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12 Fev

More Caddies Please!

Keith Barrett

According to a research paper published by Loughborough University, a good caddie/player relationship can improve an elite golfer’s performance by as much as 30%. Now I must confess, this is hardly earth shattering news - it’s something which has been widely recognised on professional tours for a long time, but it did start me thinking about where in Portugal the average amateur can hire somebody to carry their bag. Sadly, there was only one course which readily sprang to mind – Estoril - virtually every other golf club, as far as I’m aware, is caddie free.

Most busy courses here have a golf service team, the leader of which is usually referred to as the Caddie Master, but really they should be called the Buggy Master. There are numerous courses in the US, UK, Africa and Asia where caddies are alive and kicking, but in Continental Europe they’re a rare species. This is a crying shame because playing with a competent caddie is tremendous fun.

Several years ago I was invited to play in South Africa - a country where loopers are commonplace - and part of our trip included 18 holes at Sun City where we were allocated some excellent caddies. Believe me, the game was so much more enjoyable with somebody who knew the course, was willing to have a chat and happy to share a joke. Indeed, we were so impressed that we booked a second visit and requested the same caddies.

So why don’t more courses in Portugal follow suit to enhance their visitor experience? I know I’d rather pay €40 for a caddie than share a buggy for €20. Of course most of that €40 would rightly go into the caddie’s pocket and not the coffers of the golf club, and therein lies the problem - most golf directors would find it difficult to justify that loss of revenue with their employer. But if I had a memorable day out I’d be tempted to play the course again, and surely repeat green fee business is always welcome. Maybe those course owners who want their facility to stand out from the crowd should have a serious rethink about only offering their customers trolleys and buggies.

However, this chain of thought does possess one potentially weak link – the caddie. A poor looper can rapidly turn a pleasant round into a nightmare. I remember playing in the Azores Open at Batalha GC many years ago and the organisers had arranged for every competitor to have a caddie. Mine was a youth who had no idea at all about golf or the course, which was okay if he’d kept quiet and just carried the bag, but he wasn’t prepared to do that. On the sixth hole I found a horrible lie in a bunker and, as I was about to extricate my ball from under its lip, I heard him say, that’s a terrible place to be, you’ve got absolutely no chance from there! Not surprisingly our relationship deteriorated from that moment onwards.

As we finished the ninth he handed me the driver and disappeared into the clubhouse. I subsequently teed off and walked down the tenth. My two playing partners hit their second shots to the green, but I was left stranded in the middle of the fairway for another ten minutes, praying that I wasn’t going to be put on the clock for slow play. When my caddie eventually reappeared – hurtling down the fairway with clubs flying all over the place – I grabbed an iron and promptly thinned my shot through the green. Disaster!

Fortunately golf buggies don’t possess an opinion and in that respect they’re preferable, but it does annoy me intensely when I see courses stating that players must use one. Why, if I’m physically capable of walking 18 holes, should I be forced to ride in a cart? Golf is a sport for goodness sake which by definition implies a certain degree of physical exertion, so making golfers forego that important element of the game seems ludicrous.

The argument, which is often put forward by these buggy only clubs, is that the course is very long and walking will create delays. Now that may indeed be true if the distance between holes is substantial, but when two people share a buggy the ready golf  concept (playing as soon as you’re ready rather than waiting for your turn) becomes redundant. Things get even more sloth like when clubs impose a keep on the buggy path at all times policy. Golfers end up going to and fro, carrying three or four clubs for every shot, and the game deteriorates into a tedious exercise in lateral walking.

Plus, there’s no way you can fully appreciate how a course should be played if you’re spending most of your time looking at it from a buggy path. It must be very frustrating for a course architect who creates a masterpiece only to see it being played from such a limited perspective – like studying a Van Gogh using just your peripheral vision.

Thankfully there isn’t a course in Portugal that insists on players using buggies - they may strongly recommend them but they're not compulsory. Nor are there many courses where you have to stay on buggy paths - unless it’s extremely wet underfoot. Which is all good news. However, it would be nice to have the option of hiring a caddie, just so long as they keep their thoughts to themselves and don’t go AWOL mid-round! 

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