The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 20, 2013

Goodwin: With golf carts came demise of caddies, desire to walk

I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with golf carts.

I guess I’m too much of a traditionalist. I also liked to walk, at least I did a long, long time ago.

Back in the days when I was beginning to take a bit of interest in the game, golf carts were three-wheelers that seemed prone to tip over if a driver turned or stopped too quickly.

The first time I saw a three-wheeler was during one of those Sunday afternoon 1950s telecasts featuring a challenge match between the teams of Arnold Palmer-Gary Player and Julius Boros-George Bayer. The players and most of the crowd were walking. But sprinkled in the gallery were a handful or so of the new-fangled cars bumping down the fairways.

I don’t remember thinking that those ungainly looking vehicles might one day change the nature of the game. I just knew they were ugly.

But the fact is that they did change the landscape of golf. Everyone started riding when their club or course got carts.

The most significant impact that golf carts had on the game, at least immediately, was that people quit walking.  I suspect the number of walkers began dropping in direct proportion to the number of carts available. This wasn’t a passing fad. I suspect riders outnumber walkers.

Time is a big reason. Golfers could get off work, race to the course and get in nine holes, maybe even 18, before dark. The same applied to Saturdays and Sundays. Riding is just faster. Or it should be.

The advent of golf carts caused the caddy-yard to disappear. In the 1950s and earlier, many, if not most, avid golfers learned the game by carrying clubs for a nickel, dime or quarter and watching the swings of the better players.  Almost overnight, caddies lost their jobs.

In those days, as I recall, serious players might take a few lessons. But most of the guys that I knew learned their swings by mimicking the top players for whom they were caddying. It required a keen eye and a lot of refinement.

The learning-by-watching approach certainly wasn’t perfect. But it spurred the development Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead as well legions of pros and amateurs who weren’t quite as talented or dedicated.  

One of the greatest losses were the stories emanating from the caddy yards where youngsters swapped stories about other caddies and their players.

 Ky Laffoon was at the center of a classic story. One day at Miami (Okla.) Country Club in the late 1920s a young Ky was toting for a player who was hitting the ball Army-style — left, right, left, right. The guy called Ky the “worst caddy ever” because he couldn’t find balls lost in the high weeds. Laffoon’s reply was a gem:  “That would be too much of a coincidence.”

For those who haven’t heard of Laffoon, Ky  became head pro at Joplin’s Twin Hills Golf and Country Club, fashioned a successful career on the pro tour, winning 10 times, and became something of a legend for his temperament and zany ways. His name is honored with the permanent trophy awarded to the winning seniors team in annual intercity matches between Joplin and Springfield.

From the home of golf, St. Andrews, comes the story of a wizened Scottish caddy who refused to hold the flagstick as his player putted out. The old caddy pointed to the player’s golf cart and said: “If ye want the flagstick held, let that thing (golf cart) over there do it.”  

The old caddy probably suspected that his days and those of his compatriots were numbered, although I have been told that St. Andrews still requires caddies for each group regardless whether the players are riding or walking.

My concern with the impact of golf carts has mellowed with the years. I no longer walk the course. I might take a dozen or so steps over to the ball before I hit it, but most of the time I’ll even ride that short distance. I have a bad knee and simply can’t walk very far without encountering discomfort.

Still, I miss walking. It encouraged me to concentrate, and allowed me to gradually blow off steam and recover my composure after a terrible shot or a three-putt.

A positive trend today is that more people are walking and working out in pursuit of physical fitness. Golf can add to their quality of life.

As for myself, perhaps I’ll wrap up my knee tightly and give walking a try in a week or so. Then again, maybe not.

Prigmore Classic

The 17th annual Kiwanis J.T. Prigmore Senior Charity Classic is scheduled Saturday, May 4, at Carthage Golf Course. Players must be 50 years of age or older.

A shotgun start is planned at 8:30 a.m. for the 2-person scramble. Entry fee is $50 per player. Prizes will be awarded in each of four flights. Flights and prizes are based on a full field of 40 teams.

Entries and fees should be returned to Carthage Municipal Golf Course, 2000 Richard Webster Dr., Carthage, Mo. 64836.

Rotary scramble

The Carthage Rotary Club’s four-man scramble will be played Friday, May 11, at the Carthage course. It is a four-person scramble and a 1 p.m. shotgun start is planned. Entry is $300.

Flights and prizes will be determined by the number of entries.  Lunch and awards will be sponsored by Leggett & Platt Inc. and Arvest Bank.

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