The last three years have been a fairway to heaven for Dee and Jean Darden.
But that's because the Dardens are caddies on the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour. And because they are the only married couple who caddie on the tour.
Dee, 55, is Nancy Lopez's caddy, and Jean, 28, works for Lauren Howe. They're on the road almost 300 days a year following the tour in their 33-foot motor home. And when they're not on the road, they call Charleston, S.C., their home.
"We have a lot of fun," Jean said. "Being married to Dee is great. I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for him."
Dee met Jean in 1978 when she was a bartender at a country club in Charleston. Dee was caddying for Vance Heafner when Heafner was still an amateur.
"I poked Vance and said, 'Now there's a pretty girl.' " Darden said. 'I'm going to go meet her, although I don't think I have a hope in the world.' "
But Jean said yes. And one year later, when Jean, an 8-handicap golfer, wanted to try the LPGA, Dee sponsored her. When Jean gave up playing, she decided to become a caddy.
Jean is one of seven women caddies on the LPGA tour. The pay isn't great--average pay is around $250 per week--but the work is fun.
"I really enjoy what I'm doing," said Jean, who's been with Howe for three years. "All the women caddies are busy, and we all have regular bags."
Dee is no slouch, either.
He's a retired United States Air Force Lt. Colonel from South Carolina who flew jets in the early days of the Vietnam war.
"I was just lucky to get back," he said. "I went through training with 15 pilots and lost a third of my class in one year. Fifteen of us went over and 10 of us came home."
He retired at 46 in 1976 and found he had nothing to do but play golf, which was fun but hardly fulfilling. He soon became bored with it and turned to caddying in professional tournaments.
"I worked for the men for a while . . . wanted to see what the men were like," he said. "It was all right. I worked for about three months and satisfied my curiosity. Then I stopped in Springfield, Ill., on my way back and worked the women's tournament for Peggy Conley, and I just fell in love with everything about it.
"It was easy to meet people. It was more casual, a more relaxed atmosphere which suited me at the time. This tour's getting on up, but it still has a small town atmosphere as compared to the men's tour. Women just have a different outlook on life, anyway, as a group."
Darden is best known on the tour for his guidebooks of the courses. Always meticulous in charting yardages, landmarks and topographical features, in 1979 he started printing copies of his hole-by-hole diagrams of all the sites and selling them to other caddies or golfers for $5 each per course. Most consider the books a good investment, if only to support their own calculations.
Dee worked for Beth Daniel when she was the tour's top player in 1980 and 1981. Then in early '81, Dee joined up with Dot Germain and stayed with her until last August when Lopez parted company with her old caddy, Roscoe Jones.
"She called me," Darden said. "I was kind of shocked but really pleased. I'd known her for a long time, but we never talked about working together because she always had Roscoe, and I was working for Beth.
"Nancy wanted me to work for her in the Chevrolet World Championship at Cleveland. We got together and won that tournament."
Said Lopez: "I always liked Dee. He looked like a good, hard-working caddy. He's always there, waiting for me. He inspires me a little bit."
Darden: "We get along great. She's the nicest person you'll ever see in your life. You won't find anybody any nicer. She's even nicer than everybody says she is.
"It's a very professional relationship, but we're friends, too."
Dee and Jean haven't been in the same grouping yet. They got close last year at the High Point, N.C., tournament when Jean caddied for Patty Sheehan in the last group and Dee and Dot Germain preceded them.
But that hasn't bothered these two love bird(ie)s. They're just happy to be together.