When I play golf, I typically get to sneak out of my home office for a little bit to play nine or 12 holes at my country club -- which is literally through my back fence -- and then come home to get dinner ready. On the occasions I get to play a full round, either at the club or elsewhere, I'm either riding in a cart or carrying my bag.
That's to say, the idea of having a caddie is foreign to me. Our club doesn't have a caddie program, and I've only ever had a caddie at top-100-type clubs or resorts -- you know, the kind of places that host majors and big-time pro golf tournaments.
However, the times I've had a caddie for my round, it's been awesome. I prefer to walk when I play, and, unless I just want to walk by myself, I'd almost always prefer someone else lug that damn bag around for me. The benefits are obvious for the player, and they're also great for caddies as well. In addition to making some decent money, caddies can network, learn the game some, get access to facilities and, if they're younger, perhaps make life-long connections that can come in handy for years.
Many clubs and public facilities are reluctant to kick up these programs because they take time to set up, they require constant monitoring, and they're seen as potentially stripping away revenue that could be made on cart rentals. Fix any or all of those issues, and I'd venture to say most courses would welcome the broader return of caddies.
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That's been the goal of the team behind an app called Looper. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, Looper is a service and technology platform designed to match golfers with on-demand caddies of varying skill levels, wherever they play. At the risk of sounding like a guy from Silicon Valley (or "Silicon Valley"), it's Uber for caddies.
Here's how it works:
- You download and fire up the Looper app.
- You pick the course you're playing among the 100 currently available in eight states and Washington, D.C.
- You pick a level of service for your caddie ranging from a simple bag carry ($20-$40 per bag, plus tip) to a full-service Looper ($70-$90 per bag, plus tip).
- You pick the time to meet, and the caddie that picks up your request shows up 30 minutes before the arranged time. They're easy to spot on site with a Looper bib and hat.
From there, the experience is like having a caddie anywhere else. It's a chance to walk without a bag on your shoulders, having someone handle the load, clean your clubs and help you look for wayward shots. You get the benefit of walking the course and playing at a quicker pace than driving in a cart with someone who may not have any clue how to play good cart golf.
Following the round, you can tip the Looper in cash and then rate them on the app. Your credit card on file is charged for the service. Looper also donates a portion of each loop to a charity of your choice, which is a nice touch.
The caddies obviously range in skill level, but they're all certified by Looper. They go through a short online class, and they receive on-site training.
I had a chance to use a Looper at Washington Golf and Country Club in northern Virginia, just across the D.C. border, and the experience was awesome. I'm not someone that needs a lot of counseling during a round, and I don't need a lot of advice save for the occasional pair of eyes on the odd shot. The Looper level of caddie fit me perfectly. He carried the bag, kept the clubs clean and pointed out some local knowledge at a place I had never played. What more could you want?
The team behind Looper is working to expand their footprint, though they face some challenges.
The biggest is that they don't have enough caddies in the queue everywhere they want to be. The service doesn't work if supply can't match demand, so they're aggressively trying to recruit caddies. In some places, they're working with The First Tee or other junior golf programs to get kids into the program to at least carry bags.
The other major challenge is trying to break through with public facilities and private clubs to allow Loopers to show up and meet players. Some of it is probably a slight security concern. Some of it, as mentioned, is a fear that a caddie program -- even an on-demand one -- could stifle revenue from carts. Looper shares some of the profit from loops on their course with the facility, which helps. That shouldn't be much of an issue, however, as plenty of players who ride a cart always do so because of mobility issues.
Looper founder David Cavossa grew up caddying, and he wanted to find a way to bring caddying back in a big way so that any golfer could afford to have someone on the bag whenever and wherever they play. There are plenty of issues to wade through for a service that's not even a year old, but most of Looper's issue isn't in the concept, or even really the execution. The problem is breaking down the cart culture that has gotten the sport away from some of its roots -- but the company is starting to make serious progress as more of the bigger players in golf see the true value of a 21st century caddy yard.
With some time and an easy-to-use modern twist, caddying is starting to make a comeback.