On occasion, the MGA publishes position papers on relevant topics of interest to our members, clubs, and all golfers in our area. Youth caddieing has always been an important subject matter for the MGA and MGA Foundation. Given the current club climate and the MGA’s longtime support of the game’s greatest tradition, we have developed a white paper on Youth Caddieing today. This document is intended to help our Met Area golf community understand the issue and act as a resource in facilitating decisions for the good and future of the game.
For more than 120 years, caddieing has been an important part of the fabric of golf in the New York Metropolitan Area. Today, in our area alone, more than 200 clubs and golf facilities have active caddie programs. We estimate nearly one million rounds are played each season with a caddie at MGA member clubs. In the heart of the golf season, more than 8,800 men and women are actively engaged as seasonal caddies.
We are something of an anomaly in this regard. Nationwide, only a small percentage of golf rounds are played with a caddie; many clubs, resorts, and facilities have emphasized or even required the use of golf carts to provide additional revenue. At some of the Met Area’s clubs more than 80% of rounds include a caddie.
We at the MGA believe that playing golf while walking with a caddie is one of our great traditions, beneficial to the game in many ways. Caddieing provides an introduction to golf that, for many, will lead to a lifelong involvement with and passion for the game. Many who have enjoyed success in a variety of fields list caddieing as one of their first jobs and consider it a positive experience. The club community provides caddies with opportunities for educational advancement through locally-based scholarship funds and a network that can lead directly or indirectly to full-time employment.
For young people especially, there are significant benefits of being a caddie: it provides a unique opportunity to learn life skills, gain self-confidence, spend time with potential role models, and experience the importance of dedication and a strong work ethic – all while earning good money in a safe and healthful environment.
Youth Caddieing—A Core Mission of the MGA and MGA Foundation
In 1991 the MGA established its charitable arm, the MGA Foundation, with a key mission of introducing young people from all our local communities to golf through life-changing opportunities and innovative programs. From the start, caddie academies conducted at MGA member clubs has been a cornerstone to the Foundation’s program, which has introduced many young people to caddieing. In the Spring of 2018, a total of ten sessions were conducted throughout Long Island, New Jersey, and Westchester/Fairfield. After classroom and on-course training, the attendees received learning certificates and guidance regarding how to contact the caddie managers at nearby clubs to ask about available caddie opportunities.
We know that young people today differ from those of previous generations in many important ways, primarily being their innate technological dexterity. Connectedness is a vital attribute for most. Their schedules are loaded with extracurricular activities deemed essential to successful college applications. They are less inclined to accept “this is how it’s always been” as an explanation.
These factors all provide challenges for those recruiting, training, and retaining youth caddies:
Time Commitment: The traditional process for a new caddie—early morning drop-off, wait on a bench, hope to get a loop, but no guarantee of work or pay—doesn’t cut it with time-pressed youths. Waiting and then getting a loop can require a block of time stretching six hours or more. It is unrealistic to expect teens to invest so much time with the possibility of no benefit in return.
Scheduling: Let’s face it, everyone has less free time today, especially high school kids with athletics, extra classes, volunteering, etc. An afternoon high priority activity at 2 or 3 p.m. tightens the window for a morning loop.
Enlisting friends: The camaraderie of the caddie yard is less important to young people who are in constant contact with their friends through texts, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media.
Fortunately, these difficulties are not impossible to overcome.
Technology Can Be a Solution As Well As a Problem
Communications technology has already made it easier for clubs to interact with members, especially with online dining, golf reservations and billing options. These changes reflect the way we live today and have, undoubtedly, improved the member experience. Golf professionals have embraced software to enhance their member tournaments and outside events, with registration and real-time scoring.
Why can’t we apply the same thinking to caddie programs, reaching young people where they spend so much of their time – on their devices?
Today, communications and scheduling software can help caddie managers improve their efficiency and overall operations. Some managers already use text or group emails to reach out to some of their caddies, but this is only a starting point: available options include third-party communications services to offer slots and schedule caddies in advance, giving the caddies an opportunity to plan their days and allow for other commitments.
Imagine a caddie manager using a web-based platform to send an invitation on Thursday morning to a teen caddie for a 7:42 a.m. Saturday loop. The teen can accept, knowing that the round will be finished in time for afternoon activities. This also helps the caddie’s family makes plans for drop off/pick up, providing some structure for them, too. It is an improvement across the board: the caddie benefits from pre-arranged scheduling and the club’s operations also improve with caddie arrivals flowing through peak times rather than everyone coming in and creating an early morning logjam.
The mechanics of making caddie payments on some of these platforms bring that process into the 21st century as well. Research shows almost 80% of consumers aged 18-34 regularly use peer-to-peer payment apps (e.g. Apple Pay, Venmo, Zelle, etc.). Electronic payments are replacing cash payments; cashless transactions are already a favorite of the younger, online generation.
The positive impact of such technological advances are not limited to youth caddies. They will also benefit the core adult population of caddies that includes college kids on break and recent grads looking to make some money while searching for a job; seasonal caddies who travel North for the summer; locally-based adults who caddie full-time or work another (possibly seasonal) job, using the extra income to help support their family. Think for a moment about the hourly rate differential between a scheduled four-hour loop for which you check in 20 minutes in advance, and the same four-hour loop that requires you to arrive at least 60-90 minutes earlier to wait for an assignment. Any of these caddie groups would absolutely benefit from available technology that helps improve scheduling, increases flextime, and offers convenient new payment options.
Enhancing the Member Experience
There is a great tradition at many Met Area clubs of developing youth caddies with club staff and members acting as mentors. Caddieing can open doors for the future, both on and off the golf course. In 2019 and beyond, the MGA Foundation is committed to supporting youth caddie initiatives because they benefit the caddies (as noted above), the members (who get the opportunity to give back to the game they love, through mentorship and contributions to caddie scholarship funds), and the clubs themselves (the caddie of today is often the member of tomorrow). Many club members enjoy taking out young caddies, often with a single bag, and helping them develop their caddieing skills -- just another great way golfers give back to the game with an eye on its future.
The potential to pay caddies electronically rather than with cash would be a definite plus for members comfortable with the technology – a percentage that grows considerably each year. Many clubs have shared feedback with us that all sides are interested in expanding the cashless experience; some clubs have traditionally offered cash advances to their members who don’t have enough on hand, and most would prefer to avoid doing so. Paying caddies through an app would make things easier for the members and lessen the club’s demand to maintain a cash supply on premises.
A Commitment to Caddie Scholarship Support
Each year the Met Area’s local caddie scholarship funds (CSFs) raise more than $2.5 million dollars for college scholarships for students who work as caddies and those in service to golf. For the 2018/2019 academic year, 162 new scholarships were awarded by the Long Island, New Jersey and Westchester CSFs, and a total of 542 young men and women receiving such awards are currently enrolled at undergraduate colleges and universities across the country. More than 125 MGA member clubs actively support caddie scholarship funding programs. We are grateful to the individuals and clubs who so generously help to support these funds.
The Evans Scholars Foundation program, based in the Midwest, currently provides nearly 1,000 caddies with full college scholarships at some of the nation’s top universities. In recent years, more than 20 Met Area caddies have been selected as Evans Scholars. Additionally, there are a number of other successful caddie scholarship programs around the country.
There is no question that the connection to golf through caddieing is a common thread for many in the business world and other professional circles. Caddie scholarship funding provides a valuable alumni network for giving back to the game in later years, as well as creating bonds and friendships that can last a lifetime.
What’s the Next Step for Interested Clubs?
Over the past 18 months, member clubs have reached out to the MGA for guidance on topics including youth caddie development, caddie software options, and questions related to independent contractor issues. In response to these growing concerns, the MGA met with a number of outside parties in order to expand its own knowledge base and explore new resources.
After a more than six-month review process involving multiple resource providers, the MGA concluded that a third-party web-based scheduling platform as described above, geared to enhancing communications for private clubs within their existing caddie programs, would best serve the purposes of streamlining and improving operations for caddies, members, and clubs, while also maintaining the vital mission of supporting youth caddie development. The caddie experience is an important on-ramp for our game, exposing young people to its benefits and attractions, and helping create the golfers and club members of the future.
Earlier this year, the MGA established a partnership with a premier caddie software solution provider that has solid experience and strong references from its existing club base. Introductory meetings with interested MGA member clubs to communicate the benefits of using this platform are available, and some have already taken place. There is real value, especially during the off- season, to become more knowledgeable at the club level on this timely topic. Clubs interested in learning more can contact Peter Nicholson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Youth caddieing has a great legacy in the Met Area, and it is our responsibility to see that this great tradition continues. To ensure the growth of youth caddie programs, we recommend that the local golf community adopt technologies that will modernize the caddie experience, especially for those at the entry level.
The bottom line is this: Some amount of change in the status quo is both needed and warranted if we are to continue to have strong and diverse caddie programs that provide high-quality experiences for golfers and growth opportunities for young people and the game. The MGA and MGA Foundation remain committed to investing time, resources and new thinking to this process and the future of the game.
We are grateful to our MGA member clubs for the dedicated partnerships we value and enjoy.