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New Years Wishes

Dermot Gilleece's humerous stories and new years wishes

Posted Dec 28, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

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The birth of a new year can have contrasting impacts on devotees of golf, especially in the craft of caddying.  There are stories of Californian bagmen being warned as to their language; of industrial unrest in the caddyshack at Lahinch and of arduous journeys south, by the legendary Caddie Willie, in the wake of Hogmanay among Gaelic-speaking friends in the Scottish Highlands.

Willie, who was a kind of 18th century Johnny Fortycoats, carried his wardrobe on his back, removing the sleeves of his jackets so as to wear one on top of another.  The same applied to trousers, vests and bonnets, and true to the distinguished golfing fraternity of the time, his outer garment was invariably an old red coat.

From a rented garret, he would offer his services to the members of the Royal Burgess Society who, appropriately, became the owners of an original painting of Caddie Willie from which countless, later prints were made. Baps and milk were the mainstay of his simple diet and there was no money for a fire in his humble abode, not even in the depths of winter.

In 1932, more than a century after Willie disappeared back to the Highlands never to be seen again, caddies at four exclusive courses on the Monterey Peninsula, including Cypress Point, were put on notice that they had better improve their English and manners, "or else."  

Then there were those who succumbed to the lure of filthy lucre, promoting Brud Slattery, the legendary secretary of Lahinch GC, to have a serious, new year chat with his caddie-master, a generation ago.  "These holes-in-one will have to stop," insisted Brud.  "I don't want to hear of another one this year."

The aces, of course, were all reported at "The Dell", the old sixth which is now the fifth.  Here, given a blind tee-shot over a towering dune, caddies could dupe their American masters into thinking they had scored a hole in one, which would be good for a $10 tip.  With aces being reported two and three times each week, seriously sceptical Slattery decided to call a halt.

The upshot was the first industrial agreement involving Irish caddies.  So as to compensate for loss of hole-in-one revenue, it was agreed they would receive an increase from 17/6 (seventeen shillings and sixpence) to £1 per round.  And so, peace descended once more on the charming village on the west coast of Clare.  

Incidentally, though naturally right-handed, Brud’s son Padraig, the 2004 captain of Portmarnock GC, believes he took up golf left-handed as a mirror-image of his father's golf, just as happened for Phil Mickelson.  All of which prompted Furman Bisher, veteran columnist with the Atlanta Journal and a proud left-handed writer and golfer, to actually cite scripture in praise of the so-called sinister brigade.  Quoting the 16th verse from Chapter 20 of the Book of Judges, which refers to the children of Benjamin lining up against the children of Israel - "Among all these people there were 700 chosen men left-handed; every one could sling stones at a hair-breadth and not miss."  Sadly, no mention of smiting ball with club...

Looking towards the coming season I have three special wishes. The first is that Padraig Harrington will somehow recapture the magic which brought him three Major championships. The second is that another Irishman, Rory McIlroy, will take his rightful place at the top of the world golf rankings while winning another Major title.  And the third is that Europe’s dominance of world’s golf, which extended to a marvellous women’s triumph in the Solheim Cup last September, will continue to be reflected by our men, when the Ryder Cup takes place at Medinah, Chicago, on September 28th to 30th.  

And if all of these eminently realistic thoughts leave us tempted to diminish the game's embryonic years in the last century as being grim and impoverished, we should note the reflections of the great Gene Sarazen. "The parties were frequent," he said in a memorable new year observation, "the girls were pretty, the drinks were long and the stock-market was as strong as an ox."  Now there's something worth wishing for in 2012!

Either way, if the New Year delivers as many golfing moments to gladden our hearts as we have enjoyed during the one just passing, we will be truly blessed.  Happy New Year!

- Dermot Gilleece

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