Caddie Pay Scale Highlights Role’s Volatility
//Big paydays and big losses//
Among all of the jobs at a golf club, caddies develop some of the most tight-knit relationships with members and guests. Caddies can be a course’s strongest marketing assets, relaying hidden-gem architectural features and historical anecdotes that keep players hooked on the experience. But despite their lofty value, caddies often represent the bottom rung of a golf club’s employment hierarchy.
Caddies—on tour, as well—are independent contractors, meaning the club doesn’t pay them a dime. Every cent earned by a caddie is solely at the will of whose bags they’re carrying for the day. And while clubs will often make suggestions on how players should pay their loopers—$55 for the young guns, $75 for the top dogs, and so on—the scale is inherently volatile, never a sure thing.
The independent contractor model offers flexibility for caddies to work on their own schedule, and opens the door for a big payday, if they’re looping for the right people. What’s more, the contractor model ensures that all payment is under the table—unreported income that goes untaxed. You eat what you kill. On the other side of the coin, caddies have virtually zero employment rights. At most clubs, caddies are entitled to nothing: no health insurance, no 401K, no paid parental leave. Further, loopers pretty much anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line are out of work once winter settles in, forcing them to hitch a ride to warmer waters, collect unemployment, or peddle nick-nacks or drugs in the cold months. This model limits financial security for career jocks.
At its highest pay-out among the country club circuits, caddies can make a decent living. If a caddie averages $100 per bag and pulls in ten loops per week, that’s $2,000 of straight-up cash earnings. That rounds out to a chunky $104,000 per year salary. But it never works out that simply. Take out the winter months, several weeks of intermittent bad weather, or, say, a global pandemic, and total earnings are drastically slashed. If you’re looking to take some time off to visit family across the country, or go to your best friend’s wedding, there’s another week’s wages down the drain. So it goes: good weeks can right the ship, bad weeks can pile up and spoil the pot.
Tour caddies don’t have it much easier, having to pay their own way to each tournament—hotels, airfare, food—all around the world. A typical player-caddie agreement hits the tune of a weekly base payment, with percentage-based incentives for making cuts, top-20 finishes, and wins. Caddies on tour will often net around ten percent of their player’s earnings for a win, which is an absolute jackpot. But missed cuts don’t generate any bonuses, so on those unfortunate weeks, caddies earn only their pre-agreed weekly rate. Shit hit the fan on pay inequity within the professional caddie ranks in 2019 when 16-win PGA Tour veteran, Matt Kuchar, paid his fill-in looper a moribund $5,000 after a victory in Mexico. The win notched $1.29 million for Kuchar.
Regardless of the circuit, the caddie pay scale is tumultuous. High highs and low lows. We’re in just about the lowest of possible lows, amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. Caddie shacks around the world are closed down, and their inhabitants left to scavenge. If you can, consider supporting caddies during this time with a donation to this list of relief efforts.