(Note: The following is the second chapter of a book I wrote in 2012, entitled The Bag Room. You can read the first chapter here.)
“Golf is a game of not just manners but of morals.”
I “forcefully volunteered” to fill in for Carlos that day and climbed into the golf cart beside Billy. “We’ll have to get you a pair of dress pants for the day, but Brewer should have an extra pair lying around in the Shop somewhere,” Billy reminded me. While the dress code for caddies was pretty open (collared shirts, shorts, gym shoes) any employees who actually worked inside the clubhouse needed to wear dress slacks and a uniform shirt. I luckily had my A.C.C. logo shirt on that day, which I had gotten from Billy a year prior. “Any big events going on today?” I asked as we rolled up to the bag room entrance.
“Nothing today, just the normal groups going out in the morning. Which is why we need to get these carts loaded up with their bags and lined up at the first tee. Go in and check with Brewer to see if he’s got an extra pair of slacks. I‟m going to get started on the carts and bags.”
Working in the bag room was always more of a hassle for me than anything, especially since everyone in the clubhouse knew that I was just a caddy filling in for the day and assumed I had no idea what I was doing. These members would be completely correct, of course, since I had absolutely no idea what my duties were throughout the day in the bag room. The employee who had called off for the day – Carlos – was notorious for staying out late on weeknights (thanks mostly to a fake ID he had gotten from his older brother) and often awoke with a case of the “hangover flu”. What bothered me the most was that everyone knew this about Carlos, including the head pro, but nobody ever seemed to care, or at least didn’t mind. After all, when you have a caddy shack full of new blood that would be more than happy to make a few guaranteed dollars on a Saturday, turnover wasn’t exactly a pressing matter at Alvarton. If one employee left this week, a new one would take his place the next.
The hiring and firing of bag room employees – or finding a replacement for an “ill” worker – was handled by the head golf professional, Paul Brewer. Brewer was probably a better boss than a head golf professional, and even he knew it. While he was a fine golfer and could teach any member how to swing a golf club, keep his arm straight on the backswing or line up a putt correctly, Brewer excelled at managing his employees and being a leader at his job. Originally from down state Illinois, Brewer was a skilled player in his youth, having won many medals and tournaments as an amateur golfer. He earned his college degree in Business Management, which would eventually become Brewer’s saving grace for his many years as a head golf professional. Brewer earned his professional status by completing the Player’s Ability Test shortly before finishing his degree and was hired as an assistant golf professional at Alvarton in 1992. Five short years later, Brewer found himself as the head professional after his predecessor left for a country club across the country.
While he had the tendency to get pretty riled up every so often – especially when his employees called in – Brewer never talked down to a caddy or bag room boy and preferred to treat everyone as equals. This included his two assistant golf pros: Richard “Skip” Pavin and John Flock. Brewer was the eldest of the three pros at Alvarton, but not by much. All three men were in their early 30‟s, and they liked to cause as much trouble for the town as any caddy or bag room boy; they just knew how to party and still show up to work the next morning. In other words, they trained themselves in how to work with a hangover. This was probably why Brewer never fired Carlos, despite numerous call-offs and drunken escapades.
Brewer’s office was located in the Pro Shop, which was upstairs from the bag room and at towards the north side of the clubhouse. I made my way up the two flights of stairs to the shop‟s entrance, which included a pane-glass door with a huge “A.C.C.” logo. I could see Brewer standing behind the shop‟s counter, feverishly scribbling on the tee sheet.
“Hiya boss,” I said. “Billy sent me up here to grab a pair of pants. Carlos call in again today?”
“He’s about as reliable as my ex-wife, Silk. And about as rough on the sauce, too.
“Check the Ashworth clothing shipment box in my office under my desk. I think there might be a pair your size somewhere in there. And be sure to change fast because we’re gonna have members show up any minute looking for their bags. Make sure you let Billy know if you’re having problems figuring out the foursomes. Here,” Brewer handed me a sheet of paper with a list of names and tee-times. “Have Billy help you get those tee times set up.”
The pro shop was small in stature however still contained a great deal of golf merchandise despite its size. As you entered the shop from the hallway leading from the bag room, you would literally need to duck down to avoid banging your head on golf bags hanging from the ceiling. To your right you would see a large wall shelving unit filled with new golf shoes for the season. As you turned to the left to continue walking towards the pro shop counter, men’s and women’s golf shirts and pants hanging on tall displays served as obstacles to your progression through the room. The pro shop counter was a large wooden display lined in clear glass. A desktop computer was positioned on the right side of the counter that the assistant professionals used to schedule tee times, sell the shop’s merchandise, and provide the occasional online poker game. On the left of the counter you would find scorecards for your golf round, a small box of pencils, and a large bucket of wooden golf tees. Finally, a large glass door was on the outer wall of the pro shop that lead out to Alvarton’s parking lot and the golf course’s first tee.
After changing into a pair of pants I walked outside the front entrance to the pro shop towards the first tee, where Billy had already started lining up carts with golf bags attached. I marveled at how the bag room boys would always remember who would come to play golf that morning, in what order, and at what times throughout the day without the benefit of a tee sheet. Everything was by memory, even down to which members liked to ride with which and who liked to drive the cart. I crumpled up the tee sheet the pro had given me and threw it into a garbage can nearby. I then followed Billy as we walked down a path leading from the cart staging area – similar to a small parking lot – towards the side of the building. Billy opened another large, glass door with the Alvarton Country Club logo on its face and held it for me to also walk through. This door lead to another small staircase that would ultimately lead Billy and I back down to the bag room hallway.
Billy and I continued to load up carts with towels, sand bottles to pour into divots the members would make on the golf course grass during their round (which no one ever used), and members‟ golf bags for the day. On one of my final trips up for the morning the first tee was alive with activity as members rustled through their bags, drove carts into one another, and otherwise acted like blind children. The typical member at Alvarton Country Club met the following criteria, at least as far as I could surmise:
● You had to be over the age of 55
● You had to drive the most obnoxiously expensive foreign car you could afford
● You had to be married to an equally obnoxious spouse
● Your golf bag had to weigh as much as your obnoxious spouse
Most members at Alvarton passed these “membership requirements” with flying colors while also being socially inept and an absolute idiot. The two bonus requirements were on full display this morning.
While walking away from the cart I had just parked, one of the more “eligible” members shouted at me. “Hey, kid! Get over here and look at my clubs!” Turning around I saw that Mr. Wallace – who looked rather similar to Mr. Magoo from old cartoons – had turned a bright shade of red and was holding what looked like a 7-iron. “These things are filthy! What the hell are they paying you for around here?”
One of the less-enjoyable aspects of working in the bag room was cleaning the members‟ golf clubs following a round. This usually entailed a wet towel, a wire brush, and a ton of elbow grease in order to scrape a golf round’s worth of caked mud from each iron. Members would usually tip the bag room boy for his efforts, however many of the cheaper members would just park their cart at the bag room entrance and run away before a tip could be requested. Mr. Wallace was one of these cheapskates, thus the presumed condition of his golf clubs. Regardless, I walked over to his bag with a wet towel and scrubbed the clubs the best I could with my tail between my legs. Sure, I wasn’t the one that left his clubs filthy; but I was definitely the one who had to clean them this morning.
The typical golfer at Alvarton was similar to any average golfer at a municipal golf course: middle-aged, over-weight, and completely terrible at golf. Whenever these “weekend warriors” would play a round of golf, their clubs were used more for tearing up the golf course grass than actually hitting golf balls… or at least that’s what we all thought after seeing how dirty their golf clubs would get after a round. Dirt and mud on a golf club or lodged within the grooves of the club’s face drastically altered the flight and spin rate of any golf shot, which also affected the shot’s distance and accuracy. In essence, hitting a golf ball with a dirty club would be like hitting a golf ball with an oven mitt. As such, the main duty of a bag room attendant at any country club was to keep the member’s clubs spotless, no matter how dirty these clubs would get due to their owners‟ ineptitude at the game.
After heading back down to the bag room, Billy noticed that I was a little angry at what just transpired with Mr. Wallace. I must have been stomping down the stairs as I entered the bag room because Billy stopped in his tracks and gave me a quizzical look. Billy then asked what was bothering me. I explained the situation to Billy, who then assured me not to worry about “the small stuff like that.”
“Wallace is an old coot who loves taking his personal shit out on the bag room guys,” Billy stated. “I’ve heard it from him, Carlos has heard it… hell, we all have. You gotta understand that none of that is personal; to Wallace, we’re just here for his benefit. But you know what Silky? We also have all the power. I’ll show you when he comes in from his round.”
Members at Alvarton – and really most private country clubs – treat the “help” like complete dogs. Sure; every so often you would run in to a nicer member who preferred to treat the bag room boys like human beings. For the most part, however, country club employees were nothing more than servants or slaves to the wishes and demands of the club’s members.
Billy and I worked the rest of our shift without any other issues. He spent most of the day telling me stories about older bag room employees from years past, including who knew what dirt about which members, where to get free food in the clubhouse restaurant, and other helpful nuggets that I would have never otherwise known sitting in the caddy shack. Finally, Wallace’s group finished their round and rolled up to the bag room. All four members in the group had apparently just slayed a mud beast of some kind with their clubs, and Wallace hadn’t forgotten about our earlier encounter.
“You kids better make sure those clubs are spotless this time around. I’ll be sure to let the pro know about his employees‟ inability to clean a damn club properly.” Wallace smiled as he said this, then stomped past us and into the Men‟s locker room. Billy was apparently waiting for his opportunity for retribution.
“Hey Silky,” he said. “Grab me that shaft cutter over on the workbench.”
A common tool used in golf club repair is a shaft cutter or shaft saw. These tools come in many different shapes and sizes, but the majority is tiny, handheld vices shaped like the letter “C” with an extremely sharp blade on the inner loop of the vice. To use this tool you simply wrap the vice around the shaft of a golf club, tighten the cutter’s bolt to secure the tool into place, and then rotate the cutter around the golf club shaft. After a few rotations the blade would eventually cut through the metal or graphite shaft. Shaft cutters are typically used to shorten the length of golf clubs for the purpose of custom-fitting to shorter players.
The next thing I knew Billy was taking each club out of Wallace’s bag and lining them up on the floor. He then proceeded to wrap the shaft cutter around each club’s graphite shaft, just below grip line. After tightening the bolt on the shaft cutter just to the point where its blade would be useful, Billy then rotate the cutter around each club, one-by-one. When he had finished with the last club, he put each back into Wallace’s bag as if nothing had happened.
“Rule #1 of Bag Boy Etiquette, Silky,” Billy said to me with a smile. “Don’t mess with the help, because the help will mess with you. The next time Wallace hits a fat shot with any of his clubs, he’s gonna be in for quite the surprise.”
Billy was absolutely correct. The next time Wallace used his clubs, he hit one of his typical ground-before-ball golf shots that would normally dig deep into the ground and cause his ball to hook badly into the trees. This time, however, Wallace’s club shaft snapped exactly at where Billy had used the shaft cutter. Wallace managed to break multiple clubs throughout the round, before he figured it out, which made sense due to being extra-qualified on the “idiot” membership requirement.
At that moment I knew that I wanted to work in the bag room permanently, but I had also just started a friendship with a kid who would ultimately become one of my closest friends for the next 15 years.