Caddies in the rough as virus halts potential branding deals

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London (AFP) – Caddies are golf’s unsung heroes but they will never earn the riches made by some of the players and many will struggle during the European Tour suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic, their chairman says.

The pandemic has also brought a halt to conversations that Sean Russell and his association were having with prospective sponsors after he negotiated a groundbreaking agreement with the European Tour.

“There is zero job security,” Russell told AFP. “There is no contract. Some caddies have been sacked the week after a player has won a tournament.

“It is not like a normal job.”

His members — over 150 active professional caddies — can from this season earn more money through branding on their caps or clothing and in other ways too.

Caddies are generally paid £1,000 ($1,200) per week by the golfer, which can usually be topped up by 10 percent of the prize money earned in a tournament. Travel and hotel expenses then have to be deducted.

The schedule has been heavily disrupted with 12 European Tour tournaments — including masters and World Golf Championship events — postponed or cancelled.

Caddies are now eyeing the Trophee Hassan II, scheduled to be held in Rabat, Morocco from June 4-7, for a possible resumption of the season.

“At the moment with the stoppage those chaps who caddied for golfers who were successful last year and those who started the season well will be alright,” said Russell, from his home in Newcastle, northeast England.

“But for the others they still have to pay the mortgages, put food on the table and there are bills to be paid.

He said the announcement by Britain’s finance minister last week that the government will cover a percentage of self-employed people’s earnings was good news “but it will still take a couple of months for those measures to come in”.

– ‘Not a sob story’ –

Russell said members were having to find part-time jobs, even those who would normally earn extra money alongside their caddying by working at exclusive golf clubs. Those clubs are now closed because of the social distancing measures.

“Some are having to do jobs they would not normally be expecting to do at this time of year to make ends meet just about,” he said.

“One lad I heard is delivering parcels.

“It is not unusual in the off-season for some caddies to work for Amazon or as taxi drivers.

“However, as we say, being a caddy is a ‘lifestyle not a job’.”

Russell admitted that although caddies’ work is financially precarious, they could at least look forward to a resumption of the season at some point whereas other people will be financially ruined by the crisis.

This is why the 55-year-old former civil servant, who began on the European Tour in 2010, says caddies will not be whining about their lot.

“Yes we are affected by the coronavirus but ours is not a sob story because golf will resume,” said Russell, who works for French golfer Jean-Baptiste Gonnet.

“But the guy who has the small business into which he’s sunk his life savings, whose component deliveries from China have dried up, whose customers go elsewhere and don’t return — that’s the guy who won’t have a business to go back to when this is all over.

“We will still have ours.”

The caddies hope that also awaiting them will be the chance to earn more money through potential branding deals.

Russell’s association have created the @thetourcaddies media brand which he says will be used “to generate revenue for caddies”.

His goal is to be able to offer the members “income protection plans, pension advice and advice that is specific to their country.”

For Russell, though, the priority is those already struggling whose plight has been worsened by the pandemic.

“When I was discussing with the Tour last year about this agreement I said this is not about helping the caddy who was with the golfer who finished seventh on the Race to Dubai ranking last year. It is to help the one whose golfer finished 157th.

“I researched what he earned and it would have been 12,000 euros ($13,000) in bonuses.

“On that he would virtually be better off working in Sainsbury’s (a supermarket).

“However, there is not a single guy among our members who would want to do that.”



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