half his life, since 1982. He was a ball boy for the New York Yankees during spring training in St. Petersburg, where he was born. He knew Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, and Bobby Richardson showed him how to play second base. He still loves baseball and follows it closely.
Later, Stacy was in the restaurant business. He owned a catering business, but tired of that. He told his wife one day he was going to sell the business. She asked, “Really?” He said, yes, really. He sold the business. The marriage eventually ended.
Stacy got himself into the golf business. He knocked on doors. He managed some clubs. He worked six months as an unpaid volunteer for Chi Chi Rodriguez’s foundation. He got a job as an assistant pro, and then as a head pro, and then as a teaching pro in New Hampshire. He never did get his PGA certification.
A woman he was dating got a job in the water management department in the West Palm Beach area. He was divorced by then, and he worked in the area. He sold cars. He cut greens. He got a job at the Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla., working in outside operations. He got out of the PGA side of the business, and became what he refers to as “almost an efficiency expert.” He smoothed out operations to the extent the club could close at six rather than 11 PM.
One day Loxahatchee called. The club that Torontonian Gordon Gray co-founded was thriving. Gray remains its biggest booster, and he’s proud of the club for good reason. It’s a beauty. He’s all but completed a history of the club that Jen Hale is editing. The book should be a good one, given Gray’s love of Loxahatchee and his attention to detail. I know it will be a good book for another reason. Jen is a top-notch editor. She edited my recent book Moe & Me and improved it on every page.
I don’t know if Stacy is part of the book, but I hope he and his caddie program are in there. When Loxahatchee came calling in 1995, it came to the right guy. He developed a five-year plan to make the caddie program one of the best in the country. I’ve hardly played at every club that has a caddie program, but Loxahatchee’s must be one of the best. Its members, by the way, include well-known sportscasters Bryant Gumbel and Brent Musburger. Joe Namath was a member.
In 2000, Stacy started going to the top northern clubs in the U.S. to find caddies for the winter, when Loxahatchee is busiest. He was looking for character above all, and for caddies who had strong work ethics and would be accountable. He wanted to change the perception of caddies as drunks and druggies. He was looking for good communication skills as well. Storytelling is an important part of any round of golf. I’ve generally found that the best caddies are also first-rate storytellers. Or maybe it’s just that I enjoy hearing their stories. Makes for good copy and all that.
“I went to clubs like Aronimink, Winged Foot, and Plainfield,” Stacy told me. “To Brae Burn, Shinnecock and Merion. I still return to them. I learned years ago that if your weakest caddie can caddy for your players, you’re doing okay. One of our mission statements is that I want our people to feel enthusiastic their first day on the job.”
The atmosphere has to be right for that to transpire. Stacy schedules his caddies a day ahead, “so they know when they’ll work. If a guy gets there at 7 AM and he’s still there at noon, he won’t be happy.”
Lox’s caddies are independent contractors. They’re paid a minimum fee, and also accept tips. “If a caddie gets the minimum only, He’s not doing his job,” Stacy said. The turnover is small at Loxahatchee, only two or three caddies a year. This makes returning to the club that much more enjoyable. You get to know the caddies.
“Our caddie program has been a focal point of the club,” Stacy told me. “It’s one of the driving forces of our membership, and one of the reasons members join here.”
Caddies can play Monday afternoons, and at other times when the course is quiet. The caddy tournament at the end of April is a big affair. Some 160 players sign up. Members support the tournament. Fivesomes go out. Stacy’s assistant Jay Monsanti, who has been at the club for 16 years, is there to help out. He’s another reason the caddie program runs smoothly.
“Our biggest day of the year,” Stacy says of the caddie tournament that pretty much ends the season. Then it’s time for the members to head north. They return the next winter, migrating south to Loxahatchee and their winter club. The caddies also head north, and most return come winter. The stories turn over more than the caddies, who, like Stacy, feel at home at Loxahatchee. Stacy says in the kindest way that he likes to think of the club’s caddie program as “adult assisted living. We want to make a day at the club trouble-free.”
Meanwhile, there are the stories. Stacy tells me about a caddie who died in 2001, and who was called Two Bags Down the Middle. Huh?
“He’d come in hung over and he’d say, ‘I need two bags down the middle.’”
Two caddies are named Craig. One is in his 60s, and he’s called “Daddy.” Another, Craig Jackson, is “Rookie,” although he’s been at the club eight years.
“Every year we call him Rookie of the Year,” Stacy says. Every caddie gets a prize at the annual, season-ending tournament. Craig Jackson, Stacy says, gets a prize for being the only eight-time Rookie of the Year.
It’s time for Stacy to get to his post at the club. But he wants to say something first, as he takes his last sip of coffee.
“What a great guy Gordon is,” he says of Gordon Gray. “I don’t know how many times I thank Gordon for starting the club.”
Members must also be happy that he started Loxahatchee, and that Hugh Stacy is the club’s caddiemaster. He loves his job, and it comes through, over coffee at Oceana and, all day, every day, at the club.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein