By Harriet Shephard
Rebecca Riddell has been caddying at Royal Dornoch in Scotland for eight years, ever since she was 14 years old.
But, despite her wealth of experience, recent degree in Golf Management and strong family links to the game (her dad is the Course Manager and her mum is the Assistant Manager at Dornoch), she tells me that she sometimes still has to prove that she’s up to doing the job.
And it's all because she's a girl...
“As with any customer service job, you get some nice people and some not so nice people when you’re caddying,” she explained diplomatically.
“Some people are so excited to have a girl caddying for them because they’ve never even seen that before - they’ll quite often tip you well too! But then on the other side there's the occasional person who will refuse to even acknowledge you because you're a woman. You can see in their eyes that they are thinking, ‘oh great I’m stuck with the girl’.
“They just assume you don’t know much and it can be very frustrating.
“I can be stood on the 1st tee next to a man in his 50s who has only been caddying for six months, but still some men will be hoping to go with him because he looks like the more stereotypically experienced caddy. It's annoying, but normally the person I do end up with is super pleased with the job I do for them.
“Others might not take me seriously for the first few holes. Then, after I’ve given a few decent lines they’ll start to think that maybe I do know what I’m talking about and they’ll ask me how long I’ve been caddying for or what my mum and dad do. Then they get a big surprise.
“It’s good in some ways because it makes me a better caddy; I know I need to do a good job every time because I need to prove myself. I have to provide exact yardages and lines because otherwise people just won’t take me seriously.”
But Rebecca is not the only girl at the Sutherland club. Royal Dornoch encourages its juniors to start caddying from an early age and there are (in normal circumstances) five female caddies working on a freelance basis at the club.
“Sometimes a group will go out with three of us girls and people will be like ‘what’s going on!’ It’s nice to have some other female caddies to talk to because they can relate to the difficulties I sometimes have, the men can’t do that really.”
But for Rebecca, the numerous positive experiences far out way any of the occasional negatives in her job.
“I’ve had people come back year after year and always request to play with me, I end up really getting to know them and all about their families. It's so nice to feel appreciated and like you are helping to make their holiday a bit better. In the peak of summer, we can be out for five hours so you do have a lot of time together.
“One time I was with a man who had just flown in from America and the airline had lost his luggage. So I spent the whole round on the phone to them trying to get it back for him while someone else advised him on playing. It’s not what you want after a long flight; you’re feeling jet lagged and you’d rather be concentrating on the golf. I just wanted him to enjoy the course and have a brilliant experience.”
Rebecca is also a popular caddy choice for a lot of women.
“I think some women do prefer having a female caddy as it takes the pressure off a bit and makes them feel less nervous and more comfortable," she said.
“It’s maybe easier for me to advise them too – especially with anyone from America we need to get them tips on how to get out of the bunkers as Scottish and American ones are so different. Some men are great at taking advice but then some can be very bad at it too!”
Now, if you’re anything like me then you’ll have spent the last few weeks re-watching Netflix's hilarious and very ridiculous Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga over and over again. So I was so excited (and jealous) to hear that one highlight of Rebecca’s career was when she caddied in the same group as American actor Will Ferrell.
“He was such a super nice guy and so naturally funny,” she said of the Anchor Man star.
“I caddied for his friend who actually had no legs and it was really interesting. He was on a trip with six of his old college friends and they were going around a few courses and whisky distilleries in Scotland. He was so nice to chat to, they say never meet your heroes because you’ll just be disappointed, but I definitely wasn’t with him.”
Having graduated only a few months ago, Rebecca is now hoping to pursue a career working in golf events.
She’s also teamed up with the Melanoma Fund to become an ambassador for the Slip! Slap! Swing! campaign, helping to spread the word about the importance of practicing good sun safety on the course.
“As a red head I definitely understand the importance of the campaign, but it’s something that affects everyone, not just one group. I’ve been working to get a few more clubs involved and promoting why it’s so important to always wear suncream and a hat.
“My friend, who is also a caddy at Dornoch, was once working with a doctor from America and after the round he suggested that she should get a mole on her arm checked out that as he'd noticed that it didn’t look quite right. It turned out that it was cancerous but they got it removed in time before it spread to the rest of her body. In a way caddying saved her life I suppose; she might never have noticed if it wasn’t for him!”
Eloquent, interesting and with a fascinating background in the game, I can’t think of a better ambassador for the game.
I can’t wait to hear where Rebecca’s career takes her.
For more information about Royal Dornoch visit www.royaldornoch.com and for more about the Slip! Slap! Swing visit www.melanoma-fund.co.uk.
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