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Caddies File $50 Million Class-Action Lawsuit Against PGA Tour


There is a rebellion of sorts underway on top golf courses around the country. Caddies who work for professional golfers have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Professional Golfers Association, or, that is, the PGA Tour. To find out more, we called Rex Hoggard. He is a senior writer with the Golf Channel. Good morning.

REX HOGGARD: Good morning. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you. So why don't we begin at the beginning. I mean, what are the big issues driving this lawsuit?

HOGGARD: It's a situation where caddies at each tournament are required to wear a bib. On that bib is the name of the title's sponsor for that week. And the caddies receive no compensation for that. The lawyers for the caddies have estimated that's worth upwards of $50 million a year. And about a year and half ago, the caddies formed an association - not a union - and they tried to negotiate with the Tour because what they're trying to create here is a retirement fund, better health insurance benefits - that type of thing. They didn't get very far. They were told right out of the gates that the bibs were a nonstarter - that the Tour wasn't going to negotiate about that. And it led to this lawsuit which was filed in San Francisco at the beginning of February.

MONTAGNE: So there's endorsement money at stake, or at least, there might be. But what else is going on here? I gather some of it has to do with working conditions and even a sense of pride on the part of the caddies?

HOGGARD: Sure, I think there's a perception that caddies were what you saw in the old movies - that, you know, they were kind of drifters, that they showed up late. And they were unshaven. And that's really not the case anymore. And I think that's why they created this association. And I think you touched on one of the very important themes from the start - was working conditions. And it sort of came to a head two weeks ago at the Honda Classic. There was a rainstorm. And there was a few caddies who got caught in a tent. And it was sort of a dangerous situation. And it got on social media and it sort of took up a buzz.

And basically, what the regulation says is caddies are not allowed inside the clubhouse without proper credentials. And it's sort of a catch-22. The caddie credentials, which are issued by the Tour, don't have clubhouse access to them. And now that's become, you know, another rallying cry. And I think basically, what the caddies are trying to do here is just improve their working conditions, improve their future and also point out that they are professional caddies. This isn't the guy that you saw in the movie "Caddyshack" - that these guys work very, very hard. And they're a very important part of a PGA Tour player's team.

MONTAGNE: What do they offer these professional golfers? And we're talking all the way up to Tiger Woods - that level.

HOGGARD: Oh they're - it's amazing if you ask a caddie that question. They're a sports psychologist. They're a best friend. They're someone who, you know, is there to sort of take the blame, to sort of take the pressure off the player. I mean, you pointed out Tiger Woods. His caddie, Steve Williams, who just signed on to this lawsuit, by the way - I mean, he was a big part of Tiger Woods' success. I think Tiger has said that repeatedly. If you look at any other team sport, it's no different than having an assistant coach on the field with you or something along those lines.

MONTAGNE: And is this tradition that the caddies are not allowed into the clubhouse? That is one thing that surprised me - that they generally are not part of the team when it comes to walking inside the nicest place.

HOGGARD: It's true. And it's a very complicated situation with what happened at the Honda Classic. And I think it was an eye-opening experience just not for the caddies and the public, but also for the PGA Tour. I think what's going to happen here is now that there's a level of interest, that's one of those things that starts to sort of peel away. The problem is, is it's a little bit separate issue from what's the lawsuit that's going on. And it's become contentious. It's going to take some time. I mean, and the PGA Tour's reluctant right now to work with caddies at all. They just canceled their annual meeting, which was supposed to be held this week in Tampa because of the lawsuit. They don't want to talk with the caddies about anything until this particular lawsuit is settled one way or the other.

MONTAGNE: Rex Hoggard is a senior writer with the Golf Channel. Thanks very much for joining us.

HOGGARD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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