NCG’s Golfing Glossary: The origins of the word ‘caddie’

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'Show up, keep up and shut up'

Sometimes you need a little help when you’re out on the course – whether it’s a tip on how to improve your stroke or a little tidbit to get the conversation started.

 

Not unlike the subject of this week’s NCG Golfing Glossary, we’re here to help. To carry the load, if you will, while you head out and enjoy yourself. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to give you a step-by-step introduction to the wonderful world of the golfing lexicon.

 

 

Word of the week: Caddie 

 

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What I think it means:

 

When it comes to the grand scheme of things, although some of us dream of becoming a professional golfer, the truth is we’re nowhere near that level. Consider this – you have to get to +3 to even be considered for England Golf’s amateur squads.

 

So what other roles are there, if you fancy a career out on the links?

 

Well, you could try and be a caddie – if you’ve got the smarts for it.

 

‘Show up, keep up and shut up’
And I don’t mean a caddie for a professional golfer, those guys are elite-level professionals who more than justify their 10 per cent cut of whatever their player earns. Theirs are relationships and a level of trust that are forged over years of traveling the world and competing together.

 

When Steve Elkington won the 1995 US PGA, he gave the whole of his £100,000 cheque to caddy Dave Renwick as a thank you.

 

That’s a heck of a gig to get, unless your player happens to be Robert Allenby.

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Rather, an achievable goal is to become a caddie at one of the game’s great venues, such as St Andrews. At the Old Course, the caddies have only within the past 15 years become regulated – before then it was luck of the draw whether a tourist got a seasoned expert or a slightly-inebriated ne’er-do-well.

 

But I’m curious as to where the word ’caddie’ comes from. In everyday life, the only other place you really encounter the word is via tea caddies. But what my Grandma’s tub where she kept her tea leaves has to do with golf, I’ve no idea.


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At least, I hope it was tea and not my granddad’s ashes…

 

 

Dictionary definition:

 

’A person hired to carry a player’s clubs, find the ball, etc.’

 

That’s about as dry a definition as you can get for a caddie.

 

Dave Musgrove put it another way. The caddie to Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle when they won the Open, he said: “Show up, keep up and shut up.”

 

But since then the role has evolved, to the point where a caddie must be an expert on the course, the weather, and their player’s game. Martin Rowley, European Caddies’ Association secretary, put it this way: “You’ve got to tell your player about the negatives of playing such and such a shot but not so much that you’re putting doubts in his mind. The best caddies do it brilliantly.”


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While we’re at it, what is the correct spelling? Is it caddie or caddy?

 

Traditional Scottish usage has it as caddie, and that remains the preferred form in British and American golf writing, including the R&A and USGA’s own publication. However, caddy is also a correct Scottish form and continues to be used.

 

Origins:

 

The word derives from the French words ’le cadet’, meaning ’the boy’.

 

It became used to mean ’errand boy’ and this sense of an object used to aid carrying or storage became extended to include things like a luggage caddy or a tea caddie.

 

Golf assistants likely became known as caddies during the 1600s, when military cadets were used to carry the clubs for French royalty.


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In Scotland, they tell a slightly different tale. 


Myth has it that Mary Queen of Scots introduced the phrase ‘caddie’, but this is unlikely as she left the country in 1568 and caddie doesn’t come into use in Scotland until the 18th Century. Rather, during that period in Scotland, odd-job men and messengers formed themselves into mock guilds, complete with rules and captains. 


Caddie came to be applied to any of these men who could be hired for odd jobs – including those hired to carry the bags of gentlemen golfers.

 

Last week we took a trip to space discovered the meaning of the phrase ’golden ferret’. You can read all about it by clicking here.

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