Nid waved to her friend, Lek, who had just been assigned to a Farang’s golf bag. The time was 1130 on a typical mid-week day at a golf course near Pattaya. The number on Nid’s jacket showed 391 – close to a hundred greater than Lek’s. With that many caddies waiting for a bag, Nid knew there was little chance of a job this day. By 1400 the last golfer had teed off, taking caddie number 340. That means Nid will be 51st in line for a job tomorrow, plus or minus no-shows and preferred caddie bookings.
The following day Nid is at the course by 0630. At 0930 she is allocated to a Farang golfer who is part of a group booking. Following a five-hour round, the golfer gives her a 200 baht tip. After collecting a further 180 baht from the caddie master – her share of the caddie fee collected by the course at check-in, she kicks her somewhat used motorbike into life and commences the 20-minute drive home. The time is now 1630.
Nid’s two young kids rush to greet her as she parks the bike away. They lead her into the humble abode where her mama gives a smile of welcome. She places 380 baht into a jar and contemplates further the nuances of a caddie’s lot – 380 baht is all she has to show for the last three days. But that is not the worst of it. Today, amongst her fellow caddies, she lost face due to her customer not understanding her reading of a putt. After remonstrating with her, the Farang golfer had said, loudly and with pointing finger, “You not good caddie.” That happened on the 12th hole. Not a word had she or the golfer spoken since. On arriving back at the car park to finalise matters the golfer had said, so others including the caddie master could hear, “You lucky I give tip.” The other caddies, she noticed, all got the usual 300 baht. In her five years caddying it had happened before, and it will happen again. Nid had noticed the caddie master’s glance. She had read his thoughts. Customer pay money. Customer important. Me not important. The 100 baht she did not get would have been enough to provide more than one meal for her family of five.
He was struggling to come to grips with what was happening. Here he was on the 12th tee and a mere three shots over par. A sixteen-handicapper playing the round of his life, and what a time to do it – the monthly medal competition! He was hitting the ball the same as he usually did. The difference was in the putting – an amazing seven one-putt greens in the first nine holes – unbelievable. A badly cut tee-shot then missed the fairway right. After hacking his second out of light rough, his ball finished up short of the green by some 10 yards. Following his pitch, he needed a six-footer to save his par. His caddie marked his ball, cleaned it, and replaced it when it was his turn to putt. He looked at her for guidance, much as he had done since the first tee. She indicated the break, first with her hand – showing a curving motion going from left to right and down, then with words saying, “ Sai, three cup. Lohm mak mak.”
The golfer peered intently at his line of putt. He did this to give the impression he knew what he was doing. Truth be told, he had never bothered to train himself to read a putt, preferring to trust in the caddie’s interpretation. It was why he preferred the older more experienced caddies. In spite of what the caddie had said he simply could not see any break, let alone one equating to three holes. And no way was it was a downhill putt! Choosing to align on to the left edge of the cup, he took aim and gave the ball a firm stroke. He was horrified to see the ball go through the break, without a hint of turn, and pick up speed to finally come to rest off the green, hard up against the edge of the apron, all of 20 feet past the hole –14 feet further away than from where he had started. He glared at his caddie while quickly striding to his ball. Without hesitation, he putted again, this time finishing six feet short. “Why you give me bad line on putt? You bad caddie,” Nid heard him say, with a few expletives thrown in. After missing the next putt, he walked off with a treble-bogey, swearing at his “incompetent” caddie for causing him to four-putt. He finished his round with a net 74, a gross 90. An ordinary finish after what had promised so much. If only that bitch of a caddie had been half competent, I could have scooped the pool!
So, what really happened on the 12th green? The Farang in question had one-putted seven of the first nine holes; a remarkable statistic for a professional, let alone a casual golfer playing off a sixteen handicap. Like many Pattaya golfers, this was a golfer who had not bothered to develop his own ability to read greens. Much kudos, therefore, should be given his caddie for his front nine performance. Unfortunately, after four-putting the 12th, our golfer was in no mood to be complimentary, even though Nid’s knowledge of the course had accounted for a large part of his success up until that time. His mood made worse by a fellow competitor offering just this view.
Had the golfer taken the time and made some effort to understand the ways of caddies, he would never have suffered that four-putt. And, given his position relative to par, may well have gone on to win the day’s comp. When the caddie said “Sai three cup, lohm mak mak,” she was referring first, to it being a left-to-right breaking putt (sai means left, qua is right), and then to the direction of the grain (lohm sounds like loom, refers to grain), not the slope or elevation. Mak mak means a bloody lot. Caddies are taught to reveal grass grain direction rather than slope, because the caddie trainers assume, possibly wrongly, that even dumb Farang can see whether a putt is uphill or downhill. So, to many Farang who are ignorant of how to read grain direction, caddies will tell you by saying “khung” (up) or lohm (down) and pointing with their hands. The direction of grain can have significant influence on speed of putt, yet to the uninitiated it is hard to tell what direction the grain is going. Be aware, it is illegal to test the surface of the greens. Thus when caddies say khung or lohm they are referring to grain, not slope or elevation. Down grain means a fast putt. Into or up grain means the reverse. The grain’s influences on the speed of a putt can be huge, certainly far more than the eye can see. Had our ignorant golfer taken a line three or four cups (caddie assessments tend to err on the side of caution) to the left, and given the ball a gentle nudge, thus allowing it to take the break, he would either have putted out or have been left with a tap-in.
Regardless of these hypothetical events on the hypothetical 12th hole, there is something far more fundamental being raised here. When you play golf in Thailand, you will be required to engage the services of a caddie. No caddie, no play. So accept the inevitable and learn how to get the best out of them. You can start by realising the different reasons why you are both there on the golf course on any given day. You are there to have fun, presumably. She is there because it provides her livelihood. Without exception, the Nids of Thailand are working to support their loved ones in providing life’s basic needs. That your fun day out provides the means with which she will feed her family, is the reason she spends five hours carting your golf bag around a course where she can spend up to 12 hours a day. On some days she will get nothing. On days where she actually has a customer, she will earn circa 500 baht.
Now, what does it really matter that you missed a putt? How crucial was it, really? In the context of what you and your caddie are there for, your missed putt, or some other caddie “ demeanour” palls into insignificance when taken in the overall context of things. Your focus should be on how to have fun, how to improve your golf and, for the purposes of this discussion, how to better manage your caddie.
- There are certain skills/knowledge you need to acquire yourself. These include scoring, determining distance and club selection, line of chip/putt, and rules – both the Rules of Golf and local rules. Without a basic understanding of these four elements, you will be a handicap to yourself, your fellow players, and whatever caddie is unfortunate to draw you.
You are responsible for the scores of the golfer whose card you are marking, your caddie is not. In fact, the Rules of Golf state you, the fellow competitor, must record the score and sign the card off. You have a duty of care to the rest of the field to ensure your playing partner’s scores, hole by hole, are correct. You have a duty to the golf organiser to return a signed and legible card, including your name as marker.
When asked for a distance, say to a water hazard, caddies have been taught to err on the side of caution, thus ensuring their customer’s ball does not go in the hazard. Trouble is they can err too much, leaving you a long way away for your follow-up shot. The answer is to take responsibility for this by determining distance and club selection yourself. Get to know the distance markers on each course and learn how far you hit each club – through the air! This can be easily done at a driving range. You should also be aware some caddies, when giving distance, will factor in wind. Eg., adding on 40 yards due to a head-wind, thus coming up with “Song loy,” or two hundred yards, where in fact it is only 160. They are simply trying to help. There are many other examples of well-intentioned advice leading to confusion, but suffice to say try to become self-sufficient regarding distances and club-selection. Remember, you cannot ask a fellow player about club selection, but you may ask the distance.
Line of putt or chip: whilst this is the area where caddies can provide most assistance, it is best received in the form of a second opinion, rather than total reliance on their view. A caddie does not know how hard you are going to hit the ball, nor does she know whether your putter will strike the ball on its sweet spot – indeed, do you? Establish the pattern with your caddie on the first green. Look at the line before she has the chance. Then ask, “What you think?” or ask nothing at all if you are sure you have read it correctly. If, having made a putt where she accurately gave you the line, take the opportunity to thank her, in front of her peers. Conversely, if she gives you a bad line, the consequences are never her fault, they are yours. Never blame your caddie for what is your error and your error alone.
Rules of Golf state that your caddie is your agent, therefore you are responsible for the consequences of their actions. What happens when an inexperienced caddie, thinking the next shot is automatically given, lifts the ball from its spot on the green – on the edge of the cup – before the golfer has the chance to hole out? Would you replace the ball, hole out and add a one-shot penalty?
Thai caddies don’t just caddie for Farang. Many Thai and Korean golfers play two games within a game – on the greens and elsewhere. The big money comes out on each green. They are more concerned with a hole by hole result amongst the fourball/fiveball/sixball, rather than an 18-hole score. So caddies learn to pick the ball up when it’s a given or ‘gimmie’. Now enter the Farang, where they play competition golf against a wider field, unbeknown to the caddie, and there arises the occasional problem. To get around this some societies may have local rules covering certain unwitting actions of caddies, although the Local Rules of the IPGC or PSC do not cover this. Perhaps they should?
There are many other instances where caddies unwittingly infringe the Rules. All we can do is advise them of the error of their ways, but in a manner such that they don’t lose face. Rules protecting the golfer from unfair penalties will be the subject of a future post.
- When you emerge from the clubhouse and meet up with your golf bag and caddie to start your day, greet her (or him) with, “Sawadee Khrup,” or ‘Ka” if you’re female, and give your head a small nod – never wai. She doesn’t need anything else to know that she has a polite Farang, who just might make her task more pleasant than it usually is. Also inform her of your teeing order – group number. This tells her what other caddies she will be sharing the day with, thus allowing her the chance to organise things better – they share food etc.
- Caddies will have their own drink and food stored somewhere on the golf trundler supporting your bag. Most drink stops also provide basic drinks for caddies, free. When arriving at a drink stop, you can offer them a drink, but many would far prefer the money instead. Offer them either and let them choose. Personally, I make this offer once, at the first drink stop by giving them 40 or 50 baht and saying, “up to you.” This is not deducted from the tip paid at the end of the round.
- Tipping. Each golf outlet should have its own standard as to the size of tip to be paid. This will refer to the minimum amount. The PGS expects its golfers to pay 300 baht. Some will pay more if they are so inclined, but for the sake of harmony, and the expat’s pocket, a uniform price is preferred. More is expected if the caddie is a regular booking. Some schools pay more for twos, whilst every school should expect to pay a reasonable bonus (500 – 1000 baht?) for a hole in one. Personally, I will tip extra if I encounter an outstanding attitude, irrespective of competence.
- A happy caddie can have a profound influence on how you enjoy your day’s golf. Treating them with respect is a good start. Use “khrup” (or “Ka”) often and always. It is an easy word to say. It means thank you, but in Thai it implies a lot more. It says you are respectful, infers you come from a good family, and most importantly, gives your caddie face amongst her peers. Attach it on the end of a “yes” or “no” answer, or on to a request for a club, “Lek ha, khrup,” or “five iron, khrup.” Doesn’t take much, but you will make her day more enjoyable than those that suffer from a lot of the crap many Farang think they have the right to dish out. She will also be better company as a result. When giving the tip at the end of the round say, “For you, khrup.”
- Thais are not comfortable with physical contact in public, especially with strangers. Hugging a caddie you have known for all of 30 minutes after a good shot, is a no no. A high five, maybe. But a simple nod of the head in her direction is well received, especially after sinking a putt that followed her line.
- Many Thais are naturally shy. Ever noticed a Thai appear to laugh or snigger when something unfortunate befalls an individual? Maybe an accident where a Farang falls over and hurts themselves? They are “laughing” because they are embarrassed. They feel for your situation, and are actually showing sympathy. Remember this the next time something bad befalls you or your golf, and your caddie appears to laugh.
- Provisional ball. Caddies do not like to be the bearer of bad news. If there is any chance your badly-directed golf ball has not gone OB or into the hazard, they will tend to say words they think you want to hear. Add this to the fact that English is hardly their first language, and you have the potential for frustration and time wasting – as you trudge back to the tee. Even asking questions like, “did you see the ball actually bounce?” can elicit a little white lie – to cover for their embarrassment. If at all in doubt, hit a provisional ball.
- Never do or say anything that could cause your caddie to lose face in front of her peers. Nothing you could do would leave her feeling worse about herself, and you. Remember, she is there to pull your bag and give you advice if she thinks you want it. Whether you take that advice on-board is entirely up to you. The outcome is also your responsibility. No caddie ever made a poor club selection or played a bad shot, only golfers can do that.
- Sometimes you will experience a caddie whose indifference suggests she would rather be elsewhere. We all have our bad days. Just let it be and get on with your golf knowing next time it will be different. Remember, having a caddie you don’t get on with is really not that important. Don’t be one of those tossers who, on not getting on with their caddie, demands the caddie master organise another. Such action could cost that caddie her job, and with it her family’s livelihood. Is your game of golf that important?
By embracing the points covered here, your enjoyment of golf in the Kingdom should increase significantly. So too will your scores. I trust any appreciation is directed towards the Nids of Thailand.