Golf Caddies vs Apps: Technology vs Tradition

Technology and tradition are two powerful fault lines in golf today.

Battles rage between distance and shotmaking and course designers vs club engineers – but one of the most fascinating for us is the unlikely conflict brewing between career caddies and digital apps.

There’s something romantic and mystical about the wizened, weather beaten face and guttural tones of a Scottish caddie.

They have thousands of rounds of golf and ounces of sea salt etched into leathered ruddy skin.

Their smiles and eyes tell of a quiet knowledge, a deep patience earned over years of watching travelling golfers beaten into submission by sea breeze and Open Championship tees.

Caddies at The Home of Golf
As someone who lived in St Andrews for four years while a student I got to know some of these characters.

I saw them trudge down to the caddie pavilion for work on the coldest and windiest of days. Later I’d see them sitting in TP’s or in the Dunvegan, two bars where caddies are like bar stools – ever present parts of the furniture.

For many, the Scottish caddie is part of the ultimate pilgrimage to the Home of Golf, an authentic part of the links golf experience.

The Caddie Pavillion at St Andrews Old Course
Caddie Pavillion at St Andrews

Even the great Arnold Palmer had a Scottish caddie on commission whenever he journeyed to the British Isles for The Open Championship.

Tip Anderson – a native of St Andrews – and a long loping figure, carried the King’s bag, and together they won and lost, and more often won. Tip is honoured with a gold plaque over his seat in The Dunvegan and God help any man or woman who sits in when he’s around.

The Dunvegan Pub St Andrews
A favourite hangout of St Andrews Caddies – The Dunvegan St Andrews (photo Matthew Moore)

So, it was with great interest that I heard about the rapidly quickening march of technology and the release of a new app for the Iphone which the creators say can put a Scottish caddie in your pocket.

World Golf Movies (WGM) has debuted its first suite of movie-apps on iTunes, detailing hole-by-hole play at Kingsbarns Golf Links, Royal Dornoch, Carrick On Lomond, and Royal Aberdeen.

To give them their due, they aren’t seeking to put the caddie out of business, rather to complement them.

Technology is taking on tradition when it comes to golf caddies
Golf Caddies face a battle of technology vs tradition as new app promises golfers a caddy in the pocket

Each 25-minute walking tour is narrated by local caddies – Scottish Accent into the bargain – who provide seasoned instruction and strategy on how to play every shot all the way around.

A Short History of the Caddie and “Fore” Shout
“The word caddie or caddy derives from the French word “le cadet” meaning “the boy”. Golf balls used to be so expensive that “Forecaddies” were paid to stand where the ball might land to reduce the number of lost balls in the rough. To point out the direction the ball was flying to the caddie a golfer called out FORE!”

World Golf Movies is already building a movie-app for Gleneagles, host of the Ryder Cup in 2014 and Castle Stuart, host of the Scottish Open and plans to produce 30 more movie-apps in the coming year.

The movie apps are pitched as the equivalent of military battle plans with the golfer studying the movie and drawing up a blueprint for playing the course well ahead of arriving on the tee.

Check out this Youtube video giving a taste of how the app works

“Our movie-apps will give golfers the edge they need,” said Don Snyder, president and CEO of WGM,  a celebrated American novelist and screenwriter who caddied two seasons in St. Andrews.

Study the ground in advance
“Having the chance to study the ground in advance, with a caddie’s instruction is the perfect way to prepare to play any of the world’s great courses.”

Snyder worked up the idea for WGM in 2008 and 2010 when he caddied first  at Kingsbarns and then at the Castle Course and the Old Course, trying to learn all he could from his fellow caddies as he prepared to caddie for his son on his first pro tour this past winter in Houston, Texas.

Snyder’s journey – of caddying in Scotland and for his son, Jack, on his first pro tour – comprises his tenth book which will be published by Doubleday as Walking with Jack, in the spring of 2013.

During these two tours of duty in Scotland, Snyder discovered that the typical golfer who travels around the world to play the great Scottish courses usually arrives on the first tee blind, without a strategy for how to attack the 18 holes in front of him.

“He has his digital sky caddie hanging from his bag to give him distances, a stroke saver yardage book falling from his pocket, the wind is howling, and his caddie is a total stranger starting out with him on a four-hour blind date,” said Snyder.

Shelling out thousands of dollars and traveling thousands of miles to walk blindly made little sense, said Snyder.

“Most golfers will only play these courses one time, and they want to play their best. Our movie-apps will help them do just that,” he said.

Each movie-app retails for $9.99 on iTunes, and World Golf Movies shares the revenue with the golf courses.

Ya want some Bridie pal?
At this price they are a lot cheaper than a Scottish caddie and probably a lot easier to understand. Nor will it come with a faint scent of whisky and tobacco, or offer you part of a “bridie” (meaty Scottish pie) halfway round.

We can’t argue with technology and the fact our world has gone digital but golf’s a traditional pastime where history and etiquette count for a lot more than convenience.

While I can see the value in a digital caddie in my pocket, I’d still rather mine were carrying my bag and showing me stoic sympathy when I duff a pitch or miss from three feet.

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