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Caddies once carried a lot more weight

It’s been decades since any local course employed caddies, but when golf first began to be played in the United States, caddies were an essential part of the game.

When golf courses were first being built in our area in the 1890s, young boys were attracted to the local links with hopes of earning some extra spending money for the summer.

A typical caddie back then was 8 to 14 years old. He was expected to carry a small leather bag full of clubs and, more importantly, keep a close eye on all shots so that golf balls wouldn’t be lost.

Though the relationship between golfer and caddie was typically pleasant, there were a few amusing, rocky bumps in the road along the way.

At Cresson Springs, the area’s first golf course, the club’s opening season was disrupted in the summer of 1896 with a caddie strike. According to a local newspaper of that time:

“There are rankles in the breasts of the little urchins who hitherto have carried caddie bags and picked up balls for the price of 15 cents a round or two rounds for 25 cents. The strike came without warning, a true bolt from the sky. No one suspected that the little chaps were plotting treason. One bright morning last week the early golfers found the rendezvous under the old chestnut tree deserted, and the following notice, printed in a childish hand on the lid of an old pasteboard box, was nailed to the tree.

“The caddies will not work for less than 20 cents per game.”

It was signed, “Caddies union.”

The young boys were promptly told they could stay out. A number of non-union boys were secured, and the game went on. However, an ongoing shortage of caddies resulted in a compromise — a rate of two rounds for 35 cents. With all satisfied, the season resumed without interruption.

When Altoona’s Cricket Club opened a few years later, the caddie profession was happily taken up by youths in the city. Newspapers reported:

“The small boys in the vicinity of First Street probably take more interest in the game than any other person, for they are able to make a few dimes as caddies to the players. It is amusing to see them when a player alights from the car at the grounds. One of them is selected, and he proudly shoulders the golf sticks and steps off along with the player like a conquering hero.”

By 1917, though, golfers and caddies were again at odds again, this time at nearby Bedford Springs. According to local papers:

“Golfers in this vicinity are making an effort to stop the theft of golf balls by caddies. The evil has been gaining until now links, at times, are crowded with urchins whose chief purpose is the theft of balls. Caddies have become expert in the practice of ‘heeling’ the ball — tramping it into the soft earth while pretending to hunt for it. It is the favorite method of stealing a ball.”

While these stores are amusing, the bond between golfers and caddies grew better by the 1920s as golf became more popular in America, and golfers came to understand the importance caddies could have on their game.

In 1930, a large, county-wide, caddie tournament was hosted at Park Hills Country Club to honor local caddies. Blairmont’s Blair Whorley scored two rounds of 78 to earn the title as the area’s first caddie champion.

In the ensuing decades, local clubs nurtured their caddies programs, knowing that many future members would eventually come from the caddie ranks. By the late 1960s, however, the days of the local caddie were numbered.

The motorized golf cart would be invading all area courses, and by the 1970s local caddies were a thing of the past.

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