St Andrews hosting first ‘Caddie School for Soldiers’

Swapping war zones for the sanctuary of a golf course may not appear to be a seamless switch, but it’s giving a new lease of life to six battle-hardened veterans currently taking part in the ground-breaking ‘Caddie School for Soldiers’ in Fife.
The first veterans to attend the Caddie School for Soldier get to work on The Dukes CourseThe first veterans to attend the Caddie School for Soldier get to work on The Dukes Course
The first veterans to attend the Caddie School for Soldier get to work on The Dukes Course

Throughout February, the group of ex-servicemen from the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada are learning the art of ‘looping’ from scratch under the watchful eye of Davy Gilchrist, who was twice voted Caddie Master of the Year in Scotland during a spell at Kingsbarns.

The six are based at The Duke’s Course on the outskirts of St Andrews, where they are undertaking a crash course that is aimed at helping them carve out a new career at a time when roughly 22 veterans in the US are committing suicide every day due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

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“This is something that can help people find a focus, find something to keep them going,” Richard Bee, a 29-year-old from Michigan, told The Scotsman before the group headed out to put into practice what they’d learned so far as they caddied for some golfers representing Blesma, a UK charity for limbless veterans.

“We always talk about the mental side of it (being in the services), but there’s a physical side of it that no-one seems to want to talk about,” added Bee, who undertook three tours – two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan – during an eight-year stint in the US army and is still a reservist. “With this, we are able to be physically active and are also getting a new mental challenge.”

The idea for the school was conceived by American Don Snyder, who worked as a caddie himself for two years in the St Andrews area to prepare for a stint on his son’s bag, which he wrote about in a book, Walking With Jack.

“This school was just a dream, but it seems more real every day we spend here,” said Snyder. “These guys have bonded together. Almost like a band of brothers, I suppose.”

Recalling his own stint learning the caddying ropes, he added: “It was a tough time in my life. Basically, it was one of those times that I had lost belief in myself and every time I went out and caddied and earned the trust of a stranger, you get a little bit of that belief back.

“When I heard about all these soldiers having difficulty, it just seemed to me, that for many reasons, they would make perfect caddies.

“The great caddies have this intense loyalty about them. Never give up when you are a golfer, no matter what. They are also as tough as sled dogs. And, for the most part, they are refugees from some other life. That’s exactly what soldiers are. I’ve already seen these boys beginning to recover the belief in themselves. Every time they are out their with a golfer you can see it in their faces how they have changed in the short time they have been here.”

David Scott, a Masters PGA professional and director of golf, Leuchars & Estates, has been assisting Gilchrist in delivering some of the training, both in the classroom and out on the course.

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“This is different but I’d say it is probably top of the tree, it really is,” replied Scott to being asked where this initiative sat compared to others in his career in the game.

“To be able to see these guys come out of their shell and flourish is so gratifying. It’s not only helping them as individuals, it’s helping their families as well. To have them go out and do an honest day’s work and maybe come back after two loops with £150 and know he’s going to do the same tomorrow, everybody is happy. It is really exciting. It is spine-
tingling, in fact.

“Davy has been doing a brilliant job. It’s not just a few tips on how to do this and that. It’s fast forwarding his knowledge into a month and these guys are going to come out the other end in a position where they will be able to do a very good job.”

Joining Bee as the school’s first residential batch – they are all sharing a house in Elie – are Edinburgh man Scott Hale, English pair Rob Linge and Simon Jones and Canadian duo Kevin Dunphy and Troy Killingbeck.

“We have a mixture of marines, special forces and one from the RAF,” added Scott. “At the start, they were all very nervous because they were not too sure what to expect. But now they are coming in with smiles on faces and can’t wait to caddie for the next person they’ve never met before. They’ve been given the tools, they’re starting to feel more confident. They are looking the part, feeling the part and now they are starting to perform as quality caddies.”