by Dave Hall
As an old retired cop and former soldier, I had no idea that becoming a caddie at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. three years ago would open the door to a golf trip of a lifetime, and a new identity as a professional looper.
I was lucky enough to go on this adventure the summer of 2019 thanks to bestselling author Tom Coyne. Because Coyne’s personal golf quests have made him something of an Everyman in the golf world with such books as A Course Called Ireland and A Course Called Scotland, he’s developed into something of a roving ambassador for the personal relationships golf inspires.
Every year, Coyne hosts a gathering of friends, family, and readers for The Coyne Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition, alternating between Ireland and Scotland. Because of my new-found “career” as a caddie, and because of my enjoyment of Coyne’s books, I began corresponding with Tom, which got me an invitation to his August 2019 trip to Scotland.
Coyne was starting research for his next book, A Course Called America, setting out to play every course which has hosted a U.S. Open. He also wanted to meet local muni golfers and play “hidden gems” around the nation.
He asked me if I would coordinate his visit to Chambers Bay and the surrounding area in June of 2019. I hosted him for a morning hickory round at Meadow Park Golf Course in Tacoma, and we were joined by vintage golf aficionados Durel Billy, Rob Ahlschwede and Barry Field.
After a quick lunch, I was Tom’s looper when he played Chambers Bay that same afternoon. His good buddy, Penn Wells (featured in A Course Called Scotland), a gentleman for whom “Larger than Life” falls short in describing his personality, joined us for the round at Chambers, along with Chambers’ PGA Director of Golf Brent Zepp and Caddie Manager Bryan Pierce.
Coyne is one of those guys who, based on his books, you imagine would be a fun person to play golf and hang out with.
Well, he is even nicer than that.
A gracious guest, Tom shows a genuine interest in the people he encounters around the golf world. This was reinforced when, a month after hosting Coyne at Chambers Bay, I met up with the rest of the Coyne Cup participants after landing at Edinburgh Airport in Scotland, and just like that, I was part of the extended family. Tom just has a way with folks which brings like-minded golf devotees together in harmony.
The Coyne Cup was played over seven days at seven courses throughout the northern half of Scotland: Nairn, Castle Stuart, Royal Dornoch, Cruden Bay, Brora, Murcar and Carnoustie.
And while each course has its own personality, the same is also definitely true of their caddies.
After a warm-up round at Nairn Golf Club, we were divided up into two teams, Team Coyne and Team Big Red, for our opening matches at Castle Stuart, just outside of Inverness. I was paired with my new friend Penn Wells, our team captain.
On the first tee there was the usual trash talk between opponents, but when Penn disclosed that I was also a caddie, the loopers on our bags developed a wicked gleam in their eyes. I knew what was coming, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Roger, the lucky gent who drew my bag, made typical caddie-tourist small talk for the first couple of holes, explaining that he enjoyed guiding salmon fly-fishing trips when not on the course. I mentioned that I was also a fly fisherman.
Roger cracked, “I sure hope you’re better at fishing than swinging a golf club.” BOOM! This was the signal to the other caddies that the gloves were off, just like being back in the Chambers caddie shack.
When our group fell a bit behind, our caddies were busy raking bunkers, so I grabbed our golf bags and headed for the next tee. Penn’s looper caught up and shouted, “Good job, Dave. Your partner has been carrying you for the last three holes, so it’s about time you returned the favor!”
Even though Penn and I lost our match on the last hole, our caddies won the unofficial “Best Banter Cup.”
Though caddies Doctor Jane at Nairn, Caitlin at Dornoch, Callum at Carnoustie, and George at Murcar all shared great caddie tips and anecdotes, my favorite course and caddie duo of the trip coincided at quirky, lovable Brora Golf Club.
Brora is a James Braid design about 20 minutes north of Dornoch in the Highlands, and although it’s a great links course alongside the North Sea, it may be more famous for the electric wire fences surrounding the greens, which keep the resident sheep and cattle off the putting surfaces.
Club member and looper Jony Sutherland embraced the challenge of guiding me in my long-awaited match against Coyne. Jony’s advice was dead-on, but he demonstrated a caddie trait even more valuable – the power of confidence in your player.
My game was a bit wobbly that day, making my caddie’s job tougher. So I was surprised on the back nine, facing a 160-yard second shot into an elevated green, when Jony pulled my 7-iron. On my best day, in perfect conditions, I can fly a ball 145 yards with that club.
But when I asked for my 6-iron, Jony just grinned, saying “Ye’ll want the 7.”
I replied that I needed more club to reach the green, which Jony vetoed. “Trust me. If you don’t make the shot, I’ll give ya the title to my holiday cottage.”
So I took my 7, swung, and my ball landed 10 feet from the hole. Jony reinforced my own approach to caddying – under the right circumstances, confident advice can result in amazing shots.
Never mind that Coyne beat me 7 and 5, I won a much richer prize that week – making the connection with caddies in the birthplace of the game.
(This article previously appeared in the March issue of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine.)
Dave Hall served 21 years in the U.S. Army followed by a 22-year career as a police officer. He then began, at age 63, a career as a caddie at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. The man just keeps on going.