Legendary Black caddies remain rich part of Augusta National’s fabric

Until 1983, the club’s corps of loopers was largely locals who knew how to navigate the course’s nooks and crannies — especially during Masters week

Editor’s note: Ward Clayton, a contributor to The First Call, is author of “The Legendary Caddies of Augusta National,” which is available online at Blair Publisher.

Even in his early 80s, Jariah Beard could easily reflect on his upbringing as a caddie in the unique Sand Hills neighborhood adjacent to the Augusta National Golf Club.

In 1952, Beard, age 11 and nicknamed “Bubba” at the time, ventured next door to Augusta Country Club to learn beside his friends how to caddie, much like any American kid looking to make a buck while growing up. Beard’s first loop earned $3, more than his parents received in a day at a local mill and enough to raise questions if he was gambling or caddying, both considered no-nos in the Beard household.

“I used to hide my little money under the house in a Maxwell coffee can to keep dad and mama from thinking that I had done something wrong,” Beard remembered.

Jariah Beard.

It was from that modest beginning that Beard joined an assembly of all-Black caddies, a majority hailing from Sand Hills, who became the most famous caddie corps in golf history. That has led to two books on their contributions, including this year’s "Legendary Caddies of Augusta National," and a 2019 documentary, "Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk."

These caddies walked Augusta National hundreds of times clad in the white jumpsuit and green cap. Names such as Stovepipe, Pappy, Cemetery, Burnt Biscuits, Po Baby, Marble Eye, Beaver and Hop were the purveyors of wisdom about yardage, the mysterious breaks of greens toward Rae’s Creek and how to quickly read the demeanor of members, guests and Masters participants before they even teed off.

From prior to Augusta National’s beginning in 1934 through the opening of the caddie ranks to outsiders in 1983, the Black caddies at Augusta National displayed their wide-ranging expertise on how to get a golfer around Augusta National, no matter the method.

There was the blunt assessment made by Nathaniel "Iron Man" Avery, who challenged the manhood of his player, Arnold Palmer, in 1960 when after a bad chip and club toss, he blurted out, "Mister Palmer, are we chokin’?'" Palmer huffed and puffed — feeling as if Iron Man was Arnie’s father, Deacon, scolding him — birdied the last two holes and won his second of four Masters, all with Iron Man by his side.

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Humor persisted when Walter "Cricket" Pritchett toted for Charlie Coody in 1971. The Texan was leading the Masters on Saturday afternoon, just ahead of Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller, when Cricket asked what time the television coverage began. Coody lost his focus and asked why that was important. Cricket faced up and said he told his boss in Atlanta that he was leaving his bus driving job that week to visit his sick grandmother in Houston. “And I didn’t think you were gonna play this well,” he told Coody. That was the first laugh.

The second came when the TV coverage started early on the back nine and Cricket had removed the towel from the golf bag, draped it over his head and wore his green cap on top to hopefully hide from the cameras. Coody chuckled all the way to his only major championship title.

Then it’s back to Beard, who was the group’s historian for decades. When Fuzzy Zoeller made his first Masters start in 1979, he was baffled. After one interaction, Fuzzy gave the reins to Beard. “He led me around like I was a blind man,” Zoeller said — and together they beat Tom Watson and Ed Sneed in a playoff. Zoeller remains the last rookie to win the Masters.

It was another tribute to the entire Black caddie group when Carl Jackson guided Ben Crenshaw to two titles in the next two decades. Their collective intelligence didn’t come via technology, but by a sense of feel and tutoring one another.

“When I first started caddying, we didn’t use yardages, we used our head and eyes,” said Beard, who died in March 2023 at age 82. “It was an art back in those days.”

Their route was also challenged by racial barriers that made it difficult to simply reach their workplace. Overcoming educational, health and civic shortcomings made the path rocky.

From left, Thomas Burroughs, former Augusta National caddie Walter "Roundhead" Newton Jr., Keyonice Burts and Varian Hunter at the 2023 "Augusta’s Black Caddies, Men on the Bag" experience in Augusta, Georgia. 

"This is far greater than anything I achieved in sports," says Will Avery, Iron Man's great nephew, a native Augustan who played basketball at Duke University, three years in the NBA and is a first-year Blue Devils assistant coach. "This is historic — not just Black history, but American history."

The caddies are much different now as a corporate relationship with Caddiemaster Enterprises oversees the group. Most hail from all over the country with a majority white male makeup in comparison to the all-Black group that is largely retired or has passed away.

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Yet, there’s still a semblance of tradition remaining. You can see it in the work done with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in the days before the Masters begins where Augusta caddies are sprinkled throughout and lead the world’s top amateur women. Or when Masters participants visit Augusta before tournament week seeking wisdom from the local caddies regarding known changes or the more subtle refinements on greens that only the locals can spell out.

The best news may be forthcoming. A just-released documentary on Carl Jackson’s life, "Rise Above," tells of his caddying life. A monument honoring the caddies is in the works for display in Sand Hills. The Laney House, a historic location for Black education dating to the late 1800s, regularly has a play that brings local actors in to portray some of the famous Augusta caddies, entitled "Men on the Bag," after the first book 20 years ago. Finally, the Patch, Augusta’s municipal course where many of the caddies learned the game, is on the verge of being renovated in 2025, led by Augusta National’s financial muscle and community influx.

These recent occurrences should help make sure that the all-Black caddies are not only remembered but justly honored.