Thursday, October 3

The Legendary George S. May and 28 Remarkable Memories of a 1950s Caddie

Embed from Getty Images

By John Coyne

Bestselling author John Coyne became a caddie at Midlothian Country Club near Chicago when he was 10 and oversaw the caddie yard as a teenager. Learn about his golf novels at

ANYONE WHO GREW UP CADDYING (or playing golf) in greater Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s knew of Tam O'Shanter Country Club and its owner, George May.

May's great gift to professional golf was a cluster of tournaments he hosted: the All-American Open (1941–57), World Championship of Golf (1946–57), LPGA All-American Open (1943–57) and the World Championship (1948–57).

In 1953, television, for the first time, broadcasted for one hour the World Championship of Golf. The broadcast drew approximately two million viewers, and when Chandler Harper was being declared the winner for the television audience, they also saw Lew Worsham sink a wedge shot to win the championship. 

From that day on television changed professional golf and the lives of touring pros. George May led the way. He turned golf into a TV spectator sport. 

He also changed the amount of prize money on the PGA Tour. First prize for the 1953 World Championship was larger than the total prize money offered at any other tour event. May added to that prize 25 $ $1,000 golf exhibitions that promoted golf as well as his company and gave touring golf pros a living wage.

Today May is listed as one of the 100 most influential persons of the game because he was the first to broadcast golf, and to welcome African-Americans golfers to the pro circuit. Joe Louis, for one, played as an amateur in a Tam O'Shanter tournament.

While researching George May's history, I received a letter from a former caddie at the club, Ted Born, who eventually left the caddie shack at Tam and moved to Colorado where he caddied into his sixties at Castle Pines and Cherry Hills country clubs.

Ted Born recently sent me the following recollections of looping in the 1950s. 

1. A one-half hour bike ride from home, all day long, nonstop golf for the hardworking caddie who wanted to carry two bags, 36-45 holes, and take home 20 or more dollars a day.

2. At first you were a badge number and later a name: 425 to 249 to 96 to 1 in two summers. Number 1 was voted in by all the caddies at the end of season caddie party.

3. Very first loop for a Western Golf Association (WGA) director who wanted his caddie to put sun tan lotion on his legs; he couldn't get it on his hands because he was playing golf. I was trying to earn a WGA Evans Scholarship so I thought, "Why not?"

4. Standing outside the caddie shack at 5:00 a.m., watching a former pro football player married member drop off the cute blonde waitress who lived in a dorm above the half-way house. No loose lips here!

5. Diving into a Chicago mafioso's golf bag pocket to get a replacement ball and coming up with a handgun.

6. Learning later from an Evans Scholars alum that his caddie brother had joined the mafia as a result of his Tam O'Shanter associations.

7. Sliding down the side of a green on an early spring day, thereby filling the two bags I was caddying with wet slush.

8. Carrying the heaviest double I would ever drag around 18 holes and then finding out in a "locker room weigh-in" that the two trunks together were 85 pounds.

9. Getting sun-fried daily (no hat) before zinc oxide, SPF, or skin cancer had even been invented.

10. Caddying for pros in big money tournaments before there were tour caddies.

11. Helping Arnold Palmer win $1500 in the 1957 World Championship of Golf before there were pin sheets, yardage books or marked sprinkler heads.

12. Watching Harold Henning's eyes get very big as I tossed a water-soaked, five-pound divot back to who I thought was a fellow caddie coming up behind me. (Henning was dressed all in white from head to tie.) He successfully dodged the missile.

13. Listening to a very young and very self-confident new pro from South Africa on the practice range and wondering who he thought he was. (He thought he was Gary Player.)

14. Shagging balls on the practice range with dozens of other caddies with no helmet or flak gear. This was obviously pre-OSHA.

15. Caddying in a practice round for Lloyd Mangrum in 1956 and empathetically watching Sam Snead, an impeccable tee to green player, struggling to get the ball in the hole with a flat blade.

Embed from Getty Images

16. Carrying Patty Berg's bag in a casual round at Tam O'Shanter and marveling at how hard and long a relatively small woman could hit a golf ball. Patty won 16 women's majors in her long, illustrious career.

17. Having to listen to a leading European pro, for whom I had caddied, try to console me about how little he could pay me after two weeks of hard faithful work. George S. May, the tournament sponsor, had covered all his travel expenses across the Atlantic and back. (Bobby Locke, I'm sure.)

18. Modeling with Dick Mayer, 1957 U.S. Open and World Championship winner, for a Golfcraft ad and actually getting paid twenty dollars for my trouble.

19. Living on hot dogs, relish, catsup and soft drinks day after day, until the relish made my tongue raw and I had to nuke it form my diet.

20. Playing horse for quarters on the caddie shack basketball court between loops. I won more than I lost but haven't gambled since.

21. Knowing the course so well you could actually caddie in an early morning fog for three or four holes and not lose a ball. One hundred feet of takeoff flight and you could visualize within a few yards where it would land.

22. Watching Martin Stanovich, the fat man of golf hustlers, work his magic on the fairways and around the greens of Tam. He would take on anyone but Moe Norman.

23. Thrilling to the arrival of the first golf carts and hoping someday to actually be able to drive one.

24. Waking up one morning in the late 1950s at the Northwestern University Evans Scholars house and finding a Chicago Tribune article on the bulletin board stating that George S. May had sent all the caddies down the road and that his members now would be riding carts if they wanted to play golf at his club. The article bore a hand-written caption, "the beginning of the end."

25. Meeting and talking with the legendary amateur Chick Evans at that same Evans Scholars house. Chick, the first man to win both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open in the same year (1916), established the caddie scholarship program that has sent over seven thousand caddies through college since 1930.

26. Playing golf every Monday morning when Tam O'Shanter closed to members. Why shouldn't the caddies be able to play the course they worked so hard on the rest of the week?

27. Going around Tam O'Shanter almost one thousand times and never seeing a hole-in-one.

28. Lasting memories of Swede, Taylor, Jackson, Speedy and the other venerable pro caddies who literally earned their daily room and food from their daily rounds at Tam O'Shanter. Their patience and tutelage with young learning caddies is unforgettable.

I hope that God is tipping them well on that beautiful eternal golf course in the sky.

No comments: