Caddie Confidential: New venue poses fresh set of challenges

This week's Wells Fargo Championship provides a new course that virtually no one has seen before: the Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, North Carolina. That poses all kinds of challenges for caddies. It's a one-off venue -- the tour likely won't come back again after this year -- putting caddies in a unique situation.

Time to delve into some truth about what to expect to see this week from one of the guys inside the ropes carrying one of those heavy golf bags!

Enjoy this week's Caddie Confidential. As the name of this feature suggests, he remains anonymous ...

Collins: Not you particularly, but do you think there will be caddies who half-ass it this week with their homework since we're not coming back to this venue anytime soon?
Caddie: (Laughing) Yeah, I know what you mean. I would think that the average caddie might look at it that way, but ... this course is absolutely balls-to-the-wall-(difficult). That's because of the greens. This course is a second-shot golf course.
Collins: Yeah?
Caddie: For the most part, the fairways are wide. The course is not overly long, but what makes this course difficult and challenging is the greens. It's two things about the greens. One, there is a lot of movement in these greens and they're running at 12 (on the Stimpmeter). Two, they're firm on Tuesday! I'll give you an example. We got to the 15th hole (a par-3), playing a practice round with (redacted name). We had the (distance) at 210 front, 223 total, and it's a couple yards downhill. ... The other caddie and I agree (on the wind). It's a little right to left with a little bit of help. We know these greens are firm, so we're just trying to land this maybe a couple (yards) on the front. They both hit two 5-irons each and all four balls come up 5 yards short of the green. We're (the caddies) looking stupid. (The players) both pull out 4-irons and land it maybe 5 yards short of the hole. They (both) go over the green. We're all standing there like, "Oh, OK."
Collins: Now everybody looks stupid!
Caddie: (Sarcastically) Oh, this is the unhittable green, that's what it is. I forgot. They said there was an unhittable par-3 out there. That's what it was. ... So here's the thing ... I walked the course (Monday) and realized you have to know where to miss the greens. You have to know where you need to miss the green in some cases. Some of these par-3s, I'm telling you, Michael, there's like an 80 percent chance that you're going to miss the green. That being said, you have to know where you can miss the green and still get up and down, 'cause there's places where you can and places where you cannot.

Collins: Which hole piques your interest the most?
Caddie: I think the (par-5) sixth hole is a really, really interesting hole. I think he (course designer Tom Fazio) is testing the players. Do they have enough discipline to not hit driver off this tee when the wind is helping? Because it's a 290-292 (yard) max rollout off the tee (to the end of the fairway). You know that there's guys out there that if it's downwind and firm, the longer hitters are going to have to hit hybrid to keep it short of that number -- forget even hitting 3-wood. So in my mind, Fazio is testing these guys, saying, "How disciplined are you?" Cause you know they don't like to hit anything other than driver on a par-5!
Collins: So this is a par-5 where you can't hit driver?
Caddie: This is a par-5 where you can't hit it past 292. ... There may be days, 'cause we're expecting some rain coming up, where it's soft, windy, and cold. ... If driver is not gonna get you past that number, than OK. But right now ... for some of the guys it might be less than 3-wood to get you where you need to get to.
Collins: So there's no way for even the bombers to hit driver around or over everything?
Caddie: The thing is that it narrows up. And it narrows up with water. There's a creek running up the left side and (the fairway) slopes in that direction. And it's shaved down in that direction toward the water!
Collins: Of course it is!
Caddie: (Laughs)

Collins: I would love to hear a caddie's opinion on the USGA and R&A taking a closer look at the green-reading books.
Caddie: Well, I'll tell you, I'm a proponent of getting just as much information as I can legally. You've known me for years. ... I've rolled balls over the years to old hole locations. I could spend 10 hours rolling balls (on) all 18 holes to all four hole locations to get that information. There was a point in time where I was leveling greens (using a level on them) to see if that helped me out in reading greens. I've been one of the ones who uses these green contour books that have become very, very popular in recent years. ... But me personally, as much as I use them -- and I use them week in and week out -- it actually wouldn't sadden me in any way if the USGA just said, "Nope, this crosses the line" -- for whatever reason they might come up with (like) saying, "This is a skill that's part of the game that we expect a good player to have. And we feel that it'd be crossing the line in giving him/her just a little bit too much information that takes a part of the skill of reading a green out of the equation. We want that to be part of the equation."

Collins: Wow. That is not what I expected to hear. I do have a question, though.
Caddie: Go ahead.
Collins: You said two things there that sound contradictory to me. You said in the past, since the four hole locations remain somewhat similar every year and you could spend 12 hours rolling balls on every green on the course, you could make those notes yourself in every yardage book.

Caddie: True.
Collins: But that would also mean you (the caddie) would be out there for hours making these same notes that are already available in a book. You also said it's a skill. But isn't the skill in stroking the putt? If I tell a guy hit it over this spot, he's gonna do it nine out of 10 times. But he's gonna miss, too, and that's got nothing to do with what's in that book.
Caddie: You're right. I still believe there's a skill of putting a ball. Starting it on the intended line with the intended speed ... but I also believe that there is a skill involved in being able to read a green.
Collins: I agree. My question is, then, who determines how much information is too much information in the yardage book?
Caddie: I guess the USGA (and R&A) determines that, but how would they decide that? I don't know, 'cause that's gonna be their opinion.
Collins: The other question is, why is the USGA and R&A making rules for the tour if they're supposed to govern all golf? We've played golf together in the past. When's the last time you saw anyone on a course we're playing use a yardage book or green contour book where we play?
Caddie: (Laughing) Never!
Collins: Exactly!
Caddie: Have you ever had a caddie during one of these not laugh?
Collins: Not that I can think of.

Collins: Let's talk about the travel challenges for a new tournament.
Caddie: Well, that was a whole brand-new challenge for all of us because we haven't played a golf tournament here before and it's like you're a rookie all over again. When you're a rookie caddie on either the Web.com or PGA Tour, part of your rookie learning experience is learning where is the best place to stay, where is the best airport to fly in to, what's the best way to get a rental car deal. Because we have these expenses ... it's not like your player says, "Stay wherever you want and I'll cover the expense." No. You get a weekly salary and you're expected to cover your expenses out of that. Does that weekly salary fluctuate when we go into an area that's more expensive? No. So you have to figure out a way to manage your money to stay at the best place you can with hopefully not staying at a Roach Motel. So you use all different types of websites. ... There's kind of a line you're looking at, thinking, "OK, if I spend $150 a night on a hotel, I can be five minutes from the course. If I spend $100 a night I might be 30 minutes from the course. If I spend $80 a night I might be 45 minutes from the golf course." You have to find that line for yourself where you find the perfect balance of price versus how far I am from the golf course. There are guys who flew in to Charlotte and drove over because it was less expensive than flying in to a small airport like Wilmington, and those are just the facts.
Collins: How many guys still use Priceline?
Caddie: I think a lot of guys still use Priceline. We certainly don't get the same deals we used to get 10 years ago! Used to be able to book really good hotels for $50-$70 a night, and those days are just gone. If you get a really nice hotel for $80-$90 a night, you feel like you've done really well.
Collins: There was nothing better than staying at the same hotel as the players but only paying $65 a night. And when you'd come out of your room, the player would see you and say, "How much am I paying you? Your weekly salary wouldn't cover three nights here!" Knowing he was paying over $290 a night!
Caddie: (Laughing) Exactly! When the Priceline and Hotwire runs started, like, 10 or 15 years ago ... the caddies were the first ones to get in on it. ... Then the players started doing it. But there's actually a skill involved in it as well. You gotta do a little research to see, what am I probably gonna get here if I'm Pricelining this hotel. You could end up with something that you don't want if you're not careful.

Collins: Best hotel travel story ever is?
Caddie: Hawaii at the Sony (Open). Waikiki, I believe it was the Hilton. There was a mistake. It was (another caddie) that called me and said, "Hey ... I see this hotel on Hotwire, but it just seems too good to be true. It's like $23!? A night! In Waikiki!!" But it didn't tell you what hotel. It just said 3½ stars, $23 a night, and says the general area, Waikiki Beach, and then it's up to you to pull the trigger. So looked at it and said, "Hey, what's the worst that could happen?"
Collins: A very dangerous thing for a caddie to say.
Caddie: Well, I pulled the trigger on it and it was the Hilton! A hotel like that, if you just call them up, it's gonna be over $200 a night at least. We believe it was a keystroke error. Like it was supposed to be $230 a night. ... I told (the other caddie), "Call as many guys as you can, and I'll call as many guys as I can and let's get this out! Because when they see this room start to go, they're gonna take it off there." It was probably on there for like 45 minutes and then it stopped. I think there was about 80 of us or so roughly that got this. Then I call him again and told him to call everybody and tell them, "Don't back out of it! Cause they're gonna call you and say, 'Oh, it was a mistake. We'll give it to you for $150 a night.' Or something like that. Don't give up on it! Dig your heels in and stand your ground." So that's what we did, and there was a bunch of us there, and it was the deal of our caddie lives.