The lost breed of Cockney caddie

Although pros today are playing fine golf, the fun seems to have gone out of the game. The huge prize money they are playing for seems to be grinding them down. It is such a business now that caddying has become a profession in its own right, being taken up by serious men who are almost as competitive as the tournament golfers.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the caddies we had were little more than drifters, who hitch-hiked to the tournaments and usually slept rough, but there were some fabulous characters among them. They were predominantly cockney and spoke in rhyming slang.

I was the only pro who would ever go into the caddie’s hut at a tournament. It would cheer me up before playing my round.

“’Ello Max,” they would all say, clustered around a table studying the day’s racing pages. There would always be one or two snoring under some newspapers in a corner, sleeping off the effects of the night before.

Right to left in 1939 Max with father Gus, brother Frank (tragically killed at the age of 19) and a cockney caddie determined to get in the picture

There would be a fire going and I would be offered a cup of tea. The cup would be filthy but on the other hand I knew I would get a better cup of tea there than in the clubhouse. They made it strong with plenty of milk, just how I liked it.

“How’s your bloke going,” I would say to one of them. To give you some idea of their way of speaking, this was the reply I was once given by an irate caddie:

“We was ‘free under fours at the ‘firteenf. I gives ‘im the Lady Godiva an’ ‘e whips it into the plum duff. I works ‘im a man in the moon an’ ‘e roofs it, so I puts a free iron in ‘is forks an’ ‘e gets on the magazine. ‘E grabs ‘is bread an’ butter, ‘as ‘free stabs at it for a Tom Mix an’ does ‘is chopper. Yer can’t reckon ‘im, can yer?”

This means that the pro was three under fours at the thirteenth. The caddie gave him his driver and he drove into the rough. Then he topped the ball with his “spoon” or number 3 wood. The caddie gave him his 3 iron and he put it on the green but took three putts for a six and lost his temper.

The caddies would always say “we” when talking about the score; they would never use the pro’s name. If he did a good shot, it would be something like “e giv’ it the full treatment wiv’ ‘is Lancashire,” the Lancashire Lassie being the “brassie” or number 2 wood. Or “e put it right by the cosh,” the cosh for some reason being their word for the pin.

There would always be some Scots caddies there, but if they butted in the cockneys would say “why don’t yer speak bleedin’ English. Can’t understand a dickie bird.”

Hygiene problem

On the other side of the coin, some of these men took no care of themselves at all. If you ever made the mistake of giving one of these a lift, the smell in the car would be strong and take some days to clear. But most of them would wash every day and keep pretty clean.

Drink was always a problem though. When we were playing a tournament at Ashburnam in Wales, Dai Rees’s caddie and another caddie had spent the night on the bottle in the local town and had walked back towards the club in the early morning draining a bottle of brandy.

They finally collapsed unconscious in the middle of the road and cars were carefully driving round them until one stopped and took them into the local police station. Dai had to go the station and pay ten shillings (a large sum in the 1950s) to get his caddie out. He then had to drive him to the course and sober him up before starting out on his round.

When I was assistant to Henry Cotton at Royal Mid-Surrey in 1950 I remember standing on the first tee in the morning while Raymond Glendenning, a well-known television sports commentator, was teeing up.

My caddie had the shakes so badly that he was rattling the irons in my bag and making a hell of a racket. I had to cup the irons in my hand to stop the noise while Glendenning drove off. After ten minutes in the fresh air, my caddie was as right as rain.

Race winnings blown

One season I used a young cockney caddie who did a good job for me, although he was usually dirty and crumpled from sleeping rough. I remember arriving at one tournament when an immaculate gent walked straight towards me in the car park, smart Trilby hat, new Burtons suit, new mac and gleaming shoes.

I stared at him for a moment and then realised that he was my caddie. “Christ almighty,” I said. “What have you been up to.”

He told me that he had won £550 at the races, an absolute fortune in those days; but he had still come to carry my clubs. “Why don’t you put half of it in the bank?” I urged, but he would have none of it.

At the next tournament he was wearing the same clothes but they were looking a bit greasy and he had clearly been drinking. By the third tournament he had been sleeping rough again and his appearance was completely back to what I was used to.

He had lost the lot but was not bothered at all. The happy-go-lucky nature of these caddies was unshakeable.

Loyal Mack

For several years in the 1950s, my caddie was “Mad Mack”, or Michael Burke, whose brother was a very smart Major in the army. Mack appeared to be happy roaming the country, caddying for me, although my wife and I knew that his brother was there to take care of him if ever the need should arise.

Mack always wore two ties simultaneously: an RAF tie from his service days and an army tie from his brother. He was the most loyal caddie I have ever had and would guard my clubs with his life.

Round his neck were slung a pair of opera glasses which had no lenses in them. If I was ever unsure about the line of a putt, Mack would squat down and look through his binoculars. “Slightly left Max,” he would say, or “slightly right.” On one occasion I was told that it was “slightly straight.”

Racing tips

On his head was an American baseball cap with a long peak which had on it the words “Silence. Max at work.” He used to wear an old zip-up jacket and before we went out for a tournament round would chalk on the back what he thought would be the race winners for the meetings that afternoon.

I remember walking down the second fairway at Southport when the gallery which was following me began to disappear, one by one. “What’s the matter with them?” I thought. “I’ve hit a good drive.”

Then it dawned on me that these people had walked up behind me and seen Mack’s tips for the afternoon. They were running off to phone their bookies. You have to remember that the fairways were not roped off in the 1950s; the gallery walked down the fairways with the pros.

Mack’s mind would go a bit on occasion but I began to learn the signs. He would start to throw his hat in the air whenever I did a good shot and get over-exuberant. But after a week or two inside he would be back on the road again.

There was no malice in him at all, despite his fierceness in looking after my interests. I remember picking up Mack one day and driving through Southport to get to the club. Mack had his head out of the window and was happily bawling “Hello, how are you?” to all the passers by. I had to be firm with him on that occasion.

None of the other pros would tolerate him as he could put you off at times. They used to ask me why I put up with it but I would point out that he would always look after me well and was never the worse for wear.

I decided to fly over to Ireland for the Irish Hopitals touranment one year and told Mack to follow with my golfing equipment. I was at the Woodbrook club when some of the other pros arrived who had taken the Holyhead/Dun Leoghaire ferry.

“Blimey, what a trip!” they were saying. “Your caddie had your clubs out and was up all night giving the passengers golf lesson.” This seemed probable to me as Mack never seemed to need much sleep; but when I went to examine my clubs, they were as immaculate as ever.

Mack was a marvellous pianist, playing all types of music completely by ear. That evening in Ireland I persuaded Dai Rees and Ken Bousefield to come with me to a pub in Bray where I knew Mack would be playing.

The place was packed when we arrived and Mack was on top form, playing one tune after another. I noticed that four of the other caddies were walking round with their caps off, collecting money. The one nearest one to us looked very sheepish when he realised who we were. “This is for Mack is it?” I asked, before tossing half a crown in his cap.

When I looked round again, the four had disappeared while Mack still had an untouched half of stout on the piano.

Golf on the A1

I used to pick Mack up on an agreed spot on a trunk road, and more than once I found him batting some old balls up the road using a cleek I had given him. You have to remember that the number of cars on the roads then was a small fraction of what it is today.

Early one morning on the A1 near Stamford, there was no traffic about and as it was a stright stretch of separated dual-carriageway I couldn’t resist the opportunity of getting out of the car myself and hitting a couple up the road to see how far they would go. We then drove the car forward and picked up what balls we could find.

I wouldn’t want to encourage anybody to do this today, and It wasn’t too sensible even then, but it was the only time I have even seen my approach shots bounce twenty feet in the air.

Long-haired, bearded caddie

Another caddie I had for a few years was a young railway shunter called Archie Turner. Before starting with me he had accepted a bet from a friend that he would stop shaving and let his hair grow for a full year. At that time “short back and sides” was the norm as it was the decade before the Beatles.

His shoulder-length reddish-brown hair and flowing beard would stop people in their tracks in the 1950s. He was not bad looking either, I have to admit.

With bearded caddie Archie Turner at Wentworth 1953 (Golf Illustrated)

He won his bet easily but when the year was up he was so taken with the effect he had created that he still wouldn’t shave or have his hair cut.

When the Open was at Lytham in 1952 I was the reigning Champion. I had a practice round with Dai Rees and Ken Bousefield. It was a sunny day and I was feeling pretty good in my canary-coloured outfit – shirt, plus-twos, long socks and matching shoes.

On one the holes I saw six of the girls from one of the publicity tents coming after us in their uniforms and high heels. As they got closer they were saying “There he is! There he is!” and I puffed my chest out a bit as I was walking up the fairway.

But they were all pointing at Archie. Dai was nearly prostrate on the fairway with laughing. “You wear all your colours and it still doesn’t do you any good,” he said. Dai and Ken never let me forget it.

Scratch golfer

When Archie first came to me, I remember having trouble with my short shots and was out on the practice ground with a bag of balls. Archie began to tell me what I was doing wrong. I soon got fed up with this. “Okay, if you’re so damned good why don’t you show me how to hit the target,” I said, handing him the club.

I then watched, open-mouted, as Archie put ball after ball right by the pole, swinging beautifully. No one had told me he was a scratch golfer with the Sunningdale artisans.

He was the only caddie I have ever had whose advice I would listen to. Normally I only wanted them to plop the bag down in front of me so that I could grab the club I wanted.

I think it must be the only occasion in the history of of golf that there has been a newspaper sports headline stating “Max Faulkner leads Irish Open, his caddie leads Surrey Open.”

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