Feb
6
2014
Caddies unite! (…To receive benefits and end second-class citizen treatment)
By Stephanie Wei under Caddies
Kuchar's caddie Lance Bennett points toward their target
The caddies on the PGA Tour are joining forces to improve their working conditions and week-to-week treatment, and most important, they’re looking to secure healthcare and retirement benefits. More than 100 loopers — 92 of which as of this week have officially paid their yearly dues of $500 each, along with a one-time $100 initiation fee — have organized to form the Association of Professional Tour Caddies (APTC), which was established following several meetings last fall.

After years of often feeling like they were being treated like second-class citizens, a group of caddies, spearheaded by APTC president James Edmondson, who works for three-time PGA Tour winner Ryan Palmer, decided to take matter into their own hands. 

What sent them over the edge was a disturbing incident at last September’s Barclays, the first leg of the FedExCup playoffs, convincing Edmondson and his peers that change needed to happen.

“We had that big rain delay on Thursday and we were in our caddie area in the cart barn that they had put together for us at Liberty National,” explained Edmondson. “We were sitting in there and having a bite at our tables, and all of a sudden, three or four tournament security guards start demanding to see everyone’s badges, including myself…

“They proceeded to go to other tables asking people for their credentials. They ended up throwing out some caddies’ parents and wives, and it was pouring outside.”

That’s when Edmondson and the other caddies at his table started discussing how they needed to eliminate these types of situations.

“That was kind of the moment that this whole thing got ignited,” he said. “Actually, sitting at the table, I sent an email to the law firm that we’ve now hired.”

The caddies enlisted the legal services of Fort Worth, Texas, attorney, Christian Dennie of the firm, Barlow, Garsek & Simon, LLP, to represent them in their cause to seek improved conditions and benefits.

“Our profession has evolved over the years,” said vice president Lance Bennett, who caddies for Matt Kuchar. “In this day and age, our players are playing for incredible amount of money. It requires our profession (as caddies) to become more professional and approach our jobs in a way that we can take care of our families.

“Several decades ago (players) weren’t using the same caddie every week — some guys did, but some weren’t. Not all guys were doing it as a profession. Some were doing it to travel the country and maybe to have fun (on the road).

“Now, it seems like a profile of a guy out here seems more of one that has an attitude of doing this as a career, a profession — he’s out here because he’s really good at what he does, he’s close to player working for, the chemistry with his player is good, or he’s an accomplished golfer himself. These relationships are different and guys approach it differently than they did two-three decades ago.”

Added Edmondson: “The rules have been in place for 30 years and the dynamics have changed, the people have changed, it’s more professional. We feel like we are professionals and we want to be treated like professionals.”

In terms of treatment from one tournament to the next, the range in the spectrum is few and far between.

“Working with each individual tournament is different,” said Bennett. “There are some tournaments that go out of their way to make us feel very welcome and comfortable and do a great job with parking and hospitality areas and food. There are others that may not take that approach. So if we can work with each individual tournament that needs help, we can obtain some better benefits and hospitality areas.”

What are some of the unacceptable situations the caddies have encountered?

“Some of the challenges we’ve encountered have been the denial of our spouses at an event or they’ve been turned away from caddie parking, even though their credential says they’re allowed to park in caddie parking,” he said. “They’ve been denied access to indoor facilities at clubhouse even though their credential says clubhouse access.

“It got to the point where we said we had to do something about this. It’s changed a little every year but not to a point that’s adequate.”

Last October at the Tour stop in Las Vegas, the group elected board members, which then in turn, voted on the officers. Along with president Edmondson, the leadership of the APTC consists of vice president Lance Bennett (Matt Kuchar), secretary Adam Hayes (Russell Henley), treasurer Jimmy Johnston (Steve Stricker), and board members Joe LaCava (Tiger Woods), Brennan Little (Camilo Villegas) and Kenny Harms (Kevin Na).

The association also plans to have representatives from the European Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia, and intends to include programs for caddies from the Web.com Tour and the Champions Tour.

While the organization might look and sound like a union, it’s not — because the caddies aren’t employees of the PGA Tour, rather independent contractors employed by their respective players. Instead, it’s a trade association.

Said Edmondson: “We’re a trade association formed by the caddies for the caddies.

Edmondson described the three pillars of the APTC as: 1.) healthcare, 2.) retirement, 3.) treatment, with the “caddies’ futures” as the forefront of its mission.

Bennett estimates the average caddie with a family pays $1,000 — give or take a few hundred — a month for health insurance. However, there’s a large enough number of his colleagues who don’t have such benefits because they can’t afford the cost.

“If we do it as a group, we can get it much cheaper,” he said.

Edmondson revealed that the APTC has a third party involved already for their health insurance and the goal is find sponsors to help fund it, along with their retirement benefits.

The next step is securing assistance and support from the Tour.

The seven board members and officers of the APTC, along with their attorneys, gathered with Tour officials, including Andy Pazder, Andy Levinson, Tyler Dennis and counsel Len Brown, for a four-hour meeting to discuss their concerns and proposed initiatives during the Farmers Insurance Open last month in San Diego.

Edmondson said the Tour was willing to work with the APTC on a retirement plan and insurance and would discuss amongst themselves before coming back with an answer.

As for the treatment part, it depends on each tournament and varies from week-to-week.

“The Tour said, look, these tournaments are their own entity if you will,” said Edmondson. “It’s at the tournament’s discretion the caddies treatment. We took that to heart.”

The next morning, Edmondson, a Fort Worth resident, called the tournament brass at the Colonial Invitational, tournament director Michael Tothe, vice-tournament chairman Jim Whitten, and tournament chairman Bobby Patton, and asked them if they’d give the caddies access into the clubhouse — which includes use of the indoor plumbing and admittance to eat at the restaurant with their families.

“We’re going to ask other tournaments and kind of challenge them and make it like a competition for them,” said Edmondson. “This is what these guys are doing, what can you do?”

Overall, coming out of the meeting with the Tour, the APTC felt the Tour was fairly receptive.

“They’re definitely cautiously optimistic toward a quick resolution,” said Edmondson. “It’s going to take some time to make things right.”

Added Bennett: “We opened up a good and healthy dialogue with the Tour and I think that’s a great start. I think this next year, 2014, will be very important to the future of this organization.

“We’re really excited about it, we’re doing this for long-term growth, not short-term. We want this to be for the long-term growth of our profession.”

The Tour emphasized that the caddies needed support from the players, which would help expedite the process.

“I told them everyone’s player in the room had their support,” said Edmondson. “I haven’t talked to one player who hasn’t been supportive. Once you explain the mission and direction the association is going to move in, I’ve yet to meet a player to disagree with our motives.

“We’re not trying to get a hand out and we’re not trying to take away money from the players.”

Edmonson not only has the backing of his own player, Palmer, but others, as well. In fact, there are pros that believe more benefits for the caddies should have been established well before now.

“I’m obviously all for it,” said Robert Garrigus. “It’s about time. It should have happened a long time ago. I started my foundation for caddies’ children and the caddies’ benevolence fund.

“It’s not going to take money out of our pocket, it just takes a little bit of time. That’s all it is.

“I think it’ll look good on the PGA Tour if they step up and throw some money their way or give them some guidance at least to what our retirement is and maybe they can run off of that and they can run off our health insurance plan. It could be an umbrella deal. I don’t see the big problem with it. It doesn’t make sense if they turn it down.”

Palmer also pointed out the caddies are more than just luggage toters.

“I think it’s time people realize what caddies do out here and the Tour needs to realize that, as well,” he said. “There’s no reason why the caddies can’t help themselves in the long run — for their future and for their families. And the best way to do that is out here. I think the Tour can see that and understand what they’re doing.

“These guys aren’t just carrying a bag; they mean a lot to their players and they’re mostly the reason why we get to perform the way we do. They’re there to help us. I think it’s great and I think it should and hope (caddie treatment) gets better and better.”

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Geico Lounge

This week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, there’s been some controversy over the caddies’ facilities at the golf course. The tournament has set up a space called “The Geico Lounge” for them — which is much appreciated — but here’s the issue: If a caddie wants to bring their spouse (or a guest) in with them, it’ll cost $25 per day.

“The facility is great,” said Edmondson on Wednesday. “The food has been below par. Today they served hit dogs and hoagie rolls with turkey and ham.

“As far as the tournament, it’s a decision that has been made by Tour official Tom Strong, and Steve John, the tournament director. (We’re) still trying to figure it out…

“I’ve asked Tom Strong to challenge Steve John and step up the food for rest of the week. We will see what happens.”

Here are pictures of inside the facility:

Geico Lounge

Geico Lounge

Geico Lounge

Geico Lounge

Geico Lounge

Geico Lounge

 

Here now, compare those to pictures from player dining, which is just on the other side of the wall — and where spouses and guests are permitted without an entry fee.

player dining pebble beach

player dining pebble beach