News & Opinion

Coronavirus throws Bandon Dunes caddies for a loop

With acclaimed coastal Oregon resort shuttered during pandemic, caddies have been caught in the economic downturn, but they are organizing a drive of their own to survive

Mike Keiser is a visionary. At least, that’s how we look at him today.

In 1999, when Keiser opened his first golf course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on Oregon’s rugged southwest coast, just north of the sleepy town of Bandon, he was portrayed as a risk taker. It was a kind assessment.

In recent years, Keiser has been the force behind must-play courses at Sand Valley in Wisconsin and The Dunes Club in Michigan, and he is involved with Cabot Links in Nova Scotia.

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Caddie Matthew ‘Rodeo’ Rhoades (left) and Alex Miceli, Morning Read’s publisher, have formed a team at Bandon Dunes for 15 years.

In the past two decades, Bandon Dunes has established itself as one of the premier golf resorts in the world. The appeal is enhanced by the property’s remoteness, with the Pacific Ocean offering a stunning visual backdrop on many of the five courses’ 85 holes. The relaxed atmosphere includes dinner at McKee’s Pub and the resort’s Spartan accommodations, making a guest’s stay stress-free and comfortable.

Bandon Dunes offers no swimming pool or tennis courts. It’s all about the golf.

And though the experience is second-to-none, a big part of the appeal is the caddies.

In conceiving Bandon Dunes, Keiser wanted to encourage everyone who could walk a round of golf to play the game on foot. That notion had become practically a foreign concept in the U.S., where golf carts are more the norm than the exception.

At Bandon Dunes, the caddie corps has replaced the cart fleet for the able-bodied. Thus, a golfer can spend eight hours during a 36-hole day with a caddie, on every day of the visit. After three days, a golfer wants to kill the caddie or welcome a new friend for life.

Matthew “Rodeo” Rhoades, my regular Bandon caddie, has looped more than 100 rounds for me over the years. We have gone out to eat numerous times in the 15 years that I have known him. He even has been a guest at my home.

For most returning guests of the resort, contact with the caddie is direct. As with any successful professional, a good caddie at Bandon maintains an extensive list of guest contacts, with many of them flourishing into genuine friendships.

E-mails, texts and sometimes snail mail often get exchanged between caddie and player over the years, strengthening a bond that began on the first tee. The 240 or so full-time caddies at Bandon are terrific at their jobs, and many also can play the game well.

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Tim Tucker (left), who caddies for Bryson DeChambeau on the PGA Tour, is a former Bandon Dunes looper.

Tim Tucker, Bryson DeChambeau’s caddie on the PGA Tour, started at Bandon Dunes before graduating to the big-time and is a good player in his own right.

These days, with coronavirus having shut down the resort on March 25, the caddies, like many workers across the country, suddenly have found themselves unemployed and are struggling. The full-time caddies have been left with few options to earn a living as the mayor closed the city of Bandon in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.

In the three weeks since Bandon Dunes’ closure, 11 year-round caddies banded together to help find a way to help not only the 240 full-time caddies but the seasonal caddies who come to the resort during the peak season of late spring until early fall. The group created the Bandon Caddie Relief Fund, which launched Monday morning on GoFundMe.com, and has been working with the resort to spread the word.

Similar fundraisers have been launched to benefit caddies and other club workers at courses across the U.S., from Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina to Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles.

A Bandon caddie typically makes $125-$150 per loop, or roughly $20,000-$60,000 annually, depending on activity. It’s not a lifestyle that allows for putting a lot of money aside for a rainy-day fund, and lately, we’ve been caught in an economic hurricane that won’t go away.

The resort intends to promote the GoFundMe initiative to its extensive list of guests from the past two decades through e-mail blasts and social-media posts.

Though the resort tentatively plans to reopen May 1, the caddies express concern about how long it might take for guests to return. On a conference call with five of the 11 in charge of the fund, only one caddie got a guest confirmation for a trip to the resort, to play the Bandon Cup on May 3-6. If it takes months to get back to some semblance of normal, many caddies will remain on the sidelines.

One caddie voiced concern about being in close proximity with a guest and the risks for contracting coronavirus. Serving as a forecaddie could be a safer option, though the role does not pay as well.

It’s true that these workers are not facing the urgency that our first responders confront daily, but everyone has a role to play. Bandon Dunes’ caddies play important roles not only in the livelihood of the resort’s hundreds of other employees but they also serve as vital links who help the guests connect with the shops, restaurants and other small businesses in the area. They, like so many others in the U.S., can use a hand.

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