The King and I

In 1964 I was crazy for baseball.  I played every day.  The Detroit Tigers were my team.  I listened to every inning of every game on the radio and enjoyed the very occasional visit to Tiger Stadium to watch a game in person, usually games against the hated Yankees.  I was sure that Al Kaline was a god.  I was a bat boy for the International League AAA London Majors and I was an avid baseball card collector. You got 6 cards for 5 cents with a piece of gum from a pack of Topps or O-Pee-Chee cards; by the time I was 8 years old in 1964 I must have had more than 1,000 cards. 

 

It was my love of baseball (and card collecting) that took me to golf.  With the exception of birthdays and Christmas, my parents refused to fund my habit so I was desperate to find a way to get my card 'fix'. My friend John who shared my obsession with baseball cards suggested that I join him at the London Hunt Club and try my hand at caddying.  I had no clue what a hunt club was, or a caddy for that matter, but when he told me I could earn $8 in one day, he got my attention. Since I had just finished the 3rdgrade my algebraic competency was a bit lacking so I had no idea how many cards I could get for $8...I just knew it was A LOT!  Surely it would take me only one weekend of work and I would finally have the only Tiger card I was missing....KALINE! I couldn't wait.

John banged on my door at 5:30AM the next Saturday, rousting my family from bed.  With my eyes half shut I asked John, "why 5:30". "If we get out early we can get out twice and make $16", replied John. Instantly, I forgot that it was the middle of the night, that my dog was barking incessantly, that my family was angry at me, and all of my apprehension about hunting or caddying or whatever I was doing melted away... all I could think of was KALINE. 

After a furious bike ride we arrived at the Hunt Club minutes later, where I was surprised to find out that the Hunt Club actually had nothing to do with hunting, rather it was and still is a Golf Club.   Masking my disappointment that guns were to play no part of my day, I glumly followed John around behind the Pro Shop to the caddy bench where we found Sandy - a portly Scot dressed in a wool jacket, tie, waistcoat and plus fours.  Judging by the aroma I don't think he or his his clothes had been washed since the war.  Looking down his large, veined nose at me with disdain he barked, "sit ye over theer laddie and DINNA MOVE! 

I sat at the end of the bench, glaring at my friend John who had yanked me out of bed in the middle of the night to bring me to this strange place only to be yelled at by a large stinky man.  To top it off...no shooting, no guns.  Luckily for John, Sandy called his name and he disappeared around the front of the Pro Shop.  Soon all of the other boys were called and they disappeared leaving me alone with the woolly beast. 7 o'clock became 8 o'clock, and then 9 o'clock. Still just me and Sandy.  He grunting and farting, me trying my best to DINNA MOVE.  Finally the fact that I rushed out of the house before going to the bathroom caught up with me and I began to squirm.  Sandy caught me moving out of the corner of his eye and yelled, are ye deef lad? I said dinna move! If ye dinna stop fussin you'll geet nae bag.  Now seet still!   Another hour passed with me shifting from cheek to cheek, only when Sandy was looking away, desperately trying not to pee my pants.

Finally at around 10:30 Sandy yelled "laddie up ye geet, away to the furst tee".  Tiptoeing away from the caddy bench, I hopped to the first tee where a husband and wife were waiting for me. Sandy joined us and made introductions.  I was the 'new wee lad', they were Mr. and Mrs. Something or other.  Let's call them the Havercamps. "Yewl pack fur both", chortled Sandy. As he turned to go I'm certain I saw a glint of evil in his murky eyes.

In 1964 golf bags were made of leather, single strapped and heavy.

In 1964 I was made of skin and bones. I may have weighed 70 pounds.

I soon caught on that I was expected to carry these clubs around the course. Did I mention it was 90 degrees with 100% humidity? Well, it was.

This was caddying. 

I had never set foot on a golf course before, I didn't know the difference between a divot and driver.  The Havercamps each sported complete sets including leather head covers, umbrellas, ball retrievers, and what felt like 600 golf balls.

Knowing that disaster was about to strike, I excused myself, ran behind the bushes and spent an exquisite 4 and half minutes emptying my bladder. I arrived back on the first tee chanting to myself ... KALINE, KALINE, KALINE.

Off we went, me always 20 yards behind, dropping one bag or another off my boney shoulders, always standing in the wrong place, close to passing out.

Somehow I survived the day with the Havercamps. Mr. Havercamp slipped me a quarter when we left the 18th green and told me to find Sandy to get paid. 

Following my nose I found the smelly caddy master where I first met him, on the caddy bench behind the Pro Shop.

"Mr. Havercamp told me you would pay me", I said.

"Deid he?" snickered Sandy. "Weel laddie, let's see, yur a 'C' caddie, thawt ul bee furr dollars ta ye" said the beast as he peeled off 4 singles. 

Completely exhausted, sunburned, and I'm sure dehydrated, I had no energy left to argue about my pay cut.  I accepted the four dollars and stumbled off to find my bike vowing never to caddy again.

The wind in my face revived me and during the ride home and utter exhaustion was slowly replaced by euphoria realizing that I was in possession of four dollars and twenty five cents.  An absolute fortune. Riding past my house I headed to the corner store to invest my income in baseball cards.  I blew the whole wad on cards, except for 5 cents for a coke and headed home to unwrap my bounty. More than 500 cards.  That pay day was enough to inspire me to continue my career as a caddy. 

I rose through the ranks from C to A to AA caddy.  As time passed Sandy extorted less and less money from me until I was earning $10 for "packing doubles".  I was no longer the "new wee lad" but "young Jamie".  That was 4 years later and I had lost my interest in collecting baseball cards for no other reason than I had at least 10 of every card printed from 1964-1968.  Still though, baseball was my game, I had no interest in golf, never played it, only setting foot on a course to caddy.  Then one Monday (a day we never caddied), my friend John came by my house and told me we just HAD TO get to the Hunt Club because Arnold Palmer was there.  This meant nothing to me.  . In fact my parents related years later that I told them I was off to the course to meet Arnold "Parker".  On John's insistence I hopped on my bike and rode to the club with him. 

 

 

This was to be a decision that changed my life. 

Arnold Palmer was at the Hunt Club to film a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf.

All of the caddies had the same reaction when we first saw him. We wanted to be him.  We trailed behind Arnie for every minute of the entire day.  We were soon hitching our pants and pretending to smoke like him.  We tried to swing like him and walk like him. When filming was over for the day he told us to meet him back at the putting green where he spent a couple of hours with us, showing us how to chip and putt, talking to us and getting to know us.  Imagine, getting to know caddies.  When it was time for him to go, he shook each of our hands, looked us in the eye, called us by name, and encouraged us to play golf.  

That was the moment for me, that baseball was replaced by golf. I turned in my glove for a seven iron and played and practised every day from dawn to dark. Seven years later I had won a national junior golf championship and I was attending an American university on a golf scholarship. After that I chose golf as a career. It's safe to say that a random meeting with "Arnold Parker" had a profound influence on my life.

I was lucky enough to have another encounter with Arnie as an adult and that one was as emotional and special to me as that day at the Hunt.

Arnold Palmer passed away on September 25th at the age of 87 and the world of golf is still reeling. I'm certain that like me, anyone that ever got the chance to meet him and shake his hand was sure that he would never die. Indeed his legacy of style and grace never will.

Do me a favour. When you play next, before you hit your first shot, flick a pretend cigarette away, hitch your pants and remember The King.

 

Jim Goddard