I met with James Loggins at The Lodge Living Room. The bagpiper on the 10th fairway of the Plantation Course was playing a mournful tune as the sun set over St. Simons Sound. (Repeat THAT five times fast!) With a glass of Macallan in my right hand, I used my left hand to switch on my digital voice recorder. What follows is my conversation with James, who explained to me the caddy system employed at Sea Island.
Golf Conversations: I played golf today with Chef John and Tadd was our caddie. He was a great help and it wasn’t his fault that I hit the ball in the exact opposite direction of where he told me to hit it.
James Loggins: (laughter) He’s a good guy. He’s been here about four years. Great guy, great heart, does his job., He’s a very well respected guy among the caddie ranks.
GC: Well, I didn’t play particularly well today until I got to the ninth hole. I hit a great drive, split the fairway. I had about 200 yards left to the green; I hit a three wood that was just perfect and the ball ran up onto the green. I was 20 feet away from the hole, and I left my first putt 4 feet short.
Tadd showed me where to putt the ball. Of course, I couldn’t follow his instructions so I missed the putt. Aside from the three putt, I was pleased with how I played the hole and I thought, “Why does it take eight holes for me to hit a great drive and a great second shot?”
JL: It drives you nuts, doesn’t it?
GC: I said to Tadd, “I hate this game! I hate this game! Why do the golf gods do this to you? Why did it take eight holes for me to hit two good golf shots?”
JL: Yeah, but that’s what brings you back.
GC: And I hate that saying!
Okay, enough about me. So you’re the caddy master here at Sea Island; how many caddies do you have working here?
JL: In our spring and fall season, we have about 45 to 50 on staff. Most of those are about 35 full-time, 15 part-time. In the slower seasons, we have a staff of about 25 full-time guys. In previous years, we’ve run as many as 80 here.
GC: Does everyone take a caddie?
JL: For a resort guest, it’s included in their rate. They have the option to take a caddie or not. However, they are already paying the caddie fee; all the player is responsible for is the gratuity. You’re spending the money anyhow for the service, so you might as well take advantage of it.
GC: Do any of the guests walk?
JL: Yes. Especially the Seaside Course. People walk that course more than any other. We do probably do 30% walking. We have single-bag premium caddies where you have an individual caddie; it’s a higher rate, but you’re getting the exceptional service.
GC: As opposed to a double looper?
JL: Yeah. As opposed to somebody carrying two bags.
GC: Are you familiar with a course in Southern Pines called Talamore? I think they used to have llamas for caddies.
JL: I’ve heard that story. Our headquarters was based out of Pinehurst for a number of years; our administrative offices are there now. But our executive offices have moved to Ponte Vedra Beach.
GC: Oh, really?
JL: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Caddiemaster… we are contracted out through Sea Island. We are not employees of Sea Island.
GC: I didn’t know that.
JL: It’s a company called Caddiemaster, Inc. We’re on 42 properties in the US and worldwide. We run the caddie programs at mostly high-end resorts: here, Pinehurst, TPC Sawgrass, Whistling Straits, Pebble Beach.
GC: I take it that you recruit your caddies from the local areas?
JL: We do. We place an ad in the paper and there is a pretty extensive hiring process. It’s a five-tiered hiring process to become a caddie, believe it or not. About one in eight that apply get the job. We do a lot of personality profiles, our training program is pretty extensive. It’s three days of long training, we give them the ins and outs of single bag carrying, double bag carrying, and forecaddying. So it’s a three day, all day long process.
GC: So it’s not like the old days?
JL: Absolutely not. And that’s why our company does as well as it does. We are hiring core individuals, and people who can do the job, and that’s why resorts like Sea Island bring in our company. They don’t have that headache, they don’t have to deal with it.
You know, we are spending more time with the resort guest, 4 to 5 hours, maybe for several consecutive days, so we think it’s vital that we provide a great experience.
GC: Ok, let’s talk a little golf. Would you say most players are playing from the wrong set of tees?
JL: Yes, I would think so. Especially men. We are prideful individuals; we want to play from the blues when we really should be playing from the whites or the greens.
GC: I am waaaaaay past that feeling of pride because I’m a lot older than you are. If I could, I would play from the ladies tees but I guess I do have one shred of pride left that keeps me from doing that. And that’s a very tiny shred.
Did you start out as a caddie?
JL: I did. All of our managers in our company started as caddies. All managers have to go through the process. All the way up to our CEO who founded the company. All of our executives started out as caddies. Which is pretty neat, because as a manager it gives you something to shoot for. I applied just like everyone else, saw a newspaper ad. I was looking for a part-time job, just wanted something that would be fun and have golf privileges.
GC: So you grew up playing golf?
JL: Yes. Loved to play golf. Never really thought about caddying as a career or even a business. But I caddied a little bit, and there were opportunities to move up in management, so I tried the assistant caddie master manager position.
GC: Where was this?
JL: That was here. I got started here. I was an assistant for six months or so and then got promoted to run the caddie program out at Frederica which is a private club Sea Island used to own. Ran the program out there for a year and a half. The manager who was here before me who I learned the ropes from stepped down, and I replaced him. So now I run the three resort courses here, I oversee Frederica which Sea Island doesn’t own, but we still run the program out there, and Ocean Forest which is the other private course Sea Island owns. I also oversee TPC Boston as a program manager.
GC: How do you do that when you live here?
JL: There is a manager up there — it’s a seasonal property — he runs it from the day to day perspective but he reports directly to me. And I’ll visit up there three times a season. I also oversee East Hampton Golf Club in the Hamptons. So I travel to those properties in the summer when we are slow down here.
GC: That sounds great, James.
JL: It is. There are lots of opportunities in our company. Risk management is a big part of what we do and I’m a risk management supervisor in our company; one of three.
GC: What does that entail?
JL: We deal with workman’s comp. For example, we had a caddie here who was hit in the head several years ago with a golf ball and was knocked out and needed 13 stitches. So we try to create a safe working environment for the caddies, teaching them proper techniques to use when going out to the forecaddie position. Education is a big thing we do, safety training is a big part of the training process.
GC: No wonder Tadd crouched behind the golf cart every time I hit my driver!
JL: (laughter) There are certain standards that our programs have to meet, that our managers have to meet. We come in and we audit them, making sure that they are compliant with all of our company standards and OSHA regulations.
GC: The gentleman who founded the company was an ex-caddie?
JL: Yes, his name is Mike Granuzzo. He and another gentleman started a caddie program out of the back of their car, started with little properties and they went from there and we’ve grown to 42. We have some of the premier golf clubs in the US, we’re in Doonbeg in Ireland, Gleneagles in Scotland, and a few properties in the Caymans and Jamaica as well. We’re trying to expand internationally now just because the current market in the United States is difficult.
GC: Tell me about the caddy uniforms here at Sea Island.
JL: The caddies purchase their uniforms, we charge them and deduct the cost from their check. In the fall and winter, they are in their coveralls, in the summer and spring they’ll go to the caddie bibs that say Sea Island on them. And they can wear shorts because the heat gets really bad in South Georgia.
Most caddies have 2 bibs and 2 coveralls and they have to buy about four hats a year. In the big scheme of things, guys don’t like it but it’s not that expensive. But one of the things we focus on is their appearance and we want to make sure they look sharp.
GC: So you frown upon baseball caps with sweat stains from 10 years ago?
JL: Right. We check their appearance every day.
GC: Who does?
JL: Our managers. I do or one of my 4 assistants.
GC: So walk me through again how you get your caddies. You run an ad in the local paper, a guy responds via …?
JL: Currently, they don’t call us. We direct them to a website where they are asked some golf knowledge questions.
GC: Such as?
JL: What’s a bogey on a par three? What is a red stake? What do the yardage markers in the fairway tell you? Just golf knowledge, we get all kinds of people who respond. We are not here to teach golf, we want people who know golf already.
GC: What are some of the more odd answers you’ve received to these questions?
What club would you hit from 100 yards? “A driver.” What’s your handicap? “I’m not retarded.” You get some interesting ones and those are the ones that go straight into the garbage.
Then they are asked some personality questions: how would you react in this situation, customer service questions, then we bring them in for a group interview where we tell them about our company and they tell us about them. Then they go through a telephone interview where they are asked more customer service oriented questions. Then we bring them in for training.
Training is physically demanding. Caddying is a physically demanding job. People don’t realize that coming into it: you’re going to carry two bags weighing 30 pounds each for 18 holes…
GC: Especially with high handicappers who have three dozen golf balls in their bag.
…and in South Georgia it gets very hot with high humidity so it’s tough. So we try to weed out guys who aren’t physically up to it. Then the guys who are hired, they’ll go out with another caddie, and we’ll see how they do for nine holes and then we’ll put them out with a guest. We’ll try to give them twosomes or a single bag carry to begin with and kind of slowly bring them into our system.
You guys have a very interesting concept. Good luck with it!