OpinionTuesday, February 4, 2014
A good nip for everyone
The first-time visitor journeying north of the wall once built by Hadrian to keep out marauding wild men wielding claymores, might reasonably hesitate if offered’a wee nip’ from a burly male in a bright-hued skirt.
But turning down a ‘drop of the old creuteur’ would not occur to a well-travelled golfer, aware ‘the nip’ would be a generous slug of good whisky (or ‘creature’ as they say in west-highland Gaelic) from the hip-flask of an attentive caddie.
Scots are intensely proud of a rich vernacular that derivates from many sources other than English, which may go some way to explain why a book titled A Wee Nip at the 19th hole is one of those lost gems where sales probably numbered thousands rather than the millions its content deserves.
First, let’s suppose four buddies decide to fulfill a lifetime ambition and play the Old Course at St. Andrews. After tee times are acquired, travel and accommodations settled, what’s the most important thing they must do? Get a local caddie! Because, as the foreword to this book suggests, “to play the Old Course first time without one would be as unprepared as setting out to climb Mount Everest without a guide”.
“A Wee Nip” you see, turns out to be a superb history of the St. Andrews caddie, and so much more. For instance, I believe the majority of golfers today accept the term “caddie” originated with French-educated Queen Mary, who took to the game with a passion in Edinburgh when she became Queen of Scots, and her clubs were carried by young soldiers, “Les Cadets.”
However, given Mary and friends did not mix with the lower classes, even playing golf, there’s another equally likely origin. Andrew Dixon (1655-1729) was a ball-maker who also lived in Edinburgh and was employed by the future James II as a golf “cawdy”, a name used by male and female water-carriers and errand runners in Scotland’s capital city. In the eighteenth century there was even a “Constable of Cawdys,” who controlled this unique group of porters, message-deliverers and the like.
The first official mention of caddies at St. Andrews is in 1771, although the club-carrying trade was most likely being plied many years before, as they “cajoled, councelled, inspired and occasionally bullied their man around the golf course. With this wisdom, it seems such a short step to the caddies giving professional instruction on how to play, and in time becoming the first professional golfers.”
“A Wee Nip” by former St. Andrews caddie-master Richard Mackenzie (published 1998 by Bantam) is an exceptional source, jam-packed with wonderful anecdotes, old photographs and occasional rogues. My favourite, a gaunt, haggard and unshaven caddie, name Willie Johnson, aka “Trap-Door.” TD pretended one leg was shorter than the other, had a special boot made with a hollow sole and during the round he’d collect “lost” balls inside the boot for later resale!
Caddies have a unique place in our game and this wee nip does them proud.