Story by Todd Petrey, veteran Bandon Caddie and founder of Greater Than Golf
– Images by Jeff Marsh –
The town of Bandon has an alluring quality that has been felt by anyone who lives here, or by anyone who has visited and returned. Bandon Dunes, often called “The Old Course” by the caddies, has the same alluring attribute. After playing a course for the first time, I give it a “memorable-factor ranking.” This pseudo-quality is based on how much my mind retains about the course after playing it. For many, Bandon Dunes’ memorable factor is second to none. You can see it on the guest’s faces when they stand on a tee box and look out on what Mr. Keiser has given them. It’s what he’s given all of us. I like to ask them questions about what they’re feeling. “So, what’s your favorite hole?” is a popular golf question.
At Bandon Dunes, I like to ask returning guests, “When you’re back home, can you remember all 18 holes?” I love the conversations when guests talk about how “this hole really got me 6 years ago…” It plays into the qualities of an experience to remember anything about a round from 6 years ago. Sometimes, guys will forego some pre-shot discussion and grab a club, maybe a rescue on #4 tee, and I’ll ask, “What are you planning to do with that?”
“Well, last time I played here, I went through the fairway.”
I say, “Let me guess…was it summer?”
“Because you probably had a 20mph fan at your back. Today we need driver. Twice.”
I first played BD in 2002. Along with caddying, I had a small business selling traffic control equipment. I attended a trade show in Walla Walla, Washington, and figured I’d never be this close to Bandon Dunes again, so I might as well try and make it happen. Yes, it was a long drive. Yes, I had no idea the states out here were so spread out. I remember arriving and walking up to the hub of activity and, even though I was just a single, I was greeted by people who seemed like they were expecting me. I felt like I was running a little late, and didn’t know how far away I stood from the first tee. I walked up and was greeted by a guy who was clearly at work. “Hello! What time are you teeing off today?”
Not being 100% sure of my time, I offered up a guess of “About noon?”
“Are you Todd?” I still remember thinking, “How in the world did this guy know I was Todd?” He kept impressing. “We have you down for a caddie today, is that right?”
“This is your caddie, Tim…” I looked over and shook this guy’s hand. As a caddie myself, I already knew this guy. Not HIM, but guys like this guy. His skin showed this wasn’t his first day in the sun. He was wearing a white jumper that wasn’t so white. He had a quick, unrestrained
smile that lacked a tooth. Large sunglasses were framed by a hoodie, fully raised and covering his ball cap. I liked him already.
“Hi, I’m Todd.”
“I’m Unibomber.” I could see the similarities, comparing the famous sketch with the guy in front of me, but I just left it alone. I was used to caddie nicknames, but hadn’t heard that one. He hustled me along. “You’re on the tee.” It’s about a 100yard walk from where we met to the first tee. It was all happening pretty fast. One of my favorite things about taking a caddie is the moment they take the bag off your shoulder and put it on theirs. It’s at that moment you feel like they are doing you a favor. You can feel your mind shift focus from having to process standing upright while carrying something on your side. It feels like you can center your concentration on something else. It feels good. On the quick walk past the starter to the first tee, my looper had already assessed my golfing ability, based on a half rack of clubs, and took a right to the forward tees. “Tim, let’s play back.” Tim looked at my moon bag with 7 clubs and the look on his face said it all.
There is an old line I’ve heard caddies deliver when asked by a guest, “Hey, is my bag too heavy?”
“As long as it pays like it weighs, we got no problem. ”
When I said I wanted a tour of the black tees, Tim’s facial expression said “well, at least it’s light.” He handed me driver and I walked, alone, back to the tees nobody wanted me to play. I probably hit the largest hook I’ve ever hit in my life. I looked over at him and he gave me all I needed to know. “We’ll find it.” And he did. I remember a lot about that round. I remember that tee shot and the first time I saw the Pacific (2nd shot #4). I took a photo (with actual film) of my bag on the ground, framed by gorse and dunes. The green and ocean were the backdrop. It’s the same shot I’ve taken for hundreds of people after almost 2 decades of caddying at Bandon. I still have that picture tucked away somewhere. I’ve kept it, not really because of what I was seeing, but what I was feeling a t that moment. I remember thinking “I could actually live here.”
Why do I remember so much about that first round at Bandon? I’ve played hundreds of golf courses, but this round tops the list. Different parts of Bandon Dunes were immediately imprinted in my memory. Certainly, I’d attribute some of that to Tim and some to how Bandon Dunes made me feel. It felt right.
I moved to Bandon within a year of playing it and, unknowingly, moved next door to Tim. I remembered his name and a couple great reads he had and one particularly bad line off #9 he suggested – but he had zero recollection of my round – or me. I thought I’d be memorable because of a variety of reasons. First, my golf bag was really small. Bag size plus him basically begging me on #1 to play the forward tees – even though he’d never seen me play – combined with the fact I ended up playing decent seemed memorable to me. So, as we stood outside of our respective apartments, I had my chance to rekindle our bond.
“Hey, it’s Tim, right? I’m Todd. I just moved next door, but we’ve met. You carried for me about 8 months ago out on Bandon.”
“Don’t remember.” He didn’t remember yet, I thought. I kept going.
“I had a REALLY small golf bag.” (I showed him the circumference with my hands)
I pushed on, feeling I still had a chance of jogging his memory. “The strap broke on #3 and you had to tie the strap together.”
“OH!” (I knew I had something he’d remember). “I paid you on 17! Yes, I told you that I was a caddie at East Lake in Atlanta, a non-tipping club, and the corporate members pay their caddie on 17 so they don’t get caught. I paid you $100. (Bag fee was $35 + tip in 2002).
I laughed and chalked it up to the Oregon weed.
We have a saying at my house. “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” I was definitely losing.
I’ve always tried to remember that story and apply it to my time caddying (24+ years). It has changed my life. The relationships I’ve created in those decades of caddying help define who I am as a person and now define how I raise my 12 year old. I think most would say my caddying style is mostly non-confrontational on the course – much more leaning at being a kiss-ass, especially in my early years (think of an assistant pro trying to explain where your returned shoes are in shipping even though he knows they are on a back shelf waiting for an RA#). As I’ve aged, I’ve morphed into more of a counselor or psychologist knowing when to talk about the elephant in the room (when the shanks, a.k.a. “snap fades” creep in) or when to keep quiet (I only let guys rake their own bunkers after a really great shot or a really awful shot). These aren’t things you will read in a Policy and Procedure manual, but they’ve kept my streak of never being fired going for 24+ years.
Back to NOW. Golfers who have been here – I think a fair number of them will be quarantined in their corner of the world and they will be playing BD in their head. I started working in the golf business at the Atlanta Athletic Club. I have fond memories of a member named CJ. He came down with Guillain Barre Syndrome and every day the staff would get a progress report. It was a mysterious illness. CJ just kept slipping until one day we were told he was in ICU. Many months later, CJ walked into the pro shop and his recent battle to save his own life was apparent on his large frame. He had probably lost 80 lbs in 6-8 months. His body atrophied due to being confined to a hospital bed and ventilator. I asked CJ about his ordeal and he told me while in his down time, bed-ridden and fighting for his life – he played Augusta National over and over in his mind. He leaned over to me and looked me straight in the eyes and told me in his southern drawl “Son, it was the thing that kept me sane.” I always hear the thought, “If I were going to play one course the rest of my life, I’d play…”.
Recently, I’ve had a recurring thought. If I were bed-ridden, fighting for my life against some crazy virus, I’d know my days would be filled with thoughts of Bandon Dunes and my family. Some rounds I might walk 18 with my last 2 dogs, Wegman and Mynka at my side. Other rounds I’d imagine a scramble with my wife and daughter. I’d tee it with anyone who’s swing I could remember – old girlfriends, caddies, friends, pros, and I’d finally get around to playing golf with all those guests who’ve offered to host me at their home club over the years. However, we’d have to play one of the Bandon Dunes courses in my mind if we wanted to get in all 18 holes, because those are the courses I could fully remember. We would all take caddies and we would play from the back tees. The fescue rough would be whispy and knee high with a purple hue. The greens would be perfect. The wind would be up, requiring proper links golf. Finally, at the end of our Quarantine18, I would extend my hand on the last green and say, “Thank you, that was great. Let’s do it again soon.”