Stories outweigh golf at Jim Tanner Caddy Classic

By JON BAKER
jbaker@pawtuckettimes.com

PAWTUCKET – Rod MacKenzie is in his early 60s now, but his mind often drifts back – especially at this time of year – to all of the days he spent as a caddy at Pawtucket Country Club decades ago.
“It was just like ‘Caddyshack’ in a lot of ways,” he laughed recently about the sometimes incredible, sometimes comical and at times emotional moments they had tending the bags of club members on the links – or while waiting for a loop.
MacKenzie, now a businessman living in North Smithfield, isn’t alone. Back in 2007, some of his old buddies were so enthused about organizing a reunion of sorts, they decided to organize an event; it would be one where PCC caddies from an era long past would get gather, play 18 holes and – most importantly – share their fondest memories.
On Monday afternoon at 1:30 sharp, over 90 ex-caddies, former and current members and friends of both will congregate to put on the 12th annual Jim Tanner Caddy Classic, the event naturally named for the legendary former PCC assistant golf professional and current caddy master.
The tourney, a shotgun start, will include several notable “guests,” among them Tanner himself; Providence College Associate Athletic Director Carl LaBranche and his wife Joann; Les Kennedy Jr., the son of the longtime Pawtucket golf pro; and Mike Gelinas.
The event, including a silent auction with dozens of interesting items up for bid, will help raise money for the John P. Burke Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“I’d never miss this; it’s part of my heritage,” MacKenzie insisted. “The guys who come back want to get together with old friends and catch up, but also reminisce about all of the things we went through as boys and teens growing into young men on that golf course.
“We started this tournament because we wanted all of the guys to come back for a great day,” he added. “It was a guy named Kevin Fortin who suggested back in 2007 that we contact a bunch of those guys and have a tournament, and it was Eddie Emond’s idea to name it after J.T.
“We had 24 ex-caddies gather in November of 2007 to celebrate our common experiences of caddying and golfing the summers of our teen-age years, and the PCC Board of Directors waives the greens fees so we could have more money for foodand prizes. We paid $75 per person that first year, and this year it’s $150 a golfer. Whatever money is left over from expenses goes to the Burke Fund.
“I remember, all the guys showed up on a Sunday – it didn’t start until 3 p.m. – and we had so much fun we didn’t leave until the kicked us out. The next year we had 68, the year after that 132. I think the biggest showing we ever had, I don’t know how many we had, but we had to schedule a double shotgun for, like, 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“What have we accomplished the past 12 years? Well, we’ve raised over $80,000 for a dozen deserving young men and women (not only caddies but also club employees, etc.) from Pawtucket and surrounding communities. Most of our donations go directly to the Burke Fund.
“At the same time, we’re honoring J.T., who had been recognized by the club, former caddies, bag boys, club workers and friends for his mentoring of young men and women, and his service.”
He also indicated that PCC has enjoyed a recent revival with many new members and their families, and those who benefit from the Tanner or a Burke scholarship have learned some key information about the former’s legend.
“Jim started out as a caddy in the mid-1950s and became the assistant professional to Les Kennedy (Sr.) in the 1960s,” MacKenzie noted. “With a growing young family, J.T. took the position of Caddy master at Pawtucket and continues today in that same role.
“He since was inducted into the Pawtucket Country Club Hall of Fame in 2001, and they gave Jimmy an honorary membership for the rest of his life. In 2009, he was inducted into the Professional Caddies Association Hall of Fame, and that ceremony was in Orlando (Fla.). He’s also been (enshrined) by the R.I. Golf Association (that in 2014).
“Jim has help in the bag room these days, but the majority of the bags are still put on the carts by him. J.T. says it’s not work but a labor of love.”

**

MacKenzie himself began caddying at PCC in 1967, doing so on a whim.
“I was a Pawtucket Times’ newspaper carrier, and I had 96 customers in all,” he stated. “A friend of mine, Jack Early, stopped me one day and told me I could make more money caddying. I thought he was nuts, but I looked into it.
“I went to my dad, Frank, and said, ‘Uh, Jack said I could make more money caddying at Pawtucket than delivering the paper,’ and he just said, ‘OK, prove it!’” he added with a laugh. “I went to the club and introduced myself to J.T., and he asked who had referred me, and I told him. I didn’t get out for a loop right away. You had to pay your dues like everyone else, so I waited about two weeks.
“I remember I was 12 when I got out the first time; I had a single bag and walked 18. The next day I went 36 holes, and I made $17 in all. I went home and told my father, and he just looked at me and said, ‘OK, give up the route.’”
MacKenzie also recalled going to the course to make money, or play, grew on him quickly. He explained that when he was in ninth grade at Goff Junior High in 1969, he would tell his homeroom teacher that his first class was study hall, but he wanted to go and learn how to type. That actually was, common back then.
“I’d normally have to get a hall pass or whatever, but the teacher trusted me; I’d walk out of school and head to Pawtucket,” he laughed. “I did that probably 80-100 times. My teacher was always there, so I never had a problem – until …
“One day, I had a sub, and my mom got a call from the principal, ‘Where’s Rodney? He’s not in school!” he added. “She told my dad, saying something like, ‘I had to put up with this crap from Bruce (his older brother). I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it again!’
“My dad knew I was doing it all along, and he said, ‘Rod, I knew what you were doing, but your mom is fed up, so you’re done!’ That was the end of me bunking school to caddy or golf.”
It didn’t take long for MacKenzie, he said, to earn the nickname, “Super Looper,” and eventually became Tanner’s assistant caddy master after four or five years.
MacKenzie, who had attended Tolman High before graduating in 1973, then moved on to Boston College, used his money for gas or dates, and to help put himself through school.
“Jimmy was a fun guy,” he said. “He took care of me, giving some of the best loops (golfers) out there. I remember once, it was the day before the R.I. Open, and I had said, ‘Jimmy, give me a ham-and-egger early in the morning because I’m going to caddy for Ronnie Quinn (one of the tourney favorites).’ He wasn’t going out until, like, 2 (p.m.).
“The problem was (that) the guy he gave me went out and shot 73, so I knew he was going to qualify for (more rounds),” he continued. “I got in and talked to Jimmy, asked him if I was still going to caddy for Ronnie, and he said, ‘Nope.’ I was crushed. That was one of my big disappointments back then.”
MacKenzie had long been gone and begun his professional life when Tanner informed him of another humorous incident.
“Jim said he had put a kid on a bag at the R.I. Open at Pawtucket in the early ‘90s,” MacKenzie chuckled. “Apparently, there were three guys who were all battling for the championship, and they were on (No.) 18.
“One of the competitors was on the fringe, and his caddy wasn’t tending the pin for him, like he should’ve been,” he continued. “Jim said the caddy all of a sudden ran to it and pulled it out at the last second. As it turns out, in medal play, that was a two-shot penalty, which took the golfer out of contention. He would have to be assessed.
“(After a commotion), they went to the tournament director, and he (allegedly) told the three guys, ‘OK, just go play 18 again!’ As Jim was telling me this, we were both laughing like heck.
“That’s why we do this.”

Comments are closed.