• Connor Laubenstein

Ain’t No Party Like a Member-Guest Party

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

//Member-Guest weekend: a Bacchanalian binge-fest featuring broken bones and bee stings//

Most private golf clubs host an annual Member-Guest invitational, where the course’s members each invite a guest to compete alongside them in a three-day weekend tournament. Member-Guest tournaments are the closest thing private golf clubs have to nationalist displays: a muscle-flexing Bastille Day parade, meant to dazzle participants and underscore the benefits of being affiliated with the club. As such, the MG is often simultaneously a club’s single-greatest revenue driver and marketing expenditure.

At my old club, caddies live and die by Member-Guest weekends, too. With upwards of 100 pairings teeing it up for the tournament each year, most caddies in the shack will sherpa one group in the morning wave, and one in the afternoon each day. That’s six guaranteed loops in three days—and the price-per-bag increases for the big dance, so caddies are looking at mega earnings in a short window. Some loopers pulled in $2,500 for the three-day slugfest at my former shack, so the stakes are high.

Some caddies have their perennial groups—guys they caddie for every year, by request, for the Member-Guest. Others like to play the field, attempting to forge solid relationships with the right members a few months in advance, yearning to get the nod. This leads to some jockeying in the caddie ranks, each looper peacocking to impress the top four or five sugar-daddies to hitch their wagons to. Caddies weigh a member’s value on the right blend of who pays well and who’ll be the most fun: sneak them enough drinks, cruise to afterparties with, yield the best stories. God help those who don’t get requested by anybody: they’re typically stuck with the teetotal cheapo’s. It’s a lot like prom.

One of my friends in the shack was sent on a 6:45 a.m. mission to recover a lost guest from the night before in order to make their 8 a.m. tee time. The caddie broke into this guy’s rental house, woke his ass up and spoon-fed him some whiskey to cool the devil off before making it out to the course by the third hole. Several members and their guests have passed out in the parking lot, apparently falling asleep while debating whether or not to brave the journey home.

A fellow caddie and absolute mountain of a man, “The Dinosaur”, puked down his jumpsuit walking up the third fairway one year, due to exhaustion. I even dropped midway through my second loop on Saturday, reeling in the humid afternoon Boston air. I’d come off a particularly risqué evening, the only substantive things in my system being leftover vodka and black coffee. My legs went out and I hit the deck, the member in my group finding it hilarious how it’d looked like I got shot. But alongside The Dinosaur, after a brief hiatus to the nearby pro shop to guzzle some water, we pushed on. The reward is too damn high, quitting isn’t an option.

In another case of mid-loop misfortune at the Member-Guest, my first group of the day on Sunday was trudging up to the 14th green when I got stung by a bee right between the index and middle knuckles of my right hand. I thought little of it at the time, beyond the quick jolt of pain to the hand. “I’ll be fine,” I assured the group, not knowing that I’d developed a mild allergic reaction to bees. We finished out the hole and carried on. My hand felt hot, I remember, and by the time we reached 17 tee, it looked like I was wearing a boxing glove.

I still had another loop that afternoon and we were in contention to win the tournament. After plunging the claw into an ice bucket between rounds to numb it down, we headed back out for the afternoon wave. I was essentially caddying two bags one-handed—the swelling had gotten so bad that I couldn’t even make a fist. We’d end up not winning the tournament, but god damn it was fun to party with the wrecking ball attached to my arm that night.

The actual work for the Member-Guest can be a blast, too. On a typical day, I wouldn’t care less if I’m caddying for a good player, or a total dud, so long as they’re quick on the course, pay the rate, or decent enough people to talk to. But the Member-Guest gets the competitive engines firing. The field is tiered based on handicap, and each day is broken down into a series of matches and mini games that accumulate points.

At the end of the weekend, winners in each flight are factored by points, and a master winner is determined through a final elimination-style charge up the grand 18th hole. Being in those final ten groups storming up to the clubhouse veranda, packed with a 400-person gallery of other players, families, and club staff, is the closest feeling a private country club can offer to a Major Sunday. You want to be part of that action—you want everyone to see you read the line of the putt to win it all.

The winners’ trophies, in addition to the thousands of dollars in cash of side bets throughout the week are reason enough to make you grind that extra bit harder to make your players feel comfortable and in control—to be confident in each club you hand them, and each spot you point to on the putting surface.

The final putt on Sunday unleashes the biggest celebration of all. Side bets are tallied and wads of cash change hands. Caddies roll in their weekend’s earnings. Everyone involved immediately begins eyeing next year’s tournament, looking to fill another chapter in the Member-Guest storybook.