At the halfway mark in John Dunn’s cross-country caddie tour of some of America’s finest golf courses, he decides that documenting each step for a book will be the perfect reason to keep it going. (Or at least a better way to buy some time from his concerned father.)
It’s clear to the reader, however, that Dunn’s combination of wanderlust and complete addiction to the game – he often fashions impromptu “courses” across Utah deserts, front lawns of former convents and cemeteries – are the true driving forces in his life.
If you share his passion for the game, once you start “Loopers” you won’t want to put it down.
“Loopers” starts out in the gold-coast of lower Connecticut at the Country Club of Fairfield, where he learned the game, and Brooklawn and Stanwich (Greenwich), where he had the chance to caddie for amateur legend George Zahringer. Zahringer reprimanded Dunn for being too nice to the opponent, saying he was going to “vanquish” him. Dunn quickly learned that tournament golfers weren’t his favorite employers.
After Connecticut, Dunn followed the sun (and snow) to Maroon Creek (Aspen); Secession (South Carolina); Olympic Club (San Francisco); Sherwood (Los Angeles) and Bandon Dunes, Oregon. If you’re already drooling at those names, how about Augusta National, and The Old Course and Royal Dornoch in Scotland?
One of my favorite chapters is the one where he visits the exclusive clubs on Long Island – Atlantic, Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links of America, and Maidstone. Not only do these ultra-private clubs provide Dunn with a paycheck, he gets to play them frequently – hitting shots from National Golf Links onto Shinnecock in a unique 36-hole loop he refers to as a double helix. Who gets to do that?
It’s the stories of the after-hours golf and partying that make the book such a treat. Dunn describes everything from bonfires on the beach in St. Andrews to hanging out with loggers in Bandon, Oregon with such detail that you don’t just feel like you’re there, you want to go there. Unlike many of the “lifers” Dunn describes – lest you think it’s only a rosy picture of caddies he paints – he has a parachute (moving home or getting a steady job). But he seems genuinely concerned for the aging caddies that face the reality of a job with no exit strategy or retirement plan. When a fellow caddie pours out his soul in tearful, drunken stupor at a cemetery, you get a look at the dark side of caddying.
Dunn also has an uncanny ability to soak in the good and the bad of each course; it’s caddie “system,” and the membership. From Sherwood and Maroon Creek’s Hollywood celebrities, to the days caddying for Bill Gates and Arnold Palmer at Augusta National, Dunn fascinates with his ability to get these luminaries to open up to him. He doesn’t betray there trust – if they told him something he shouldn’t have repeated he filed it away where any good caddie should.
Dunn lives a simple life on the road, hitchhiking and camping along the way. His reflections and metaphors can get a little over-the-top at times, but for the most part they are very enjoyable. In the Hamptons, for example, where rich New Yorkers pay six figures for summer rentals, Dunn reflects on a time when things were simpler.
“I love that old America, he writes. “It’s what I loved about Sag Harbor and all of the Hamptons – those beautiful old parts that still remained. The small, untended farm stands piled with baskets of tomatoes and corn and potatoes, the price neatly printed on an index card next to the jar where you placed your money and took the change you were due…”
It’s passages like these in “Loopers,” where Dunn delves much deeper than the caddie yards of the uniquely different clubs that employ him. Each location (or “port” as he poetically describes his stops after a sailing couple he meets draws the comparison) is enjoyable to learn about from a wandering caddie’s perspective. I’ll venture as far as to say that even a casual golfer would enjoy the book.
Any member of a club with a caddie program, or golf traveler who has, or plans to employ a caddie in Scotland, Bandon Dunes, or any other destination should read this book to see what you look like from the “other side of the bag.” As a golfer with a destination wish list, “Loopers” will provide an inside look at the courses you may never get to play and give you the inspiration you need to at least try. If you’re at the right point in your life, you might decide to do it Dunn’s way.