Sign in / Join

White collar caddies

This NYT ($) story by Selena Roberts gives only passing reference to what is - to me at least - the key driving factor, but nevertheless the facts are very interesting:

Nearly a dozen black American players were on the PGA Tour 20 years ago. Now, there is only Tiger. There are many reasons behind this -— like the economics of access to country clubs, but one is not so easy to comprehend: the demise of the black caddie.

"What strikes me is that when black players were allowed on the PGA in 1961, ending the Caucasians-only clause, there was an influx of players: Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Calvin Peete and so on — and they won 20 tournaments," said Orin Starn, a cultural anthropologist at Duke University who is working on a book about golf and American society. "All of these guys got their starts in the caddie shacks. That was their way in. And if you go back farther, caddying was a way for the poor, working class and sometimes immigrant kids to climb their way into the blue-blooded world of golf as with Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen."

Somewhere along the way to riches in the Woods era, the blue-collar job of caddying went white collar, the lunch pail went executive dining room. "It's a new era," said Otis Moore, the caddie for Olin Browne. "A lot of players are letting brother-in-laws and cousins caddy for them. It's tough right now. You're an independent contractor."

Moore is one of the few black caddies left on the PGA Tour. He started his career at Augusta National Golf Club, which began allowing players to take their own caddies to the Masters in 1983.

This was supposed to be a sign of progress - an end to the black caddie in the white Augusta National jumper, a stop to Jim Crow memories and an end to subservient imagery -— but the move turned out to be unemployment for many minority-group members just as caddying became lucrative.

A drop from 12 to 1 in the number of black players is a startling figure. The proximate cause, I would argue, is the golf cart, which has replaced the caddie, a low wage job which was once attractive to young blacks.

Better employment opportunities associated with reduced discrimination may also play a role. But the long run effect of a decline in discrimination should be equalization of income and country club membership. Those factors should, over time, bring more black players into the game.

It is interesting that just being around the course, walking it with a bag, and playing opportunistically once helped black players develop sufficient skills to play on the tour. Ironically, improvements in technology and access to the labor market seem to have removed a key access point to the tour - working as a caddie - for black golfers.