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Lifestyles of Kiawah's Ocean Course caddies: Free golf, good shoes and gator fights

KIAWAH ISLAND — The man who's played more rounds at the Ocean Course than anyone in the world?

It's not some CEO with money to burn, or a golf-loving celebrity, or even a pro with a jones for Pete Dye's diabolical course designs.

Meet Robert Fisher, Kiawah Island caddie and Ocean Course aficionado. 

"I've got over 700 rounds played out here," said Fisher, 59, a retired federal government employee. "That's probably the most rounds of anybody in the world.

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Robert Fisher searches through the brush for his golfer's lost ball and finds three while caddying at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

"This course just changes every single day," he said. "You can play every single different tee, and it keeps it exciting. It's a different challenge every time you play."

The professional golfers preparing for Kiawah and the PGA Championship in May could do worse than to play a round or two with Fisher on the bag, or one of the other 100 or so caddies who work the Ocean Course.

Few know the famed layout along the Atlantic Ocean better than the caddies who walk the 6½-mile loop while carrying two bags across their shoulders.

It's a sought-after gig that pays pretty well — $100 per bag is the suggested gratuity — and offers a better view than most office cubicles.

"There's nothing like it," said 23-year-old Molly Lucas, the only woman in the Ocean Course caddie yard. "We get both the sunrise and the sunset here, and some days you are out here from sunrise to sunset. We get fly-bys from the Air Force every day in different planes, we have bobcats, deer, gators, osprey, some bald eagles. It's amazing."

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Molly Lucas caddies for Ella Coady, 16, while she plays the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. Coady, visiting from New York, works as a caddie at her home course. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Lawyers and firefighters

Caddie manager Mark Bloomer has been working at the Ocean Course for 20 years. When jobs open up in the yard, they get filled quickly.

Ocean Course caddies include pro golfers, lawyers, paramedics, broadcasters, basketball coaches, teachers, firefighters, employees of Google and Amazon, and pro caddies, too.

"There are plenty of applicants," Bloomer said. "There's no shortage, that's for sure. Our golfing privileges are top-notch, and that's a big draw for people."

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Caddie manager Mark Bloomer, who has been working at the Ocean Course for 20 years, hands a club to Terry Becker. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Ocean Course caddies are employees of the Kiawah Island resort, Bloomer said, with full medical and dental insurance and 401(k) plans available. And caddies can play for free on any of the Kiawah courses.

"I'll just say it's a great place to work as a caddy," Bloomer said.

That's not to say it's easy work. Most bags weigh at least 30 pounds (caddies swap out heavier bags for carry bags). Good shoes, sunscreen and a hat are must-haves.

"Basically, I'm getting a great workout," said Lucas, who majored in golf management at N.C. State. "I can pretty much eat and drink what I want. But you've got to take care of your body if you are out there doing it six days a week.

"Some caddies do physical therapy, a lot of stretching and massage. You've really got to take care of your back."

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James Coady hugs his daughter Ella Coady as he hands his putter to Robert Fisher at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Gators vs. deer

Beyond the physical demands, Ocean Course caddies are also swing coaches, psychologists, tour guides and companions to golfers of varying skills, experience and confidence.

"Golf is kind of a smaller part of it," Bloomer said. "The personality of a caddie is huge because you are meeting at least four different people every day. You never know what you are going to be up against."


An alligator rests on the banks of a pond near the 8th hole at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Caddies will often scout their clients as they warm up on the practice tee to get a feel for their skill set.

"I think the first part is just connecting with them," said Lucas, who is engaged to aspiring golf pro Nate Young. "The biggest thing a lot of amateurs need is just picking the right tees. If you don't do that, you are not going to have a good time.

"A lot of people like to play the long tees. But I tell them, when you play a course, no one asks, 'What tees did you play?' They just ask you what you shot. This is a bucket-list course, and you're here to have fun."

And you never know what you will see at the Ocean Course.

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Golfers warm up on the driving range prior to playing the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

"I've seen alligators taking down deer in front of guests," Fisher said. "Some of them get freaked out. That day, they quit after that."

Said Bloomer: "I've seen it all: Deer fights, alligator fights, eagles chasing ospreys to steal a fish in mid-air."

Touring pros often play corporate outings at the Ocean Course, or play just for fun. That's how Fisher wound up caddying for a touring pro during the 2012 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course.

"There was a group of teaching pros that came back year after year, and (the pro) came to play with them," Fisher said. "And I'd caddy for them. Well, 2012 rolls around and the Saturday before the PGA, the pro and his caddy had a disagreement and he fired his caddy. On Sunday morning, he saw me and asked me if I'd caddy for him.

"He said, 'Give me all your information, and I'll decide what to do.' "

The pro missed the cut.

Maybe he should have listened to his caddie. 

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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