Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson on the WGA's dedication to caddies

In this collection of personal essays published to mark the 125th anniversary of the Western Golf Association’s founding, leading voices from the world of golf journalism share how their lives – and careers – have intersected with one of the most impactful organizations in the game.

By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press Golf Writer
PGA Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award Winner

I didn't get a chance to cover my first Western Golf Association event until 2007, when the BMW Championship became part of the PGA Tour's postseason. It was clear to me immediately that it was one of the most important places to be all year – for players, yes, but also for caddies and for scribblers like me. When you've covered more than 600 PGA Tour events, you notice things you otherwise wouldn’t. And when an organization has 125 years behind it, well, they know what they're doing.

But it was only later that I began to realize connections long before I witnessed what the WGA was all about, and who it serves.

I was caddie at Rumson Country Club in New Jersey. The caddie manager was a one-armed man named Leo, the fee for new caddies was $6 a bag and we could play the course on Mondays. When I started writing for the school paper at Abilene Christian University a few years later, one of my first stories was on the value of caddies. I'm not sure how or why, but I reached out to Beverly Country Club in Chicago because of their strong program. Only later did I find out the club had the largest number of Evans Scholars in the country.

I think most anyone involved in golf has worked as a caddie. My father grew up as a member at La Jolla Country Club near San Diego, and he caddied when he wasn't playing. Butch Harmon used to caddie at Winged Foot and Wykagyl in New York as a teenager. The first job Butch had as a club professional was in Iowa, and that was his first exposure to Evans Scholars. He remains amazed to this day when he thinks about the thousands upon thousands of kids the Evans Scholars Foundation has put through college. "What they've done is beyond belief," he said.

When I was in graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, I caddied at the 1984 U.S. Amateur at Oak Tree. This was August in Oklahoma, and I was the only caddie who wore pants, because I thought that's how a caddie was supposed to dress (polyester, no less). My player was a real estate developer from the Bay Area named Guy Bill. He didn't get out of qualifying, but I stuck around and watched Scott Verplank win. A year later, Verplank won the Western Amateur and Western Open (which later became the BMW Championship). I always thought one of the coolest things about his Western Open win at Butler National in Chicago was how this amateur from Oklahoma State was going to pay his 16-year-old caddie. He emptied his wallet of about $300. The club passed the hat and took care of the rest.

It's been said – and I have written myself – that Bobby Jones was golf's greatest amateur, and 13 majors would bear that out. But it's hard to imagine another amateur with such a rich impact on the roots of the game as Chick Evans. The first amateur to win the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open in the same year, Evans wanted desperately to remain an amateur. He had his earnings put into an escrow account, put the WGA in charge and the money was used to pay for caddies who needed help going to college. The first Evans Scholarships were awarded in 1930. Butch is right. Amazing.

No matter where the BMW Championship is played, what sets it apart in the era of $20 million purses are the Evans Scholars caddying in the pro-am, and the Caddie Hall of Fame. Jimmy Johnson cried when he got the phone call that he was being inducted a few years ago. "It's what you work your whole career for," he says. Jim "Bones" Mackay was inducted in 2017. He says the first time he ever had his own locker at a PGA Tour event was the Western Open. "They take care of us like no other. They're all about honoring the trade. They realize it's an integral part of the game, and part of what makes golf beautiful is the caddie and player, whether you're at a club or on the PGA Tour," he said.

One of my fondest memories is going to Bethpage Black on a scouting trip ahead of the 2009 U.S. Open. I was eager to see the course, and the USGA said it would be no problem to play, until it became a problem. The airfare couldn't be canceled, and it worked out beautifully. I checked with the pro shop and caddies on site, and then waited until four guys from upstate New York hit their first tee shots and walked off the tee carrying their bags. I offered to caddie for them free of charge. In the rain. And it was invaluable. If the objective is to relearn the course, is there a better way than as a caddie? Plus, for the public crowd at Bethpage, it was a reminder the most common four-letter word in golf that begins with "F" isn't always "Fore!"

We've been fortunate to play a little golf ourselves while covering the PGA Tour. When we can get out during the BMW Championship, we don't play without a caddie. It's the only way. It's the WGA way. It's a beautiful thing.