Where have caddies gone?

If Tom Sargent had his way, he would have one in place.

And members at Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa, where he is

the head golf professional, would have the option of taking a caddie

along for their round.

Never one to turn down the chance to use a caddie, Sargent, the

head pro at Mesa Verde since 1995, has flown halfway across the

country to attend conferences on caddie programs and spoken with the

golf bag-toting workers who provide insight into a course's mood

while offering priceless information such as precision yardages to

greens.

Traditional courses like Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades

and Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles have established caddie

programs.

So why do caddies seem virtually nonexistent in Orange County, a

bona fide metropolis in its own right?

Economics.

Running a caddie program is expensive, Sargent said.

"A lot of clubs don't want them because it cuts into revenue if

someone takes a caddie and not a cart," Sargent, the 1997 PGA

National Golf Professional of the Year, said.

There is the issue of pay, loss of cart revenue and the potential

worry of not knowing if the person will show up to work.

To add another name onto the payroll sheet would force hiring a

caddie administrator, Sargent said, to ensure everyone follows the

rules. Another expense.

Sargent said Mesa Verde has experimented with caddies before -- in

the 1990s -- but members didn't support it and interest waned.

Caddies charge different amounts, but Sargent estimated the going

rate at $50 for an 18-hole round. If someone played eight times a

month, they could spend $400 using that figure.

Some golfers would undoubtedly cringe at forking over that amount,

but caddies can forge a steady income stream if they regularly

receive assignments.

Sargent said he met one caddie on his travels to the Midwest who

earned $6,000 one summer for 100 rounds "on the bag."

"It's like a server, some make $300 a night in tips, and the same

thing is true with caddies," Sargent said. "You can make a pretty

good chunk. Plus, you're outdoors and around nice people."

Members at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach have the

option of using caddies Friday through Sunday.

Mike Fisher is first assistant of the caddie program -- Al

Alvarado is the caddie master -- which existed prior to and during

Fisher's three-year tenure.

The program has about 15 revolving caddies -- all must be 18 or

older -- ready for the call, Fisher said.

The range of ages is anywhere from early 20s to 40s, Fisher said.

Some caddies have played on the Canadian, Korean and Spanos tours

and spend their free time caddying at Big Canyon.

Caddies engage in a training program before they venture with a

member for the first time.

"We show them the course, where to stand, what members expect from

them," Fisher said. "Most of the caddies have been here awhile and

have set guys they go with." Mike Carpenter, Big Canyon's reigning

men's club champion, said oftentimes one caddie will join a foursome

instead of carrying the bag for one player.

He said caddies offer positives and negatives.

"Sometimes it's nice to have someone give a second opinion,"

Carpenter said, "but on a putt, even if a guy can read a putt for

you, there may still be doubt between you and what the caddie

thinks."

Then there is the possibility the golfer knows the golf course

better than the caddie.

Carpenter said it all relates to personal preference.

"It's good to have one if you walk," he said. "I play with guys

who have been playing at the club every week for 40 years and they

like caddies telling them how to read the putts. It's more beneficial

for better players. You don't have to look around for sprinkler

heads, but just go up to the ball and hit it."

Caddies are independent contractors at Big Canyon -- in other

words, they aren't on the club's payroll.

"They show up when they want to show up," Fisher said.

Sargent is a bit uneasy about that uncertainty.

"You can't have members showing up and not having caddies

available," Sargent said.

Caddies are a dying breed in Southern California. They have been

ever since the golf cart came along in the 1950s, Sargent said.

But even today, there are places in the country, like the Midwest,

where caddies flourish.

There, caddies are rewarded with scholarships to college.

The Evans Scholarship Foundation is the nation's largest,

privately-funded, full-tuition program that offers housing grants to

deserving caddies.

Eight-thousand caddies have graduated since the program began in

1930, attending schools such as the University of Illinois and

Michigan.For some, caddying is a full-time job.

For others, caddying offers a chance to supplement another job or

provide additional spending money.

Sargent played Carnoustie in Scotland and met a caddie there who

adored his job carrying golfers' bags and offering course knowledge.

"I asked him, 'What do you do,'" Sargent recalled. "He said, 'What

do you mean?' I said, 'When you're not caddying, what is your real

job?'

"He looked at me in horror and disgust."

The caddie answered, "I'm a caddie. That is what I do."

Courses in Europe also don't offer golfers the luxury of yardage

markers in the fairways, Sargent said.

"On those courses, you either take a caddie or don't play,"

Sargent said.

Fisher said caddies are more revered at traditional clubs on the

East Coast and Midwest that have long-standing programs.

"Clubs have either few or no carts and caddies have been around

forever," Fisher said. "They tend to stick with that mentality. They

are mostly caddie-oriented clubs. It depends on how many rounds they

do."

Golf courses in Orange County, especially public ones, see

extraordinary numbers of rounds per year.

If a caddie program was created at Mesa Verde, Sargent would like

them to be independent contractors.

"It's cheaper for the club," Sargent said.

And, caddies offer interaction, he added.

"Which would you rather do: talk to a caddie or talk to a cart?"

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