November 19, 2014
By Michael Calvert
I knew little about golf and even less about rich people and Jews when Ronnie and I set out to become caddies at Winding Hollow Country Club. We were about to graduate from St. Gabriel Elementary and our appetite for cherry cokes, submarine sandwiches, and pepperoni pizza had grown as we entered our teens. The latest fads in shirts, sweaters, and shoes had become important to us. Girls at the skating rinks, movie theaters and the soda fountain attracted us. All required money.
On the first warm Saturday of spring, Ronnie and I hitchhiked to the country club on 3C Highway, the state route that connected Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. The country club was surrounded by farms although a few suburban homes had been built recently along the highway. Our second ride dropped us at the entrance of Winding Hollow. Brass plaques bolted to the columns proclaimed the identity of the expansive grounds within. Stone columns flanked by low walls and shrubbery marked the driveway. Wrought iron gates attached to the columns stood open.
Ronnie and I expected a uniformed guard to confront us as we walked down the long asphalt driveway lined with flowering dogwoods. We spotted a red Cadillac El Dorado convertible with the top down in the parking lot. Ordinary Cadillacs, Lincolns, Chryslers, and a couple of foreign sports cars were also noted.
A old man in a green work clothes trimming shrubs directed us to the caddy house w behind the pro shop, a one-story building with a covered porch and wicker chairs. Men wearing colorful shirts and slacks milled about on the porch. Two-toned cylindrical bags bristling with golf clubs rested against the columns. Some of the clubs sported colorful wool covers with tassels. Two golf carts were parked casually nearby.
One one side of the building a few men and women practiced their putting, gently tapping balls from one flag to another on an elegant golf green. The putters and the balls were the only things the putting green had in common with the gaudy miniature golf courses where Dad had taken Kathy and me. Beyond the practice green, a long line of men and women were hitting balls into a field with signs marking 100, 200, and 250 yards from the golfers. On the other side of the pro shop lie the golf course itself. In the distance four golfers and their caddies were approaching a green marked by a flag with the number one.
In front of the pro shop on a raised area of flat ground four men were preparing to hit toward the green which was more than four football fields away. Ronnie and I watched the first two wind up, swing their club in a graceful arc, and hit the ball with a thwack.
As we watched the flight of the ball, a gruff voice muttered, “Caddy House is in the back.”
Ronnie and I turned to see a comically short fat man waddling away from us toward the pro shop. A chartreuse golf shirt and yellow pants with a pattern of tiny golf flags bisected by a white woven belt. Rolls of fat hanging over his belt wobbled with every step His shape was the same as a colorful top my little sister repeatedly asked me to spin for her.
A gate in a high wood fence led to a large roofed area with an asphalt floor like a large car port and a scruffy yard with a basketball goal with a patch of dirt in front of it. A couple of dozen boys occupied benches around the perimeter of the covered area. Some sat with elbows on knees staring ahead, others slumped in corners with their eyes closed, and one whittled with a pen knife. Some stood around on the asphalt beneath the roof and a few were listlessly shooting a basketball at the naked rim in the yard.
“All you new guys. I’m Jack, your caddy master. Listen up, rookies.” said the fat man from a serving window. “Caddy school begins in ten minutes under the tree out there. Mike Podolski will be in charge. Pay attention to him. He’s been the caddy most often requested by members for years, and he’s going to be on Ohio State’s golf team next year. Make sure you’re on the list to caddy today. First come, first out.”
After signing the list, Ronnie and I followed several boys making their way to the shade under the large oak tree behind the fence. A tall young man with wavy blonde hair stood by the tree, clip board in hand. When the boys had formed a semi-circle around him, he said, “Caddying is something you’ll learn mostly by doing it. Jack will pair you with an experienced caddy, but you need to know a few basic things before you go out with a member.”
“First rule: be quiet and stand still when the member is shooting. No belching, farting, coughing or sneezing. No scratching your head or your balls. Hold the bag still so the clubs don’t rattle. If you make any noise and the member hooks or slices into the rough, it’ll be your fault. No tip for you and maybe a complaint to Jack. He can ban you for just one complaint and you can bet your ass he’ll ban you for two or three.
Second rule: find the ball. Keep your eye on the ball and line up where it lands with a tree or something on the horizon. Walk toward that tree and walk fast. The sooner you get there, the more time you have to find it, especially if it’s in high grass in the rough. If it goes into the woods, try to follow it as it bounces off branches. Look as long as the member wants to look. All these Jews are rich, but they are so damn cheap they hate to lose a golf ball.
Third rule: Learn to club your members,” Podolski paused like a stand-up comedian. Some snickered and all the boys were listening again. “No, don’t smack them with a club. When you club a golfer, you’re telling them what club to use to get to the green.
For now, just say you’re new and don’t know, but learn the length of each hole and how far landmarks are from the green. Then you can tell them the yardage. Later you might suggest a three iron or a four wood, but try not to say just one. If they are short and land in the sand trap or go over the green, once again, it will be your fault.
There’s a lot more to caddying, but you’ll learn it from other caddies on the course. Now let’s go over the clubs so you can give your member the right club when he asks for it, and then we’ll talk about what to do around the green.”
Podolski reached behind him and described each of the woods and irons by number and their traditional names like wedge. Never put a bag down on a green. Don’t step in the path of a ball to the cup on the green. We moved to the putting green, where he demonstrated how to hold the flag to the pole so it doesn’t flap, stand like a statue with the flag at arm’s length, and pull it out after the ball is hit so it doesn’t block the ball.
“OK, guys. Those are the basics. Do a good job and you’ll get good tips…most of the time.”
In the caddy house, Ronnie joined a game of “horse” on the dirt court. In this game, one player shoots and, if he makes it, the following player has to make it or get a letter, H then O, R, S, E and is eliminated. Ronnie, who had a basket on his garage, had lots of practice with left-handed lay ups and long hooks that were winners in horse. Gambling was forbidden, but Ronnie won some cokes and sometimes a little money in horse.
I hung out at the counter and watched as caddies “got out” with threesomes and foursomes, and counted the names between those out on the course and ours. Cold drinks, candy bars and sandwiches could be purchased from Fat Jack as the caddies inevitably referred to him. The hot dogs and burgers were wrapped in cellophane and heated in a small electric oven that glowed orange like a toaster. We had to be famished to eat them.
I sat next to Bobby, a guy I recognized from a recent pick-up game of basketball on the playground at Mifflin High. He had caddied for two summers, and launched into a monologue when I asked him how things worked around the caddy house. If you want to make money, he said to get there early. Some guys arrived before seven in the morning to be first out. Very few, if any, golfers arrived before eight, but getting out before nine or ten might result in an afternoon round. With the usual tip, nine holes paid two dollars and required two hours unless you had a terrible hacker constantly hitting balls into the woods. Eighteen holes paid four dollars and took four hours. He assured me, “You can make some serious money if you can stand the boredom of this goddam place doesn’t get to you.”
Bobby said he had saved $420 toward the price of a baby blue ’53 Oldsmobile his uncle promised to sell him. I listened as he itemized its features including a four-barrel
carburator, a bored and stroked block, twin chrome exhausts, bucket seats, and a five- speed gear shift on the floor. His goal was to get a trophy at Johnstown Drag Strip.
“Hanging around here is bad enough, but putting up with these damn Jews when you get out is what I hate. The women are the worst. They bitch and moan if everything is not done to suit them. They’re all rich as hell. They complain to each other about their maids and cooks, and how hard it is to get god help. I guarantee you none of them ever did a lick of work, but some of them are built and not bad looking. Most are a lot younger than their husbands. They’re something to watch as they strut about.”
I asked about the men golfers. Bobby was wound up and eager to continue his lesson to a naive pupil. “These damn Jews own Columbus just like they own the world. They control all the banks, newspapers, TV stations, and everything damn thing. If they don’t own it, they hold the mortgage and control it. The fucking Jews run the whole damn world. Our preacher says they’re Christ killers and God will rain down justice on them at a time of his choosing. I hope it’s soon.” With his pronouncements made, Bobby regained his composure.
I said I had to go to the john and retreated. I suspected that he could get going on Catholics, too. I was glad I didn’t wear my St. Gabriel T-shirt or ball cap. I looked around for Ronnie to tell him what I had learned about caddying and to warn him about Bobby.
Ronnie and I got out together with two older caddies early in the afternoon. We shouldered large bags for Meyer and Sissy Schwartz. The older guys, who caddied for Harold and Debbie Goldstein, took their mentoring roles seriously, whispering instructions to us on the fine points of caddying as we walked up the fairway.
Mr. Schwartz landed in a sand trap next to the green on hole number two. He held out his hand to me as he studied how he might blast the ball out of the fine white sand that almost buried it. In a moment, he demanded, “Give me the damned sand wedge, caddy. Can’t you see I’m in a sand trap?” As I looked through the clubs trying to remember which one was the wedge, Mr. Schwartz reached over and grabbed it. After his wedge shot sent sand flying, but barely moved the ball onto the green, he tossed the club at my feet, and said, “Can you find the putter now?”
On hole number seven, Mr. Goldstein’s drive sliced into the woods and ricochetted from one tree to another like a pin ball. All four caddies speed walked into the spring undergrowth and the blanket of dried leaves covering the ground. His small white ball was not to be seen. Mr. Goldstein was right behind us, sweeping bushes aside with his club, and muttering about incompetent caddies. Two foursomes played through while we searched. Even after his wife pleaded with him to drop a ball and take the penalty, he insisted on continuing to poke through the woods. Finally he scowled and gave up.
On the next tee, Ms. Goldstein looked at me, rolled her eyes and nodded toward her husband as he concentrated on his drive over a pond to the green. His drive fell a few feet short of the green and rolled down an embankment into the pond. The string of
profanities embarrassed me. When we arrived at the edge of the pond, we could all see the ball about three feet away in the shallow green water. Mr. Goldstein glared at me and shouted, “Get the God damned ball, caddy. That’s your job!”
I kicked off my shoes and pulled off my socks, The water was a little deeper than it looked, reaching above my knees and wetting the edge of my shorts. A plume of fine mud surrounded my leg as my foot sunk deep into the soft mud. I thought of the leeches pictures in our science textbook. I was committed and my other leg was in the pond. I lunged for the ball before it disappeared in the spreading brown cloud. As soon as I scrambled onto the bank, Mr. Goldstein snatched it from my hand. I put my socks into my pocket and tugged the shoes onto my wet feet.
“We’re only playing nine holes today, Harold. I hate this damn game.” Mr. Goldstein announced as he marched to the ninth tee staring straight ahead. Harold and Sissey protested, but without much enthusiasm. His wife said nothing.
After putting out on hole number nine, the Schwartzes walked over to the back nine and Ronnie and I offered our cards for authorizing payment and ranking our performance. Mr. Goldstein grabbed them and fished a fountain pen from his pants pocket. He slashed at the ratings and jotted down an amount. He scowled at us and said, “Tell Jack his caddies need a lot more training. I don’t tip for half-assed work.” He thrust the cards at us, turned and walked toward the clubhouse. Mrs. Goldstein waited a moment and said “I’m sorry,” and gave us each two dollars.
As we walked back to the caddy house, Ronnie said “Jesus, that rich bastard will try to get us banned from Winding Hollow. Maybe the other caddies will tell Jack that Goldstein is a royal asshole.” Ronnie kicked a pine cone as hard as he could.
“Yeah, but the asshole’s a member. Jack works for him and the other members.”
“Maybe the other caddies will say to Jack that we didn’t do a bad job on our first time out. They’ll tell him that you waded into that mucky pond to get the cheap bastard’s ball.”
“His wife knows she’s married to an asshole. It was nice of her to give us that big tip, but she’s not going to speak up for us. I bet she’s afraid of him.”
We turned in our cards, got paid and made our case to Jack. He nodded and said “OK. We’ll see if he complains.”
Bobby overheard our plea and said, “What did I tell you about them God damned Jews?”
We had enough for one day and stuck our thumbs out on 3C Highway. A couple in a long white Cadillac pulled over and we climbed into the creamy leather back seat. The
woman smiled and asked if we were caddies? She said they were members and introduced herself and her husband as David and Beverly Sherrill.
“Where are you boys going?” asked Mr. Sherrill.
“Home,” said Ronnie. “We live near Mock Road and Woodlawn Avenue.”
“Near Lynn Drug Store. I can go right by there. We’re one of the investors in that store. It’s on our way home.”
The Sherrills asked where we were going to high school and what we wanted to be when we grew up. They finally dropped us in front of our houses near Lynn Drugs.
Mom was already putting a casserole in the oven. She took off her apron and sat down at the small kitchen table. “I didn’t think you’d be home before dark. How did you get home so early?”
“One of the members picked Ronnie and me in their Cadilllac and brought us all the way home. They were very nice, and they are part owners of Lynn Drugs.”
“How do you like caddying?”
“It’s a good way to make money, but those rich Jews are nasty. They own everything in Columbus and boss everyone around. A caddy is just another servant to them. The member I caddied for is going to get us banned,” I said, surprising myself with the anger I felt.
“Oh, Michael, why would he do that? Did you do something wrong?”
“No, he hit into sand traps, the woods and a pond. This rich guy’s so cheap he hates to lose a golf ball. We looked for one in the woods for twenty minutes and he made me wade into a pond to get his ball. Then he didn’t tip us and gave us bad marks. His wife knows he was being a jerk and gave us each two dollars after he stomped off. I hate that man.”
“I don’t want to hear you say that word. You shouldn’t hate anyone. He sounds pretty nasty, but most rich Jews are probably not nasty. In fact, his wife took pity on you, and you said the people who brought you home were very nice. Three of the four rich Jews you met today were good to you. Always remember that all people are just people, some nice and some not so nice.
“By the way, Michael, all Jews are not rich. Rose Cohen who works at the front desk in my office is Jewish. I know she’s not rich, and she’s a dear.”