What A Caddie Taught Me About Encouragement

This past week I was invited to play a round of golf at East Lake Golf Club in Decatur, Georgia.  East Lake is no ordinary club.  It’s the site of the Tour Championship, the culminating event of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedEx Cup. More importantly, it was also the home course for golfing legend Bobby Jones.  If I had a bucket list of courses to play, this would have been high on my list.  Check!

For golfers everywhere, walking the course at East Lake is walking on hallowed ground.  Oh, by the way, the operative word is walk.  Golf carts are not permitted to navigate these historic fairways.  You have to walk it — more about that in a minute.

East Lake’s mission statement is all about “golf with a purpose” as it seeks to implement a proven model of community development to address the challenges of an urban environment. Part of that purpose is offering employment to locals as caddies in the economically depressed area surrounding the East Lake Club.  If you have to walk 6,000 plus yards, you might as well have someone carry your clubs.

To be honest, it had been a while since I walked a course.  I wouldn’t describe East Lake as hilly, but it occurred to me — as my knees, hips, and back kept reminding me with every fairway step — that there are few flat spots on the course.  I always seemed to be walking uphill or downhill.  Let’s just say that when I finished the round, my body parts stood up and applauded before collapsing in a heap of sweat and weariness.  

Mark Twain is said to have described golf as a “good walk spoiled.”  As I limped off the course, my exhausted body may have been inclined to agree with Twain, but I beg to differ.  It was a joyful journey nonetheless.  Walking a course allows you to appreciate its design, admire the challenges facing PGA Tour players, and enjoy the beauty of a 117-year-old classic course. 

In the case of last week’s East Lake walkabout, I also discovered something else.  The power of words to encourage.  Our caddie was a young man named Ramsey.  He had caddied at East Lake for ten years and was intimately familiar with the course.  His advice on shot strategy and putting was invaluable in keeping my score out of triple digits.  And to be clear, there is no truth to the rumor that I spent so much time in the deep sand bunkers that I earned the sobriquet of “Mr. Sandman.”  No truth whatsoever, none, nada.  OK, OK, I confess my sand wedge was the most used club in my bag.

Caddie Ramsey was a patient and encouraging help. Though he must have raised a blister after raking all of my sand trap shots, I began to notice how he found a way to make a positive statement after even the worst of shots.  He proved to be a proverbial font of inspiration. I began to make mental notes of his reassuring words.

Here’s a small sample of them:

You got this.

“We can make that work.”

You can still make a shot from there.

Good out” as my sand shot stopped 40 steps from the pin.

You can make that shot.

Don’t worry, I will find it (the ball).”

His role went far beyond carrying our clubs.  He made the game more enjoyable.  His heartening, reassuring tone provided what every golfer needs — confidence.

Our caddie’s counsel and encouragement reminded me that such an attitude works well in marriage, parenting, and even business.

Encouragement is the act of providing support, inspiring confidence, and giving hope.  Offering an encouraging word brings out the best in most people.  At each stop, our caddie was ready with the right club to use. He inspired confidence with his familiarity with the course.  He gave us hope by sharing a compelling vision of what would result in a good shot. Plus, such a positive attitude made it easier to ask for advice when you had questions.

I read somewhere that the brain functions best when it processes positive words rather than negative ones.  I think golfers do, too, though you could not tell it from my scorecard.  

As we walked up the 15th fairway, I asked Ramsey if caddie school provided him a lexicon of diplomatic words and phrases to say to his golfing clients, especially when they make a less than spectacular shot.  This seasoned looper laughed at the comment.  Then went on to confess that over the years he had simply learned that encouraging words are more appreciated, keeps the relationship positive, and, this is not to be understated, results in better tips.

This young but experienced caddie taught me that anyone can be an encourager, but such a skill must be developed, cultivated, and practiced over and over. There is power in encouragement, whether it be on the golf links or the journey through life.  That power, when used wisely, can serve to produce confidence and hope in others. 

I think the world would be a better place if we had more “caddies” like Ramsey out there.

Proverbs 25:11 says:  “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” 

Note:  Picture at website is of me standing on the tee box of the Par 3 15th Hole — one of the few holes I shot par.

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  1. Coleman Bradley

    Outstanding! Buddy you have a way with words that can really help keep us on track through life!

    Are you sure Ramsey didn’t change a few scores to keep you out triple digits 🤣


    1. Buddy McElhannon

      No, he was too busy watching this old geezer huff and puff around the course.


  2. Katy Hall

    Rally great thoughts on the power of encouragement. And so true. Glad you had a wonderful time!


  3. Rob Pace

    I’m very envious Buddy! I would love to play the East Lake Course. I used to live on Ashburton Road
    from about 1956-72 and used to climb the fence around East Lake Country Club to ride sleds down the hills you described on the Golf Course. Got a lot of memories in that area. I’ve also attended a PGA Ryder’s Cup Tournament with my dad back in the 60’s and also PGA Championship about 10 years back. Rob Pace


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