May 2007

New Forecaddie Program adds Touch of Class at Harbour Town Golf Links

Author: Paul deVere

John Farrell can hardly contain his excitement. His Irish eyes flash and smile at the same time. “To see the guests’ reactions when they’re leaving and saying goodbye to their caddie, to see them exchanging pleasantries at the end of a round—it’s just awesome,” said Farrell.

He’s referring to the new forecaddie program at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines Resort. Farrell, who has been head professional since 1991 at one of the country’s most highly-ranked golf courses, looks like a kid on Christmas morning who just got the gift he’s always wanted.

“What I’m really excited about is that when guests are making reservations for their next time here, they ask, ‘Can you make sure I get Norm’ or ‘Can I have Steve’, because they enjoyed them so much. That speaks to the type of experience they’ve had,” said Farrell.

Having a forecaddie leading your foursome on a venue like Harbour Town definitely kicks the enjoyment up several notches. No more lost balls—unless they drop into a lagoon. The forecaddie watches where they go. No more guessing at yardage or even what club to use. By watching his foursome on the practice range, the forecaddie can immediately judge what kind of players he will be escorting. Need help “reading” the green? No problem. Just like the Tour pros, the forecaddie will help you decide if your 20-foot putt breaks left or right (or both).

“It’s pretty labor intensive when there’s one person taking care of four golfers. The service needs to be personalized. One golfer might want you to be chatty. Someone else might want you to be invisible, just provide yardage and clean clubs. So the caddie has to read how he is going to tailor his service,” explained Farrell. “He’ll even drive the cart if a golfer wants to walk a few holes.”

The seed for the forecaddie program was planted in 2000, when renowned architect Pete Dye renovated Harbour Town, site of the PGA Tour’s Verizon Heritage. “We wanted to give tournament-type conditions on a year-round basis to our members and our guests. Since the renovation, we’ve been doing that. We felt like the forecaddie program was the obvious next step, raising the bar to the service standard we wanted to provide,” Farrell said.

Putting together the program took a considerable amount of planning. “We had to decide if we wanted a professional management company to do it or create it in house. We made the decision to do it ourselves so we could have complete control on how it was executed,” Farrell said. He visited other resorts, like Pinehurst and Kiawah, who offer similar forecaddie programs, and took away ideas he liked and things he would do differently. Other than a few private clubs in the area, Harbour Town is the only course open to the public with this kind of service.

The “caddie corps” is made up of about 35 forecaddies from all different walks of life. Each has undergone an intensive training program, lasting up to a month, depending on his prior knowledge of the game and the course. “There’s really no one sector that represents the caddie corps. We have a lot of interesting folks with different backgrounds, including third and fourth class PGA golf professionals and a retired history professor,” Farrell said. “We have a few career caddies who are really delighted to be around the game and be out there every day. They’ve caddied at national clubs like Secessions or Chechessee and Augusta.”

While Farrell and Sea Pines had models to work with, creating the program from scratch was a challenge. “We left nothing to chance. We worked very hard at making sure that it was prefect. They [the caddies] are going to have more customer contact than any single individual in the resort. It was a real priority to me, personally, to be sure that we had people out there who were saying and doing things right. We’re taking how they interact very seriously. We don’t call our guests ‘guys and gals,’ we call them ‘ladies and gentlemen,’” said Farrell.

The forecaddies at Harbour Town do add a layer of class to the game. And, in their crisp, white coveralls they might remind you that they are your personal and very gifted mechanics, guiding you through the machinations of 18 of some of the most challenging, beautiful and difficult golf holes in the world. Or you might consider them as “the men in white coats,” making sure you arrive at #18 with your psyche intact.

Golf writer and author Paul deVere had the distinct pleasure of being invited to play Harbour Town on March 4, as part of “Media Day,” in anticipation of the PGA Tour’s Verizon Heritage. He admits to being totally spoiled by his forecaddie. The “official” forecaddie program began at Harbour Town Golf Links on March 5.

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