The devastating effects of coronavirus on sports have been conspicuous. Indeed golf has never been the same. Since the advent of Covid-19 a lot has changed- the social nature of golf is all but gone. The coziness, camaraderie and the occasional banter on the course is no more. Social distancing is the new buzzword.
But perhaps the seismic shift was the suspension of Caddie services as soon as coronavirus checked into the country, to discourage close-contact and decongest golf courses. Ideally, a golfer and Caddy are an inseparable twosome. They ought to complement each other and that’s why where there exists good chemistry between a player and caddy, the pair is unbeatable.
After staying out in the cold for six months, Caddies will from today be allowed back to Clubs. But things have changed. A lot. The bond that used to define the relationship between players and Caddies on the course will no longer be there, thanks to the “new normal”. And in some instances, the demand for their services will be subdued, as players have since “moved on” after learning painstakingly to take charge of their own destiny on the course.
Following last week’s release of guidelines on resumption of sporting activities during the COVID pandemic by the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, the Kenya Golf Union, KGU, has given member clubs the green light to readmit Caddies effective today. In a statement KGU Chairman Ben Omuodo however warns that Clubs should adhere to the Covid-19 guidelines as they get Caddies back to work. “The Caddie’s role will be as an advisor and bag carrier for the golfer. They will perform their duties while maintaining a safe distance from the golfers. Additionally, the golfers and caddies will also be required to have a bottle of hand sanitiser in the golf bag,” said Omuodo.
Since March 2020, more than 4,000 Caddies have been rendered unemployed after the government introduced stringent measures to check the spread of coronavirus in Kenya. Though initially Caddies were locked out of Clubs, the measures were relaxed in June allowing them partial access. The move saw Clubs enlist their services, albeit partially, as ball spotters and in some instances as Marshals.
Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of Caddies, golfers have learnt the hard way to be self-reliant. Cases abound in golf clubs of members misplacing all sorts of items on the course as they learn the art of multi-tasking. In fact, the most common messages in members’ WhatsApp groups nowadays are lost-and-found updates. This chilling reality is captured in KGU’s communication to Clubs: “The golfers who wish to employ the services of a caddie can be assigned one through the club’s booking system unless they have a personal arrangement with the caddie or do not require the service of one.”
Indeed, Caddies are a worried lot. Whereas there’s a glimmer of hope with the announcement of the resumption of their services, Patrick Kariuki the Chairman Kenya National Caddies Association views the future with trepidation. “It has been so tough on us. In fact most of our members have had to relocate to their rural homes. Our biggest fear is that golfers may deem our services unnecessary. We are however optimistic that members will embrace us,” Kariuki said.
As the country embarks on the path to economic recovery, all eyes are on how jobs that were lost during the Covid-19- induced shutdown will be restored. A recent survey by the Federation of Kenya Employers, FKE, estimates that one million jobs may be lost by December 2020. Frighteningly, the survey by FKE does not capture the full scenario in the informal sector. At the start of this year, about 4,000 Kenyans were earning a living as Caddies. As we embark on the fourth quarter of the year 2020, under the “new normal” dispensation the scenario is morphing quite first. The jury is still out.