The sight of every approaching car to the Cosmo TNGF golf course at Nandanam is watched eagerly by over a dozen caddies, some of whom are there by 5.30 a.m. In seconds, one amongst them is next to a golfer's car. He takes out the golf bag and brings it to the first tee. And so begins another day in the life of these unsung heroes of the golf course.

An 18-hole game goes on for over four hours, where the work of caddies includes carrying the bag, watching for wayward golf shots, ensuring the flagstick is pulled at the appropriate time, checking the direction of wind and giving tips to the player accordingly. They get Rs.200 for a game plus tips. Depending on their experience, the caddie stands to make more.

Caddies in most golf courses work on a contract basis, and a majority of them make a living solely on the number of games played. While some say they are attached to the game, a few say the job makes them too lazy to take up another. “How much you earn as a caddie depends on the rapport you share with the player,” says S. Louis, who leaves disappointed as he did not get his turn on Tuesday. There are over 225 caddies at this golf course alone, he says, and many do not get their turn on weekdays.

“He could tip you more if he has a good day on the course. Amateur golfers would be ready to pay a little more if you can put up with them, and some foreigners give away their club sets once they leave the country, which I sell,” say caddie Guna, who earns Rs.12,000 some months. Knowing the best strategy for the game is important, say caddies, since advising players on the next move is a key part of the job. However, if things go wrong putting up with the temper of the player is quite a test of patience, they add. For instance, when a golfer is taking a back swing, a caddie should not cross. R. Selvakumar, who has been a caddie for over a decade at Cosmo TNGF, recalls, “There was a complaint against me when I did not cover a layer with sand after the grass was removed during a game.” Serious complaints could also mean the caddie being suspended.

F. Williams, who has graduated from a ball boy to an “A” level caddie in another golf course, says competitions are the real test for them. “Sometimes if I can't find the ball, my master gets a two-stroke penalty and I am sure to be scolded. We can't afford to go wrong on a decision to “play left or right”,” says Williams. Monsoon is one season they all hate as most of them go without a job. Some of the clubs offer them a ration of rice; a few such as V. Thanika, an “A grade” caddie, says he is better off as the player pays him on a monthly basis – irrespective of the number of games. Weekends and holidays are often the busiest time for them. Sometimes when there are not enough men, they get to be caddie for two players. And, there are some unexpected perks too. Once a week, they all get to don the player's role and try their hand at the game they usually observe.

The game has evolved in many other ways. Only during tournaments are caddies required to lug the golf bag on their shoulders, today most of them trolley it on the sprawling green grass. J. Senthil has toured different places “as his master takes him when he is participating in tournaments.” However, Senthil adds, “Most youngsters are comfortable trolleying the bag themselves. Ten years from now I don't think there would be this many caddies.”

Keywords: Cosmo TNGF

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