Caddying Bounces Back Post COVID-19 Restrictions
October 15, 2021
By Jack Mendesh
It takes a “village” to run a successful caddie program, requiring buy-in from all levels of a club. With a decline in both caddie rounds and Evans Scholars finalists this past year, there was work to be done at the club level to restore the rich caddie tradition in Minnesota. Begun last winter, the work was spearheaded by club staff, members, and caddies at all 20 MGA caddie clubs in the state. As of mid-summer, caddie rounds were already ahead of total caddie rounds for all of 2020 (COVID-19 restrictions hit caddie programs below the belt).
The recent growth in caddie loops has been possible because of individuals like Joe Komarek, a new Western Golf Association Director at Golden Valley Country Club. Golden Valley is historically a top club in the state for the Evans Scholars, with eight current Evans Scholars and 49 Alumni since 1960. The caddie program at Golden Valley saw a severe decline in 2020 due to COVID-19 and the lack of caddie promotion to newer members. This is where Joe Komarek stepped in and made a difference. Komarek has a history serving and growing struggling organizations, especially investing passionately into youth programs and sports coaching.
“I found an organization in the Evans Scholars that believes in hard work, commitment, showing up, being accountable, personal growth, and responsibility. That is so refreshing to me because they are the high character values that we taught in the Wayzata baseball program,” Komarek said.
Driven by his passion, he has transformed the caddie program back into one of the top programs in the state.
“We have had buy-in from our golf shop and head pro, Henry Orme, our board of directors, and most importantly, we have focused on the caddie experience. I want to make sure that our caddies are not second-class citizens and bring tremendous value to the member experience. And of course, we will work hard and have fun while listening to our caddies' needs.”
He believes this recipe has been what has made the resurgence possible and would encourage other clubs and Evans Scholar Directors to follow the same game-plan. Golden Valley currently has more than 40 caddies getting regular loops and the club has posted five-fold more loops than all of last year.
Minnesota Valley Country Club took a fresh approach to their caddie recruiting. Previously, the Bloomington club trained up to 100 caddies per summer to only retain 20 caddies by the end of the year, leaving parents and caddies dissatisfied. This season, the caddie program manager, Jason Gill, with assistance from a handful of dedicated members, interviewed each caddie that applied for the position to find 25 caddies that would be the right fit for the program.
Northland Country Club has totally revamped their caddie program under new Head Golf Professional, Connor Bergman. He was previously an assistant at Interlachen Country Club and has taken a similar approach to how Interlachen runs their caddie program.
“By updating our rates, this led us to attract higher-achieving young people to our program. When we raise our rates, the service levels and expectations must grow with that. Noah Schottenbauer, our caddie manager, has done a tremendous job training our caddie team members, and the membership has been supportive of the changes,” Bergman said.
Finally, thanks to one of its members, Elk River Golf Club has recently started a successful caddie program. Adam Sharratt built the program from scratch, taking a grass-roots approach by focusing on recruiting local high-school golfers who enjoy the game of golf.
Supporting a caddie program is no gimme: the hallmarks of a successful club caddie program include an individual staffer or member whose passion carries the program from concept to reality, a flexible approach, and “it takes a village” to ensure the caddie candidate pool and demand for loops is sustainable from season to season.