The New York Times looks today at the community of golf caddies who live in Harlem, and commute by public transportation to the many private golf clubs in the tri-state area to practice a trade that they've been doing for decades. Dozens of older men who live and socialize near Harlem mainstays like Sylvia's have been caddying almost their whole lives and represent the first-string of caddies who work at the nearly 200 private golf clubs within a 75-mile radius of Manhattan. Harlem is a favored neighborhood for these men due to its Metro-North stop that can take them out to Westchester and Connecticut.
Their jobs consist of lugging two golf bags, each weighing around 40 pounds, over 18 holes in a round that can last three to five hours. In addition, they can offer their wisdom of a lifetime spent on golf courses to help shave a few strokes off their clients' games. For their services, physical and otherwise, they can earn $100 to $200 per round. Many of these men are feeling their age, however. Ervin McClean, who is 68 years old and began caddying at age 12 in North Carolina, told the Times that he has diabetes and high blood pressure, and has experienced fainting spells. Caddying is strictly a cash business, and there are no health benefits or retirement plans.
The heyday of many of these men's careers was caddying for pro players in PGA tournaments. There was a time when caddying on the tour was predominantly a profession of black men. Ironically, as the PGA Tour became more integrated and the prize money swelled, black caddies were pushed out by white replacements drawn to the profession.
Now many members of this group of aging experienced men congregate in Harlem, where their professionalism is valued at area golf clubs and their knowledge is passed on by mentoring younger caddies.
Mr. McCray speaks with reverence about the game of golf and about the great players he once worked alongside, offering detailed recollections of crucial holes, shots and putts and an unflinching critique of his players’ skills, strategy and competitiveness.
“You got to love golf to be a good caddie,” he said after a recent round with a foursome of 30-something bankers at North Hempstead Country Club on Long Island. “That’s at the heart of it.”
Joe Davis, a member of Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, reflected on a caddy he'd grown close to over the more-than-20 years he'd been playing golf at the club. Davis retired in 2001 from a long career on Wall St., and realizes that the men who carry bags for members cannot stop working. "I was born 6-foot-4 and white, and he was born 6-foot-4 and black. That’s the only difference."
(Map of private NY golf courses from InfoSpace)