Back in the 1700s in Scotland, if you made your living doing odd jobs, you were known as a cawdy. It came from the French word cadet, which in both French and English describes a student military officer. The Scottish vernacular probably evolved from the organized, structured groups the cawdies eventually formed.
Cawdies who lived near universities often took jobs working for students. As you know, there’s a very prestigious university in St. Andrews, just a well-struck mid-iron from The Home of Golf. As legend has it, those odd jobs often included carrying golf clubs. Another legend going back even further is that noted golfer and eventual headless monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, used military cadets to tote her clubs around.
Cawdy? Caddie? Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?
For most of us, a round of golf with a caddy is an expensive treat. But if it’s a bucket list course – Pebble, Bandon, Whistling Straights – you go ahead and splurge. And if you visit the Old Course at St. Andrews, you definitely want to hire a cawdy.
Meet Brett Murray
Earlier this year, your faithful MyGolfSpy correspondent spent a week in St. Andrews; a seven-day bacchanalia of golf, golf, and more golf that included two rounds on the Old Course. To get the full Old Course experience you need to hire a caddie and, by sheer luck, I drew Brett Murray – no relation to Bill (that we know of) – for the first round. We had such a hoot, I asked for him for the second round.
“I lived here most of my life,” says the affable and always smiling Brett. “I went to high school here; my parents live in a village just outside of town. I’ve played here for 20 years, and I’m a member of the New Golf Club.”
Unless you’re Stevie Williams or Joe LaCava, you won’t get rich caddying, even at St. Andrews. Caddies there – as they are at most courses – are independent contractors, earning their standard fee of 55 pounds ($69) plus gratuity, usually another 20 to 25 pounds ($25-$30). That’s roughly $100 for a four-hour round, or $25 an hour.
“Last year I carried around 200 rounds – I usually do ten bags a week,” says the 35-year old Brett, who also works as a general assistant at the New Club. “I get very busy during the busy months when I’m required, but when it starts to quiet off, so does my caddying.”
In case you’re wondering, yes, the caddies do call it the “Caddy Shack,” and yes, they do tend to, uhhh, enjoy themselves.
“The caddy way of life, the guys work hard and they play hard, as well,” says Brett. “It’s easy to go out drinking with the guys, spend time with them. Relationships outside of work can sometimes get a bit hairy because you spend more time with the guys you work with than you do with the girlfriend, you know?”
That, of course, is true of any profession.
“I get on well with pretty much everyone in the shack,” says Brett. “There’s no real bad blood or vibes. There can be, sometimes, heated relationships in the shack, but I’m kind of an all-rounder.”
“Respect The Game”
It has been said since caddies – like strippers – work for tips, so of course, they’re going to be your best buddy on the course. But when someone genuinely loves what they’re doing and genuinely wants you to enjoy the experience, well, there’s no faking that.
“I love being out there, and I like to help people,” says Brett, who is a low single-digit handicapper and an accomplished amateur. “I can teach them, show them a couple of things. If they can understand why elements of their game are going wrong, and if I can help them, that makes it all the better. It makes it more fulfilling.”
There is one type of golfer Brett doesn’t enjoy, however.
“My worst bug is a guy who throws clubs about,” he says. “I can’t stand it. It’s a gentleman’s game. Respect the game. I just don’t have time for that. This is the honey pot, so to speak. It’s the Home of Golf, and people are here on vacation. I know people want to play well, but, you know, golf.”
“I’m a low handicap guy myself. I can shoot low numbers and I can shoot high numbers – I just shot a high number a few weeks ago. That’s golf. Sometimes it all goes your way and other times nothing goes right.” – Brett Murray
During our first round, Brett started out giving me yardages to the flag and aim points off the tee, as well as help reading greens. As we progressed and he learned my strengths (and especially my weaknesses), he was more pro-active, but always making sure I was confident in the shot I was about to hit.
Nowhere was this more important than on the Road Hole. Brett told me to hit the ball right over the V in the low shed annex, and for once my tee ball went exactly where I wanted: it disappeared over the shed and landed in the middle of the fairway. For the second shot he gave me the yardage and said to hit the club I felt best about, but he grabbed the hosel of the five iron and flipped it up and down as if to say, “pick me, pick me.”
Was Brett a good caddy? My first round was an 83, and if I had actually hit some of the putts on the lines he showed me, it could have been an 80 or even lower. Brett’s caddy skills really shone during the second round. I was hacking it up like Rodney in the big match with Judge Smails and Dr. Beeper, but with Brett’s help, I was able to scrape together an 84 that could have easily been a 94.
“The secret to scoring on the Old Course? Pace putting has to be good,” says Brett. “You can spray it a bit off the tee as long as your recovery shots with your irons are good. Direction, of course, is important, but a lot of amateurs forget pace is more important than line.”
“I believe you’ve got to try to earn trust starting on the first tee box and the first few putts,” he adds. “If you don’t earn that trust early, it’s going to be a long day for a caddie.”
Aside from carrying the bag for a genuine MyGolfSpy staff writer, Brett has caddied for his fair share of high-profile golfers. One of his favorites was musician Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys.
“He hits the ball fairly well,” says Brett. “He should shoot a lot lower, but he’s always on tour, so he doesn’t have time for an official handicap.”
At that time, the film The Departed had just come out in the UK, and Brett was a fan of the song “Shipping Up to Boston.”
“It was a wet day, so he had all his rain gear on, but you could see under his Under Armor he had tattooed arms and neck tattoos. I didn’t recognize him, but when he said I’m Ken Casey, I said ‘oh, is that you?’ And he said ‘yeah.’ They were touring the UK at the time and he came up to play.”
And then there was the time he carried a brand new set of Titleist AP-3’s for Hugh Grant.
“He’s a good player, but he didn’t know how far he hit his AP-3’s because he only had them three for four days,” says Brett. “So I says ‘okay, this could be interesting.’”
“When I’m carrying for someone, before you get to know them and their status, you just tell them the yardage and let them pick the club. Well, he didn’t know what clubs to pick. He did say he hit the new irons farther than his old irons, but he really didn’t know his distances with his old irons, either. So it made it quite difficult.”
“He’s a good player, though, He’s pretty handy. Nice guy.”
Then there was the round toting clubs for the famous Duke of York, Prince Andrew.
“Very good player, plays off a 3,” says Brett. “He was playing quite well until we got to 17. He hit it into the hotel, and I think that was pretty much it.”
Brett says the Prince was playing with the current Captain of the R&A during the Dunhill.
“During the R&A medals, they have a lot of caddy requests,” he says. “Prince Andrew has a regular caddy, but he wasn’t in the caddy shack at the time. So when the request came in, I said ‘perfect, I’ll do it.”
I asked Brett if any of the above were good tippers or cheapskates, but there is, at St. Andrews at least, a caddy’s code of Omerta.
Look it up.
As mentioned earlier, Brett is a competitive amateur who carries a 2 handicap, so he’s an accomplished tournament player with two Major club victories this year. His best round at the Old Course is an even-par 72.
“I’ve shot it, I think, 14 times now,” says Brett. “I won the Winter Meeting at the start of the year. I drove the green on 18 – it was a heavy downwind – and had a small put of maybe two feet for birdie. It was inside right, and I pushed it right, I knew I pushed it right as soon as I hit it.”
So after finishing up and shaking hands, Brett did what any other golfer would do – go back and roll that same damn putt again.
“I took it back and tried it three times. Every time – inside right, inside right, inside right – canned it three times in a row. That’s just a 71 in the back of my mind saying, ‘be 1-under, be 1-under,’ and I’m just not doing it.”
“That’s my problem. It’s that six inches between the ears that’s my downfall.”
Brett’s an old school golfer, gaming MaxFli Australian blades and a Titleist 904F 4-wood in his quest for scratch. He does admit feeling a bit intimidated when carrying for players who are scratch or better, but adds not all the caddies at St. Andrews actually play.
“Only about 50% of us play, but the ones that don’t play do know exactly what’s right and exactly what’s wrong,” he says. “They know the course. It’s interesting, some of the best caddies in the shack don’t play golf at all.”
I don’t know where Brett stands in the hierarchy of St. Andrews caddies, but from this standpoint he’s exactly what you look for in a caddie when playing a bucket list course: plenty of local knowledge, enough understanding of the golf swing to help you along and the kind of personality you’d thoroughly enjoy for a four hour stroll through golf’s hallowed ground.
“This is the mecca of golf,” he says. “I mean, coming here, a lot of people would kill to come across and play St. Andrews. Not everyone can.”