I spent a full season caddying at Kingsbarns Golf Links, just outside of St Andrews, Scotland. Over the course of the season, I have averaged five “bags” a week. I have caddied for everyone from CEOs and former European touring pros to people who have only been playing a few months. All of the photos in this post are taken at Kingsbarns.
Both through observation and direct advice, I learned a lot during the season of caddying. My own game’s course management has matured. My views on people and career options have changed and solidified. Unexpectedly, my opinions and thoughts on course design have changed. I saw two handicappers shoot 90 and I saw “fourteen” handicappers shoot 73. I had golfers hand me three identical balls on the first hole and quietly say, “Make sure we never lose a ball…..” Always keep an eye on your playing partners!
Many setting out on their first UK golf trip have never had a caddy. Here are some advice and some thoughts on taking a caddy:
Should I get a caddy?
A caddy can be indispensable when playing a course you have never seen. The sixty or seventy pounds you pay the caddy is easily worth the enjoyment of knowing where to hit the ball off the tee and having your putts read on unknown greens. If money is an issue, take a single forecaddie, who will give lines, yardages, and read putts for all the players in the group.
He misread my putt!!!
How often during a round do you make twenty-five foot putts? Even fifteen-foot putts? – Once or twice a round most likely. Having a caddy give you the line doesn’t magically improve putting skills. Further, the line of a putt can vary drastically depending on the speed with which the putt is struck. Meaning that your caddy can give you great lines all day, but if you hit the putts too hard or soft, they aren’t going to fall! I say this having witnessed golfers get angry with caddies for having “misread” putts that in reality were perfectly legitimate lines. All of this being said, nobody is infallible, and caddies do misread putts as well, just be careful to judge.
How much should I pay?
The standards for paying caddies can be confusing for people on their first trip. The rates at courses will differ across Scotland, so I suggest asking the starter for the base rate. If you have a good experience, I’d look at a £20 tip and go up from there if the experience is really excellent. Don’t be afraid to go below £20 if the experience is bad… Tipping a bad caddie well will only reinforce the negative behavior!
My most important piece of advice has to do with the overall enjoyment of the round. Kingsbarns is one of the most picturesque and beautiful courses that can be played in Scotland. I repeatedly caddied for people who were so caught up in their bets and scoring that they never looked up and took the time to realize just how lucky they were. They let scoring poorly or losing money completely ruin what otherwise could have been one of their most enjoyable rounds. I am the first to admit that golf can be the most frustrating and annoying thing in the world, but if you make it over here to Scotland to play, do your best to step back and as my dad would say, “enjoy the breeze!”
At this point in the summer, I have stopped caddying and have just completed a short internship with Golf Monthly, the leading golf magazine in the UK. I learned about golf journalism gained general knowledge about the golf industry. Hopefully this will result in some positive changes to both the blog and my writing! Keep an eye on the blog for some exciting new course and equipment reviews!
Very good, succinct review of this issue. I will add another perspective and I am curious about others’ observations and opinions on this — what it’s like to play in a foursome when you don’t have a caddie and some or all of your playing partners do have caddies.
I took a two week trip to Scotland in 2014 with 7 other guys. We rotated foursomes constantly, although two guys always played together. 3 guys always had caddies, 2 guys never had caddies and 3 of us occasionally had caddies or forecaddies. I know all 7 of these guys very well and I am related to most of them — we all enjoy playing golf together when we can.
Anyway, at some courses (Carnoustie, Royal Dornoch and Crail), playing without a caddie while some of the foursome did have a caddie was fine. I recognize that if I don’t have a caddie that I can’t be relying on the caddies to provide lines, etc. — after all, I’m not paying for it. All three of these clubs had members serve as caddies and they did share stories, etc. and it came off as 6 guys playing golf together and socializing.
St. Andrews, however, was different. And not in a good way. Played rounds on the Old Course, Jubilee and New Course and I did not have a caddie on any of them. On the Old and New, I played in a foursome where two of they guys had caddies. In both instances, I might as well have been playing in a twosome, although that’s really not an accurate description either. Take my experience on the Old Course, for example. All four of us would hit and then the two with caddies would be led, quickly, by their caddies to their balls. It was if they were each playing entirely by themselves. They waited for no one. They would routinely be up ahead, with their backs to me, as I was hitting — to be honest, I got tired of making sure they knew I was behind them and hitting and I just started hitting. Screw them if I accidentally hit them (thankfully, I didn’t). They talked while I was putting – almost on every hole. They walked across my line several times. It was just a very rude experience! (And one disclaimer here as well … the other non-caddie golfer and I were not playing slow at all. I know the caddies are out there to move things along as well — that wasn’t the issue.) There was no socializing among the four golfers at all — each caddie would be huddled with their golfer, talking, etc. the whole time and quickly moving to their next shot, etc. Yes, I wanted to score well, but I also wanted to enjoy the camaraderie of playing with the guys in my group. That did not happen with the two guys with caddies. We talked about it later, over beers, and they seemed oblivious to it but agree that it felt almost like it was just them and their caddie walking the course and playing the holes with very little to no interaction with others in the foursome.
My experience on the New Course was similar and others in our group remarked about it as well. I wonder if part of it was a mentality of “screw the rich Yanks who won’t spring for caddies” … although I suspect it was more an attitude where they assume the worst about American golfers and that the guys they are caddying for will only tip them a lot if they are solely focused on them and getting the best score out of them.
I’m curious if others noticed this as well. Again, this was not the case at most of the other courses and I suspect part of that is the difference between having members caddie for you as opposed to “professional” caddies.
Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post! I love hearing thoughts from readers, especially those as thought provoking as your comment. I posed your question to Twitter today and the responses were very interesting! Here are my thoughts, which match many of the opinions voiced on Twitter:
Caddie experiences differ greatly from caddie to caddie, course to course, and day to day. I’m sorry to hear that you had a couple of bad days caddie-wise in St Andrews! Unfortunately, I witnessed exactly what you speak about during my time in St Andrews.
At a very busy golf center like St Andrews, caddies can be caddying up to 14 rounds per week. Some of the caddies view their job as shuttling golfers around the course as quickly as possible while meeting minimum requirements for their tip. Something like giving attention to the non-paying members of the group falls outside that minimum effort.
From what I saw while playing all over Scotland, this “zombie state caddying” mainly happened at these extremely busy golf epicenters. As you said, smaller courses have members caddying in many cases, and not only are they caddying as a secondary job or in retirement, but they are also extremely proud to show off their home course. This is something that is not always found in professional caddies, and it is a shame that a few of these caddies have stuck in your mind so strongly. A caddie can really add to a golfing experience… Hopefully you’ll see the good side of the St Andrews caddies when you make it back next!
Thanks again for the well thought out comment! Hopefully it will spark even more conversation.
Eight of us are going on a trip to Ireland and Scotland in late August this year. We’re playing a number of rounds at some of the most famous courses in the world but also a number rounds at hidden gems. The question I have, is not all of the guys want a caddy for each round. Even on the courses where they’ve never played before. But typically there will be at least one caddy in each group. In the past in Scotland the caddies were always friendly and more than willing to give it advice on the right lines off the tees and the best approachs to the green for all members of the group. I’ve always tipped the caddy but I never knew exactly how much would be appropriate. How much should you tip a caddy who does not carry your clubs but does provide some valuable advice throughout your round?
Hi Randy, Great question! I actually ran into this three days ago at Trump Turnberry. I was the guy who didn’t have a caddie, but the one in our group gave me great lines off tees, etc. I would suggest throwing in an extra £10-£20 as a nice gesture, but use your judgement of course. You’re already ahead of the game just knowing that you should tip in that scenario. I’ve seen many a round where caddies helped the whole group and didn’t get anything extra. Long story short, £10 would be a nice thank you and £20 is what I would give if the caddie was a great help.
Three ladies playing for the first time in Scotland next month. We want to enjoy the course but think a fore caddy would really help us get around more smoothly.
What’s the appropriate tip?
We’ll be in Scotland in 2021. With my budget in line, I’m planning on taking a caddie for the Old, Castle, and Carnoustie. the other courses as of now I’m planning on looping. I’ve heard Kingsbarn is a course where you can get away w/o a Caddie ? I’ve heard that everything is right in front of you – no real blind shots. With the price of Kingsbarns I’d love to save a little there if possible. Do you have any thoughts on that ?
Hi Joe, great question! You’re right. With all of the courses you named there, Kingsbarns is definitely the one where you could get away with just the yardage book and no caddie. There’s little in the way of blind shots or quirky/unexpected turns. You’re going to play some excellent courses – enjoy it!