Arriving at 4:30 a.m. to the serenely quiet Hamilton Golf & Country Club, I was greeted with only the hum of the fairway mowers in the distance, and the birds slowly waking up to a sun hidden behind stormy clouds.
If you haven’t already heard… Summers Open, and Wednesday means Pro-Am day.
I wanted to arrive on site early to document the full experience of the Pro-Am Caddie, probably one of the best volunteer experiences one can have at a professional golf event. An early morning indeed, but worth it through and through.
As you arrive at the course, you get on the sign-up list, first come first serve style, for the jobs available. As you wait around the practice area, both professional and amateur players begin to trickle in, and you are greeted by growing anticipation of who’s group you’re going to loop.
The pro’s play with their own caddies (trust me you don’t want to carry their staff bags anyway), and some of the amateurs bring their own people, but one-by-one the names on the list get called up and given their caddie bibs. You cheer for your brethren in dawn waking, excited for their inside the ropes experience with their prospective playing partners, but you’re also excited that your name is one closer to the top.
Eventually, too, my name was read, and I stepped up. I ended up on the bag of a lovely and local father/son duo, who live for the pro-am setting and the cheer of the crowd for their shots, it’s not their first rodeo. The players, including my own, were on the range early and so were the fans, ooh-ing and aww-ing as wedges zipped backwards and drives cracked through the stately oaks of Hamilton Golf and Country Club. Standing on the practice tee, next to the best players in the world, holds an unimaginable sense of importance to it. The elusive inside the ropes experience. Everyone outside the ropes wants to get inside, and everyone inside wants to stay inside. Narrowed down to the exclusivity of cardinal essentialism, the inside the ropes pass to the range, the course, and the proceedings of a PGA TOUR tournament are second to none in “coolness.” It really must be on everyone’s tournament to-do list.
We were paired with J.J. Spaun, recent Web.com grad and Mackenzie Tour alum. Spaun could not have been more friendly, right from the start of the day, he was approachable, talkative, and ready to answer any question or laugh at any joke. Quick to say “Great shot!” I only wish there were more holes. Spaun and his caddie Zeke were as interested in us enjoying our time on the course, as they were with preparing for a PGA TOUR Tournament. It is truly an amazing phenomenon. You can spend hours shoulder to shoulder with one of the best golfers in the world, just by signing up, and there is nothing you can’t ask about, or get his opinion on, or hear some of his amazing stories from his life as a professional golfer. Just to watch these guys and girls hit a ball up close is phenomenal. To bring back the “These guys are good” saying would be an understatement.
The experience transcends Spaun as well, as everyone on the course today had a mirrored encounter. The way the PGA TOUR and the tournament directors instil the level of importance and appreciation for the fans in their players is amazing. It is a one of a kind experience, going shot-for-shot with a pro, and you won’t get it in any other sport in the world.
I only wish I could have played! But it’s the new age of golf, and growing the game through accessibility is king. Anyone with a basic understanding of golf can register to be a pro-am caddie, and although you don’t get to hit the shots, you get to be right there, walking up the fairways with an amazing and idolized golfer, some new amateur friends, and a swarm of happy patrons, who just like you, love to see great golf.
The Canadian flag over the clubhouse whipped as the wind started to pick up and the rains came this afternoon, but the crowds were still there all Wednesday long. It’s not even competition play, but that fans are ready to see some golf, and starting tomorrow morning after the D-Day Memorial Ceremony, some amazing golf, played by amazing professionals, on an amazing course, is exactly what they’ll see.