Robert Trent Jones, Jr. has designed dozens of great golf holes around the High Country.
He’d been watching the Winter Olympics and downhill skiing was still on his mind as the conversation rolled along. He drew poetic parallels between skiing and golf, jotting down a few stanzas on a leatherbound legal pad. While a DJ company clanked and banged around setting up, Jones focused ” the kind of focus possessed by world class athletes and not regular humans.
Concentration etched his features. Almost chuckling to himself, his pen flashed quickly and with purpose. The muse wasn’t getting away this time.
His golf course design muse has taken Jones on a wonderful ride.
“Not many people would have gone to Moscow in 1974 to try and put the first golf course in the Soviet Union, and fewer people would have gone into Red China in 1983, but I did. And at the same time we are challenged by the vast and beautiful land where I live. There are so many different geological formations, weather patterns and climates, that in itself is a challenge. Yet we have so much land that we’re blessed.”
“So I was able to spread my wings, literally, like an American Eagle and fly all over the place.”
He came to the High Country early, skiing Vail in 1963. Vail’s pioneers already had designs on a golf course. The talk ran short, though. The terrain was too tall and the growing seasons too short. “It wasn’t until the ’70s people began taking the risks of using more of the terrain in the design of the golf courses,” Jones said.
Designers became more willing to climb those literal mountains as the Rockies began to develop. Jones and his firm went on to mastermind seven courses in Colorado, including Beaver Creek. Jones designed Beaver Creek to go up and down 400 feet in elevation. Nearby Eagle-Vail uses many of those same mountains in its design and was one of the original golf courses in the Vail Valley. Later courses, like those in Cordillera and Red Sky Ranch near Wolcott, make use of both meadow and mountain terrain in their layouts.
“One of the things we had to remember is that not only is it tough for golfers to go up and down hills, but the ball is subject to gravity and poses some of those same challenges in the design,” Jones said.
They had to conceive ways to keep a golf ball from rolling too far. “On one hand, having the ball fly forever might be a good thing, but having the ball travel too far might be a bad thing,” said Jones.
The Maroon Creek Club, one of Aspen’s premier golf venues, is home to an eclectic group: professional traveling caddies. Some are year-round professional golfers. Some guys are hoping for a shot as pros. Others are short-timers who just love the game and caddy for the short hours and good pay.
Yet this crew ” all guys and one girl ” work for Caddy Master Enterprises, a company that manages caddy services at more than 40 courses, including Augusta National in Georgia, home of the Masters. These seasoned “baggers” travel the country, working from course to course, and many say that Aspen and the Maroon Creek Club is one of their favorite migratory stops. Caddies at the busy club number more than 40 during the summer high season.
Most of Maroon Creek’s traveling caddies live in Aspen Skiing Co. employee housing in Snowmass Village for their short summer tenure. And most say the group is like a family ” except with more gambling, noted Dave Bryan, a Florida caddy who spent his second season in Aspen last year.
“We all live together. There’s lots of poker. Lots of bull,” Bryan explained. “You know, we do the guy thing.”
Kyle Sheppard, a caddy from Florida who now lives full time in Aspen, called the caddy shack “a little fraternity.” This makes sense, based on their schedule. Caddies at Maroon Creek work seven days a week for about four hours a day, splitting their time between a basement break room, the garage where they wait for clients each morning, and the course.
Bryan said they watch “SportsCenter” almost constantly.
“If you don’t like to watch ESPN,” he said, “you shouldn’t become a caddy.”
Alternative lifestyles aren’t new to Aspen. Itinerant Aspenites arrive with every stripe, from snowbirds who hop from one seasonal job to the next in a quest for powder to globetrotting climbers and kayakers. Many Aspenites support themselves in pursuit of their passions with a sideline as a waiter, waitress, bartender, fishermen or fry cook.
Caddies are no different. Just outside the day room at Maroon Creek is a cart storage
garage, where attendants start each day with some wet towels and polish. They prepare carts for a day’s worth of toting around foursomes, bags, drinks, food, towels, extra clothing and each client’s lucky hat. Every morning, when the caddies finish shining the cart fenders, they walk up the dark ramp and into the sunlight to meet their clients. And when they cross that line, they put on a game face.
Get gear together. Greet clients. Go.
Caddies calculate distances to the green using a unique laser system that calculates yardage from the ball to the pin. They point the pistol-like device at a sensor on the flag and can tell their clients the yardage. Based on the measurement, they make recommendations.
It is serious hustle. Jason Sills is a Georgia native, and he’s been caddy master at Maroon Creek for close to two years.
“These are the kind of guys,” Sills said, “who can step on any golf course and make the client feel like they’ve been there for five or six years.”
Bruce Huynh, a veteran caddy of nine years, moves between his home in Houston and other Caddy Master courses, including Maroon Creek. He’s caddied for former President Bush and Prince Andrew at River Oaks in Houston.
“You’ve got to have confidence,” he said. “We arrange and clean clubs ” see if something is missing. … And don’t lose the ball.”
Derrick Redd is a six-year veteran and trains the next crop of caddies each year. The ability to read your player’s needs ” as in, do they have a clue? ” is key, he said. And caddies are trained to answer client questions even before they’re asked. Despite all that, to Redd, most of the time it is the caddy’s job just to stay out of the way.
It’s a challenge to win the player over. The first few holes are where the caddy gains the client’s confidence. A bad recommendation at the start can mean losing the client’s trust ” and potential tips.
Because the Maroon Creek Club is private, caddies can form strong relationships with club members. At resorts where most of the clients are vacationers paying big bucks to play for one day, caddy Derrick Redd said it is important to create a memorable experience for players, whether they are a high or low handicap.
“It’s nice to make someone smile,” Sheppard said. “You give them a good read on a putt, and they get that birdie.”
Caddies can expect about $100 per day ” more with big tips. Ramsay Gillman is a part-time Aspen resident from Houston and a partner in the Maroon Creek Club. He said that it’s a shame that most courses in the U.S. don’t have caddies anymore.
Aspen resident Charles Israel played along with Gillman, and said of the caddies, “I love ’em. They speed up the game. They tell you where the ball is and how far to the green. They rake traps. They read greens. They’ve had a lot of experience, and they’re very courteous.”
Caddies, of course, also love to tell stories of ridiculous clients. One said it always makes him wonder why a golfer will go to the trouble of taking off a shoe and sock to make a difficult shot from the water on the last tee, after playing a terrible round all day. Another told of a tourist who filled his pockets with sand from an Augusta sand trap.
And, of course, there are the stories they will never tell …
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