The history behind who’s carrying your golf bags

Before golf carts for golf bags, there were caddies. They are a dying breed now, but they are still the fodder of golf whale tales, the butt of jokes, and the subject of Hollywood movies.

There’s the famous old caddie William Gunn, a.k.a. Caddie Willie, who apparently labored most of his adult life at the illustrious St. Andrews course in Scotland. Then there is the lore of the caddie shack, where all sorts of unmentionables perhaps occurred out of sight of a club’s members. And who can forget the hilarious movie of the same name that forever changed the way we thought about groundskeepers, gophers, and country club members.

No one expert has the same opinion how caddies came to carry golf bags around a course. Perhaps the most mythic explanation is that the early caddies were true students of the game, far better than the players for whom they toiled. The caddie only worked the course to better understand how to beat it. The best evidence for this theory came in 1913, when Francis Oimet, a former American caddie, defeated the two best British golf pros at the time, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in the U.S. Open.

Every since the 1940s, when golf carts were introduced, caddies have been fighting an uphill battle to survive. Today, most country clubs own a stable of electric or gas powered carts that provide the quickest and easiest way for a player to zip around a course. Players who want to still walk can either carry their own golf bags or tow a pull cart behind them. As for caddies, they can be too expensive for players, and too difficult for a club to keep around. What is lost, though, is a little bit of tradition, and somebody to rake the sand trap for you!

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