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Mark's Kaddy Korner : Senior British Open
A Caddy's perspective of the great event
Posted Jul 26, 2011 by Mark's Kaddy Korner
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I’ve been through London many times but never spent a week; I was actually a bit nervous about the trip. We’d heard many good things about Walton Heath GC, the host of the 1981 Ryder Cup and numerous European events but with everything going on our living arrangements were a bit sketchy and the week got off to a rough start.
Our hotel arrangements were set up last minute; my buddy Al, Steve Pate’s caddy and I were sharing a room with Barry, Bob Tway’s sidekick plus a rental car between the two of us. Al refused to drive, I was his chauffeur, his only driving was from the back seat, and it got a bit testy at times. Monday morning was shaky, our flights arrived at the same time but at different terminals miles apart and we failed to hook up. It was one of those “clusterthings”, I’ll spare you the details.
Al hooked up with his boss eventually, caught a ride to the course and I left for the Prince of Wales Pub B&B in Reigate about fours after landing. Garmin wasn’t working, I had to do it the old fashioned way feeling my way to our digs. Reading a map, shifting with my left hand, driving on the right side, working the clutch and brake with my left foot plus being lost in a foreign country is no way to start your week.
Caddies aren’t a pretty sight after flying all night then getting slightly lost a few times searching for their hotel, cranky and stinky come to mind. I tried to look presentable on their doorstep but the English are brutally honest and shooed me to my room for a quick shower before heading for the course. The “ensuite" third floor room was quaintly cozy, three single beds, a desk, stand up closet, dresser and 12” flat screen TV tucked into a clean, comfortable 15X15 corner of the building. We could have held hands while sleeping but it was perfect and the shower was wonderful, something you don’t often find overseas.
Bob wasn’t coming in till Tuesday, these English layouts need a lot of work before tee time and the forecast was typical UK, rain, cold and clouds. We’re spoiled in the States with our manicured courses, GPS generated yardage books with gridded greens, large sprinkler heads with yardage markers glaring at you. A seasoned caddy could get around any course blind with one of our books, not so here in bloody ol’ England.
“Two Bags”, a washed-up, conniving old caddy overcharges us for the books. The numbers are decent but the graphics are lousy. He’s you’re long lost best friend before you fork over 20 quid then doesn’t talk to you the rest of the week, if anybody else was selling a book they’d get my business. It takes a couple of days to get comfortable with his mish-mash but after a lot of work you can get around the course comfortably.
The first jaunt around Walton Heath was painful. The cold damp weather on top of the long overnight flight sunk deep into this old body but the course was an absolute delight, a pure gem one caddy called it. I spent a good four hours making sense of the book, charting what I could of the greens and getting our lines off the tees, probably the most important detail around an inland links course. By the time I met Bob Tuesday afternoon I felt comfortable but he could only make it through 11 holes. Jet lag set in, he looked at me after putting on 11 and said, “I’m done, stick a fork in me. How do we get to the clubhouse from here?” We trudged in looking forward to our Wednesday 8:00 practice round with Tom Watson.
You couldn’t get to our room without passing through the pub, what a shame. Every afternoon, sometimes evenings, the same smiling faces where perched on their bar stools with Keith or Theresa manning the bar. It was quite the menagerie and the six caddies staying in the three upstairs rooms fit in quite nicely. All walks of life gathered downstairs along with their dogs, they all couldn’t have been nicer. We gathered tournament tickets for the patrons and they couldn’t do enough for us.
Donnie, a wiry little Terrier, held down the corner bar stool sipping only Guinness and stealing crisps (potato chips) from anyone. He’d jump in anyone’s lap but give them a quick growl if they had his stool, I got it once. Gunner, Keith and Teresa’s stout Bulldog mix wouldn’t let you past their second floor living quarters without a vicious butt scratching. He’d block the narrow stairwell until his hind end was properly massaged.
We had an absolute blast with everyone in the little town. Everything was in walking distance and by the end of the week folks were flagging us down when we walked by wondering how the round went. The only disappointment was our golf bets at the local gambling parlor.
Tom whiffed his tee time Wednesday, nine straight days of golf had worn him out, but we played a quick 18 with Jim Carter and Rick Llewalyn, an ex-Champions Tour caddy. Another caddy, Damon Green also teed it up and made the cut. It was important we saw the last six holes, probably the most demanding six hole stretch I can remember. There were a couple of converted par fives, gaping bunkers, lovely but disastrous gorse sprinkled everywhere and if you got through this gauntlet at level par you passed a few guys.
Our tee times were late-early with Steve Pate and Eamon Darcy, the “Human Volcano and my roomy’s man along with the ugliest swing in golf. It was a unique threesome and by the 11th hole we were -4 tied for the lead and playing quite well. After our birdie putt dropped on 11 our well meaning scorekeeper placed her arm on my shoulder and whispered quietly, “You’re man is such a lovely player and a marvelous putter. We’ll probably be watching him hoist the trophy Sunday afternoon.”
She was gentle lady, avid golfer, somewhere in her mid 60s but I wanted to slap the crap out of her as we walked to the 12th tee. The “kiss of death” had been firmly placed on our bag ----- we bogied 12, three putted 13 and finished even par for the day. The miserable weather didn’t help the day because my raingear was warm and dry in my car. Everyone else was bundled up, I was in shorts and a golf shirt. It wasn’t bad but “Pater” walked by a few times mumbling, “Please tell me your @$%*(@& cold!” We all survived, Darcy and Pate making the cut on the number and we were -1 going into the weekend.
It never happens. You never get paired with your roommate and by Friday night Al and I had seen enough of each. We kept our distance over the weekend, he was teeing off early I was late and Al was losing all his bets, not a happy camper with his back going out on him Friday afternoon. My body was holding up but fading fast.
Theresa whipped up a proper English breakfast for the late tee time caddies Saturday morning. Eggs, sausage, baked tomatoes, bacon, ham, beans, black pudding (you don’t want to know), fries, coffee and few other things. I cleaned my plate and then some, it was delicious until the back nine. Let’s just say my shorts were warm, I didn’t stand in front of anyone and I kept checking the wind carefully. Everyone kept their distance and I had to be careful on the cramped par 3 tee boxes.
We shot a couple under and went into Sunday tied for 13th four shots back, we had a nice chance to do some damage, and maybe win a tournament. You never know in this game, Des Moines proved that. Bob woke up hurting, almost had to withdraw, but battled his way around the tough track after a precarious start. Two cameramen distracted him on the 3rd hole causing a three putt bogey and we missed three other short ones on the front nine.
We were reeling, 3 over through 9, so I told him a quick joke walking down the 10th fairway. It was terrible but he birdied 11 and 18 coming in, parring the difficult stretch in between. Bob’s the best grinder I’ve ever worked for, he may piss and moan a bit like all pro golfers, but he never gives up. We finished -2 tied for 16th and a very respectable week.
It was a fine week made extra special by the folks at the Prince of Wales Pub B&B. Keith and Theresa Wild and the rest of the crew treated us like family, hopefully we’ll cross paths again. The fans, volunteers and clubhouse crew couldn’t have been more gracious. They loved having us here as much as we enjoyed Walton Heath.
If you ever get the chance spend some time in the English countryside around Reigate, Epsom and Walton Heath. London is overrated, dirty and expensive; this is the place to enjoy England according to Brian Barnes, long time British golfer and world traveler turned golf commentator. We’ll definitely be back, I hope.
- Mark Huber