It is cool, in that early summer morning lull before the cicadas are out, and we sit in the green-painted lean-to, shading our eyes to better see the caddy master’s hut just off the first tee. We sit in various positions of unease, the hard wooden bench forcing our backs upright.
John’s got The Herald, and it rustles crisply as he turns each page, folding it over onto its neighbors. He sips hot coffee, and shares a donut with another experienced caddy, the one who always smokes cigars between rounds. Sonny is chatting away with the bag boys as usual, as they hide in the pro shop behind their clean white towels and ivied brick walls. Paul squelches out some SPF 15 and offers me a dab, but I decline; I’m already lathered up. The sparrows have already started chirping at us for breadcrumbs, but today, no one’s feeling generous. Someone gets up suddenly, his feet crunching in the dusty gravel, as he jogs painfully over the caddy master hut. He comes back empty-handed, his verdict: “I’ll get you out before ten.” There are grumbles as always, and someone leaves to catch the bus back to Cleveland Circle, disappointed. The rest of us settle back in, fiddling with old tees and divot tools and staring at the empty parking lot, and the rolling fairways beyond.
A movement catches my eye; Derek the caddy master is leaving his hut. He shuts the door quickly and waddles briskly towards us. The newer caddies straighten up and hold their breath, but the veterans among us know it is false hope: no cars means no players, and no bags. Derek disappears purposefully into the pro shop, and an audible sigh escapes some weary lips.
“Man, I’ve been here since 7:30….”
A smooth, sleek convertible eases around the club house and purrs into a space next to the bag racks. This time, everyone on the bench straightens up. Eager eyes watch hungrily as several bags exit the trunk – Ping bags: lightweight, with padded straps and kick-stands, easy on caddies and a sure sign of good golfers, whose low handicaps will keep the round short and sweet. The bags lean expectantly on the old wooden rack. The players set off for Derek’s hut, and he dutifully emerges from the den of the pro shop with a laugh and a quick retort to one of the bag boys. He calls after the players and they turn, spikes slipping uneasily on the tarmac. They have a brief conversation, and disappear into the locker rooms. Derek saunters back towards his hut, and the bench is now alive, humming with a tension previously unimagined. Caddy smocks and slipped over heads and cinched into place. Sneakers are re-laced. Someone takes a last gulp of their soda and then rims the can off the trash can, hurriedly chasing after it to throw it away. The boyish camaraderie of the bench is gone. There is nervousness now in our shuffling feet, an awkward, competitive apprehension that fills the tiny green shack and seems to lift it, hovering, waiting in the humid morning air.
Again, the caddy master emerges from his tiny throne room, and this time we know it will be us he approaches. The parking lot seems miles wide, and Derek seems to take an eternity with each arrogant step. At last, he stops below us, gripping his awful clipboard and surveying each of us in turn, as if weighing our very souls. The nervous shifting has ceased, and in the utter silence a sparrow takes to the air, each fluttering wing beat pronounced with precision. Derek studies his clipboard again, then gives us a final once over. He drops the clipboard to his side, raising his other arm, finger out-stretched in a painfully slow point. The finger wavers, his great mouth opens to speak: just one word, one name…