Split seasons: A club caddie way of life

For Domingo Herrera, his year is spent caddying between home in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey. His tale is not unlike many of his peers in the profession

Teeth of the Dog Caddie Corp
The caddie corps for Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo Resort in La Romana, Dominican Republic.

As the summer sun rose in the Bronx, New York, the first weekday bus transported Domingo Herrera across the Harlem River into Washington Heights. A connecting bus headed for New Jersey over the Hudson River via the George Washington Bridge to the Garden State Plaza. A third bus completed the final leg to Bergen Community College.

Three buses, at least a one-hour slog of a commute, six mornings a week, followed by a short walk and Herrera is at work, ready to caddie at prestigious Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey.

"Most of the time I get home late because they need me for a second round, so home around 9 or 10 at night. It’s a longer trip back home," said Herrera in May as he reflected on his usual summer caddying sojourn, going back and forth for nearly four months while staying at his aunt’s home in the Bronx. "I never thought I would be a caddie for this long a time. Ridgewood is not a tourist site. I carry bags on both shoulders all the time. But it’s good money to support my family. That’s what I work so hard for."

The 44-year-old Dominican Republic native is a 27-year veteran caddie, most notably at another famous locale, The Teeth of the Dog course at the Casa de Campo resort. From his home in La Romana City, he is within walking distance to that scenic oceanside course, along with three other courses and a wealth of caddying opportunities nearby. The caddies at Teeth of the Dog bravely stand in the middle of fairways as tee shots head their way and get a first glance at putts by rushing to the greens ahead of their players.

Herrera makes his Dominican Republic home with wife Katherine and two teenage sons, Alexander and Christopher, and he earns approximately $15,000 in a partial year at the Teeth of the Dog. The financial return in New Jersey isn't as clear, as extremely hard work is required on the course — often times carrying two bags per round, several times per day.

There have been numerous memorable moments for Herrera, who had the advantage of learning English at an early age when many of his friends don’t speak Spanish and English. In 2021 at Ridgewood, he caddied a portion of a round for Phil Mickelson during a charity outing.

Phil Mickelson and Domingo Herrera
Domingo Herrera with Phil Mickelson.

“Great guy to me,” said Herrera before being informed that Mickelson’s grandfather, Al Santos, was one of Pebble Beach’s first caddies when it opened in 1919. There have also been multiple caddie stints at Teeth of the Dog during the Latin American Amateurs played there, including in 2022 when Herrera was on fellow Dominican Marcel Olivares' bag en route to a T66 finish. In mid-June, he was on Daniel Sloan’s bag when Sloan scored a rare double eagle on the par-5 ninth at the 52-year-old course.

Perhaps more pertinent is the makeup of the Casa de Campo caddie corps. There are approximately 170 caddies on site, all Black and Dominican, for multiple courses, according to Robert Birtel, Casa de Campo’s director of golf. Many were taught to caddie via local school training sessions established by Casa de Campo.

Baseball is the country’s national passion — 11% of Major League Baseball players are from the Dominican Republic, a total that is second only to the United States — but for these men caddying is a solid job. The regular caddie fee is $50 with carts and $80 for walking. They wear the white jumpsuits made so famous by the iconic all-Black Augusta National Golf Club caddies — except for short sleeves to endure tropical Caribbean weather.

The caddies are independent contractors, supplied with caddie hats and towels, but they must purchase the uniforms at $40 each. Herrera said he keeps at least five annually because he’s on the course five days a week from fall to early summer when Teeth of the Dog closes occasionally for summer maintenance. That’s when many of the Casa de Campo caddies head to the Northeastern United States — three at Ridgewood, 10 at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, and at least 10 at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York.

"They are without question the hardest workers we have," said Brian Farrelly, Ridgewood’s director of outside operations, for a predominately walking club with 80-100 caddies. "They have developed such a good relationship with many of our members. Since COVID, more and more people are walking here, so we need a strong caddie program. We don’t have as many caddies hanging around waiting to be picked or paired with a member. We started making arrangements during COVID the night before and that has continued."

The perception is that caddies moving back and forth during the seasons is a trend that ended at least 30 years ago. But that’s not true. A veteran Augusta National caddie estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the current caddies work at clubs in Colorado, Wisconsin or New York and a handful tote on various professional tours when Augusta National is closed from late May to mid-October. In their heyday of the 1970s, many Augusta National caddies worked in locations such as Atlantic City, New Jersey, and other clubs where Augusta National members referred them for summer work.

Domingo Herrera, middle, with the story's writer Ward Clayton, right, and Teeth of the Dog golf intern Jeremy Bershak.

"That practice has not waned much at all, if any," says Dan Costello, president of Caddiemaster Inc., a Troon-owned company that provides caddie services for up to 100 top-flight clubs, including Augusta National and Pinehurst. "There’s still a migratory pattern."

Bill Hughes, the general manager at the Country Club of the Rockies, west of Denver, said most of his club’s caddies are local youngsters out of school for the summer. Hughes says that the nearby Maroon Creek Club in Aspen utilizes transient caddies, many from Augusta National.

Farrelly says Ridgewood has had a small number of Dominican caddies for seven years, recently brought in a few caddies for the summer from Hogs Head in Ireland and sent some of Ridgewood’s regulars to Ballyliffin in Northern Ireland — all with input from members. A few Ridgewood members played at Teeth of the Dog and paved the way for the Caribbean-New Jersey pipeline.

"It’s a great mix and match with different personalities," Farrelly says. "That’s important."

Herrera’s travel this summer will be limited as the wear and tear of caddying for nearly 30 years required minor knee surgery. So, longtime Dominican caddying brethren Omar Ubiera and Domingo Polo are making a similar bus transit from the Bronx to Ridgewood without their friend. But like any dedicated looper, Herrera indicated he will be back at caddying strength by August in time to carry for a 28th year at Teeth of the Dog.

"I don’t play a lot of golf but it’s interesting for a few reasons,” Herrera says. "It’s a big combination of skill and mental. I have to understand psychology. And you meet all different kinds of people."

For the Casa de Campo caddies, the transportability will be valuable. In January 2025, Teeth of the Dog will close for most of the year to undergo a complete regrassing, the first extensive course work in 15 years. There will be caddying opportunities at other Casa de Campo courses, but the Ridgewood connection may be more prevalent then.

"That year, maybe it will be a longer time at Ridgewood," Herrera says.