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Golf Feature: - (posted 2nd August 1998)

Battle of caddies pits St. Andrews against Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach, California.- Tiger Woods won't be playing, there's no prize money or corporate sponsorship and it won't be televised.

This is definitely one golf tournament that's not on the PGA Tour.

The caddies of St. Andrews, Scotland, the birthplace of golf, are preparing to play host to the caddies of Pebble Beach, who work at one of the most beautiful courses in the world.

The winning team gets a silver Scottish drinking bowl called a quaiche and bragging rights for a profession that feels it doesn't get the respect it deserves.

Bob Keenan says he and his nine fellow Pebble Beach caddies, who will travel to Scotland for the first International Caddie Cup Challenge on 21st - 22nd October, do more than just read greens, rake bunkers and carry clubs.

"As a caddie, you plug along and you work every day and you really get unnoticed in the golf industry,'' Keenan says. "It's nice that a group of caddies from Pebble Beach who have been around the game a long time and really love the game are actually taking part in something of value and meaning, something significant.''

Scott Houston jokes that his job is one of the most time-honoured walking professions next to the shepherd and the mail carrier.

Caddying actually originated with Mary Queen of Scots, whose clubs were carried by young students called "Les Cadets.'' The Pebble Beach caddies complain their image has since become stereotyped as that of lowlife wiseacre dolts, golf's most overlooked participants.

Pebble Beach caddie master Mike Lehotta came up with the idea earlier this year as a way to expand on the Caddie Cup, a yearly winter tournament between the caddies at the area's four courses -- Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and Cypress Point.

In March, Lehotta sent letters to two of America's most prestigious private clubs, Pine Valley in New Jersey and Augusta National, home of The Masters. Both rejected the offer.

"They said, 'We have a rule that you can't play without a member and blah blah blah,' '' Lehotta recalls. "I said, 'It's a golf course. Just give us a tee time.' ''

Frustrated, he wrote to St. Andrews, where the game originated in 1552. It is a sacred course for thousands of golf enthusiasts who flock every year to Scotland's east coast to play one of its six courses.

Lehotta never expected a response, but within three weeks St. Andrews officials agreed to the plan and established logistics for the two-day tournament on the Old and Jubilee courses. They also arranged for a luncheon and dinner for the Americans.

"I just thought it was a superb idea. We see it as a workingman's Ryder Cup,'' says Richard Mackenzie, St. Andrews caddie manager and author of A Wee Nip at the 19th Hole, a history of the St. Andrews caddie.

Coincidentally, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews will be the host courses for the U.S. Open and British Open in 2000.

As for costs, the Pebble Beach caddies will each pay $1,000 for airfare. The Quicksilver sportswear company donated $3,000, which will cover the weekly rental of a 10-bedroom castlelike home 500 yards from the first tee of the Old Course.

If the tournament is successful, organizers from both teams will discuss moving the Caddie Challenge to northern California next year.

The Pebble Beach group includes two-time California amateur champion Casey Boyns. None has set foot on the famed course, and only one has travelled to Europe.

St. Andrews organisers chose their competitors from a group of 250, while Pebble Beach has only 45 caddies.

"We have some good players on our team but we feel we're definitely underdogs going over there to play them,'' says Chester Gillette, a Pebble Beach caddie since 1965.

Still, most of the caddies -- who range in age from the mid-20s to late 40s -- say they just want to represent themselves well.

"I'm not going over there to kick butt,'' Houston says. "I'm going over there to shake hands and for the camaraderie. It's really to embrace the birthplace of the game.''

At the heart of the trip is an effort to restore the tradition of the sport, which they say has become increasingly trivialised by corporations and golfers who are more interested in their cellular phones than the game.

The Pebble Beach practice putting green was closed for a day recently while organisers turned it into a miniature golf course, complete with scoops of sand resembling hazards and tiny trees. At the edge of the green a caterer iced bottles of Chardonnay for VIPs as part of the promotion.

"They try to make golf this pleasant little walking experience when actually it's a brutal game, so embrace it like that,'' Keenan says. "Golf is a game more like war and chess than it is like a romantic dinner for two. It's not lawn bowling or croquet.''

Caddying can test nerves, especially dealing with the egos of celebrities and the heads of corporations who aren't used to failing but almost always do at Pebble Beach.

The Pebble Beach course is beautiful (Robert Louis Stevenson described the area as "the most felicitous meeting of land and sea in creation''), but many high rollers are quickly humbled. At the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last year, Carl Perusina caddied for Donald Trump.

"We were walking down to the first tee and he goes, 'I'm really nervous,' '' Perusina says. "And I go, 'Hey, don't worry about a thing. Your hair looks perfect.' He totally dug that. It loosened him up and it made him feel comfortable.''