Behind the Scenes at the BMW PGA Championship

With the BMW PGA Championship starting at Wentworth Club this week, it seems timely to share with you the gory details of a week working behind the scenes.  In my former life I worked there, so can give you an insider’s view.

Turning up for work at 6am at Wentworth on the Monday of tournament week brought mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was the start of the most enjoyable week of the year but on the other it came with a task we all dreaded.   Flown, driven or at least transported by whatever means necessary from the previous week’s venue, the professionals’ tour bags arrived in an enormous transit and now needed to be dealt with during a shift that we all sought to avoid, if truth be told. These bags require super-human strength to unload and organise and so the job becomes one for the excited and naive rookie.  Their enthusiasm for tournament week starts here, but they only make the mistake once, trust me, I remember it well.  And why is it such a nightmare?  Well if you thought that players’ tour bags look heavy when the caddy’s humping it around, now throw in all the club options they’ll work through in practice, the weather suits, the ball supplies, and their shoe choices and suddenly you’re unloading travel bags that feel more like deliveries to Fort Knox.

But there was a flip side to acting as the storage facility for 80-odd players over tournament week that brought some fascinating insight into life on tour, the players themselves, and most especially their caddies. Of course, there are more than 80 players playing at Wentworth, but there are several I assume never let their clubs out of sight and/or have the private jet so don’t have too many luggage worries. Either way, not entrusting a bunch of strangers to look after their tools of the trade may not be too daft!

That said, I was often surprised by the players quite happy to leave their clubs with us – Adam Scott, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and other ‘big’ names – though generally speaking it was the caddies that were our point of contact and the face we had to recognise.  Some players would pop in and stop for a chat, given enough time.  I certainly recall one of my colleagues discussing at length the upcoming 2005 Ashes series with Adam Scott….or pinning him in a corner, may be more accurate.

Among these occasional conversations with the caddies, there were some interesting nuggets offered up (without any prompting) that could probably have you done for insider-trading in a different world…..
Caddy: “Have you got XXX’s bag, please?”
Me: “Yeah, here you go. Good luck this week
Caddy: “We’ll need more than luck the way he’s playing.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, given that these guys depend on their man playing well to feed their own kids, but it was hardly the vote of confidence you expect to hear from the right-hand man.

By the middle of the week, you know who the range-grinders are (Harrington), who’s in form and who isn’t – although that doesn’t always mean it’s worth a dash to the bookies.  I once watched Retief Goosen shoot 62 in the Pro-Am, virtually with his eyes closed, only to then shoot 81 the next day.  You also discover who are the best (and worst) to engage in conversation, and the ones to give a wide berth.  I’ll leave those names to your imagination.

You also get to see some bizarre things around the dungeon that is the bag storage area, too. Funny old clubs like glass putters or any that belong to Robert Karlsson (his pitching wedge is about as long as my driver), training aids that look like instruments of torture, the odd tantrum, arguments (including the end of at least one player caddy relationship), acts of generosity “here, have this driver, I can’t hit it”, and all the ‘hangers-on’ that wait in hope of some kind of player endorsement deal.  For a young aspiring pro, it’s quite an eye opener.

The Pro-Am on the Wednesday perhaps marks the climax of the chaos, as from there, during the actual tournament play from the Thursday, it’s all plain sailing and pretty relaxed.  Tee times are spread throughout the day, meaning you’re only ever having to deal with one or two bags every 10 minutes or so at most. By the time Saturday rolls around, the work load reduces even further, with half the field having already departed for home or the next tournament.  You might even find a sneaky half hour to go and watch some live golf.

It’s a week like no other at Wentworth Club, and still one of the best dates on the European Tour in my book.  Even for those of us on-the-job over the years, for all the mad dashing around it’s a hugely enjoyable experience – unless you got the nod for unloading that van on Monday morning in which case you may have found yourself in traction for the rest of the week.

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