Franke: The Masters Golf Tournament Prevails

April 14, 2021

by Mark Franke

I have a love-hate relationship with golf.

It started in my pre-teen years when I got my first regular job as a caddie at the nearby country club. I could earn $2.25 plus tip for carrying a single (one bag) or $5 plus tip for a double. Somedays I was lucky enough to “go out” a second time and earn twice as much. The only downside was that I had to report to the caddie shack at 6:30 every morning to get signed in, this being the order in which we were sent out. The downside was really my dad’s since he had to drive me there as I was only 11 years old. 

This was good training for me, instilling in me a work ethic that included rising early every day . . . a habit I continued through my professional career and now in retirement. I also learned how to save money even though I earned only about $15 per week in those first years. After all, what could a grade-schooler spend money on back then?

After I reached high school, I got promoted to working in the pro shop cleaning clubs for the members who stored them on site. I would caddie in the morning, being an “A Class” caddie and getting the best assignments, and then work in the back room until closing time. Eventually I went full-time in the pro shop, working sunup until sundown six days per week and making $8 per day. 

That was the love part. The hate part developed only in the last years as my work hours were such that I could not avail myself of the top benefit accorded country club employees — free golf. The course schedule was rigid with certain days and times reserved for men only, women only, couples and whatever was left for kids and employees. Monday was employee day but I found myself running the pro shop on Mondays so that the golf pros could have the day off. What golf I played was a few holes late in the evenings when we were waiting on the last members to finish. 

I don’t think I ever played a full 18 holes the last several years of my employment there. Then, one college semester when I didn’t have enough money to pay tuition, I sold my golf clubs to re-enroll. College students and their parents today probably can’t even imagine a time when a used set of golf clubs covered a semester’s tuition. 

Still, I never lost my fascination with golf even though I no longer play and have absolutely zero desire to take it back up. My connection is now living on a golf course. Summer mornings will find me at 6 a.m. sitting on my patio watching the greenskeepers groom the course for the day’s play. 

What brings this all back to mind now is the unseasonably warm weather this past week which had my residential course hopping with play. And the Masters tournament. The Masters is in a class by itself among sporting events, maybe equaled only by the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500. I followed the results closely back in my caddie days, rooting for Arnold Palmer who seemed to own that tournament.

Why Arnold Palmer? Perhaps it was due to the fact that he earned his first PGA paycheck at the Fort Wayne Open in my hometown. More likely it was because his Masters caddie, nicknamed Ironman, got publicity for being a caddie. We need to root for our own, don’t you know.

This year, the Masters reinforced its preeminence by refusing to succumb to political pressure from the woke mob. While Major League Baseball pounded another nail into its rapidly closing coffin, the Masters rose above the political din and demonstrated why such icons are part and parcel of Americana. 

I didn’t watch any of the tournament as I find television golf quite boring compared with the full experience of walking a course. I don’t know much about current PGA players, with Arnie and Ironman both gone, so I have no favorite player. But then, the Masters is the Masters.

If my financial situation ever finds itself in such dire straits that I need to find a part-time job, I will probably walk over to the nearby pro shop and apply for a position. I have the experience, the work ethic and enough remaining love for golf that I should prove an exemplary employee. 

On the other hand, let’s hope that the stock market doesn’t crash so I can spend my remaining summer mornings with a cup of coffee watching the greens getting mowed and the sand traps raked. That will keep golf where it belongs — in my increasingly selective memory of the good old days.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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