Scotland’s caddies given green light but fear ‘disastrous season’
Industry could take a year to recover, given strict social-distancing measures and big reduction in visitors
A “disastrous season” is being predicted for the caddying industry in Scotland despite the service being allowed to resume as part of Scottish Golf’s guidelines for phase two of lockdown restrictions being eased.
Caddies at clubs all over Scotland have been out of work for nearly three months, having had to wait for the first phase in the delivery of “safe golf” at clubs since courses reopened on 29 May to be assessed before getting the green light to get back out on courses.
Even then, the guidance from the governing body for the industry to resume states that a caddie can only have contact with up to two households per day and are “limited to the carrying of a golf bag, providing advice only and not passing golf clubs to a player”.
Paul MacMichael, who normally works at Gleneagles, told The Scotsman he had not heard yet that caddies are being allowed to resume their duties, but he welcomed the steps being put in place to “ensure the safety of golfers and caddies alike”.
He added: “The other major issue is not so much the nuts and bolts of how we carry out our responsibilities but, rather, how many visiting golfers there might be. At Gleneagles, 75 per cent of our caddying jobs are for golfers from overseas.
“Especially while the 14-day quarantine [for visitors coming into the UK] remains in place, it is very difficult to envisage anything other than a disastrous season for our industry.”
Early on in lockdown, an appeal fund was launched by St Andrews caddie master Fraser Riddler to raise money to support the 200 or so “loopers” who normally work in the town. A similar fund was set up at Gleneagles, but it didn’t raise as much as had been hoped.
“In the last three months, we have been impacted in several ways, the most obvious being the financial implications,” added MacMichael. “I have had little contact with others in the caddie team but know that some have been able to access some of the funds that have been made available to self-employed persons. However, a very significant proportion of our total income is by way of gratuities from our golfers.
“Aside from the financial aspect, like so many other people it has been very frustrating being stuck around the house. Caddying is a great way of life: plenty of exercise amidst some of the best scenery there is and meeting such an interesting cross-section of golfers. Every day is different and this variety is part of the attraction of the job, which makes the current situation hard to live with.”
CaddieMaster is a company that runs programmes in both the UK and US, where a relief fund set up by the PGA of America has provided valuable support. “All of our caddies in the UK are independent contractors, so this has hit hard,” said director Steven Kinnaird. “In Scotland, we rely heavily on visiting play. Without people arriving into the country, the volume of play is massively affected. What this in turn means is that, unlike private clubs, we do not have a membership who are in a position to assist the caddies.
“With the nature of the golf industry in Scotland, the closure of the travel and tourism industry has all but cancelled the 2020 season. The season is not normally very long at the best of times. It’s a bleak outlook for all caddies, who rely heavily on travelling golfers from all over the globe to stride our fairways.”
Can the caddie industry recover from this crisis? “Absolutely,” insisted Kinnaird. “We are already witnessing it recovering at numerous venues. It will not happen overnight but, absent another spike, we fully expect things to be back to normal by 2021, though, in Scotland it may be a little slower to pick up to levels worthy of providing a caddie’s livelihood once again.
“We have produced Covid-19 specific safety documents, procedures, protocols as well as highly efficient safety measures to ensure our programmes are in the best possible place to offer our world-class caddie experience when the time comes.
“It is quite easy to enjoy a round of golf with a caddie and maintain safe social distancing protocols whilst minimising common touch points. All we need is the green light and it is a very positive step to see our operational standing mentioned in dispatches within the Scottish Golf update.
“It is now down to the specific clubs to decide whether they want to re-open the caddie operations at this time, or not. All of our hard work and preparation during lockdown for this moment means that when the green light comes, we are ready to go with immediate effect.”
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