Awarded an Evans Scholarship in 1997, Tim Orbon attended Northern Illinois University where he studied communications. Post-graduation, Orbon spent three years working for Kemper Sports Management and seven years as a golf professional and caddie manager at Prestwick Country Club in Frankfort, Illinois.
Orbon joined the Western Golf Association in 2013 as manager of caddies and scholarship development where he worked directly with clubs nationwide to start caddie programs or enhance existing ones. In addition to guiding caddies through the Evans Scholarship application process, Orbon works directly with various golf organizations to support youth caddie initiatives and was named director of Carry the Game in 2018.
THE ORBON STORY
Both my dad and my uncle caddied at Beverly Country Club in Chicago, and when I was around 12, I started to become interested, too. I began caddying at Ridge Country Club a year later; and as I learned and watched members golf, I thought: “I can do that.” In addition to venturing out onto city courses after caddying, I also began playing golf on Mondays at the club, which they allowed caddies in good standing to do. I had played other sports, and this was the first sport I played that I wasn’t good at right away, so it was a new challenge. That’s what intrigued me the most, and learning golf through caddying fostered my life-long love of the game.
I was awarded an Evans Scholarship in 1997, a full housing and tuition college scholarship, and I attended Northern Illinois University. After graduation, I became a golf professional and worked for Kemper Sports Management, spent a few winters working out west and then spent seven additional years as a golf professional and caddie manager at Prestwick Country Club in south suburban Illinois. I joined the WGA in 2013, working directly with clubs to start and grow caddie programs. I help caddies through the Evans Scholarship application process and work with golf groups to support youth caddie initiatives with an emphasis on growing caddying and the game of golf.
Is caddying still relevant in American golf?
Without question, caddying is still relevant in American golf. When you look at the top golf clubs across the country, all of them have caddie programs. It certainly provides an element of prestige, and to be considered a top club, caddies are essential.
Caddying is one of golf’s oldest and greatest traditions and the best summer job available for young people. For golfers, caddying is an investment in the future of young men and women. For youth, caddying’s an opportunity to learn so many valuable life lessons – how to work as a team, develop a strong work ethic and money management skills and make professional contacts on the golf course. It’s a great way to learn about the game, but it also provides life-changing benefits that are integral to young people’s individual growth.
What was the genesis by the Western Golf Association to make a concerted effort in having the “Carry the Game” program go forward?
In recent years, leading golf groups have discussed the importance of creating a governing body for youth caddying, and now the WGA is spearheading that effort, which is called Carry the Game. We’re a leader in youth caddying, and this new group will help introduce young students to the game of golf by creating new opportunities for them to train and work as caddies and encourage them to become lifelong players. Our goal is to increase the number of youth caddies – and the diversity of those caddies – by establishing new opportunities at golf clubs nationwide and promote youth caddie programs as a way to preserve the tradition of caddying.
We’re working with various leading golf groups such as the World Golf Foundation, USGA, PGA of America, the First Tee and Youth on Course, and many others to ensure the group’s success and to encourage a new generation of golfers to play the game that we all love so much.
Since you have only recently been in the position — what’s been the response of the clubs you’ve contacted?
There’s been a very healthy appetite and desire in the golf industry to use caddying as an on-ramp for adding new players to the game of golf, so there’s been a very warm reception to Carry the Game. People are excited; there’s been a great national buzz within the industry on focusing on youth caddie initiatives. Many clubs and club officials realize that by adding a youth component, they’re helping the game of golf in more ways than one.
Can caddie programs really work at resort and grass roots level public courses?
Yes, caddie programs can work at the resort and grass roots level public courses – and they have. Caddying programs aren’t a one-size-fits-all or cookie cutter model. There’s new and creative ways to successfully implement programs of all shapes and sizes. It may function differently than the traditional private club model, but many golfers at daily fee courses and resorts understand the importance of caddies and how caddying can really enhance a golfing experience.
Taking a caddie improves the quality of the golfer’s game, provides health benefits, puts the golfer in a position where they can impact the life of a young person by taking on a mentoring role and helps speed the pace of play. Having a caddie program enhances the status and image of the club and helps improve course conditions.
Do younger people have the desire — or even the attention span given all the distractions tied to social media and elsewhere — in wanting to caddy?
Not every teenager will have the interest or attention span from day one, but this is something that’s teachable and coachable. By identifying the right young people who want to be there, they can absolutely flourish as a caddie.
The right motivation helps, too – many kids see caddying as something more than just a seasonal job, but also for its potential for scholarship and educational opportunities. Caddying can open so many other doors to their future.
In the scope of your position — what’s the approach you take when reaching out to clubs and facilities?
We help keep them focused on creating a young pipeline of quality students who we can help cultivate moving forward. Every year, new people are getting into the mix, and we hope the vets and older students can work with the younger ones to bring them into the fold.
For clubs hoping to begin new programs, we look for groups that have an interest in working with young people; maybe they have a First Tee or junior golf component. We’re looking for people who want to provide healthy outlets for young students; who are interested in golf and want to pay the game forward and who understand the benefits of caddying for the golfer, the young person and the greater community.
How will you measure your success?
One of our big tasks for the year is partnering with the National Golf Foundation to begin a research project that will establish a baseline for the state of youth caddying. That’s never been done before. We’re looking at the number of youth caddies in the nation, the number of rounds they work, and other basic points of data. Based upon these results, we’ll use creative programming to hopefully show growth year after year, both in terms of increasing the number of youth caddies and with an overall goal of getting them to play golf themselves.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it and why?
The pace of play. Caddies actually really help with this, through basic caddie duties like locating golf balls, raking traps and maintaining the golf course. A lot of people may think you can play a round faster in a cart than you can by walking, but you actually can get into a better rhythm when you’re walking and playing, rather than going faster in cart and stopping to get out. Plus, it’s better socially to walk with a caddie or other members, where you can have more natural conversations.
Golf organizations — from the USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract Millennials, women and minorities into golf. If you were counseling them — what would you advise be done?
I’d definitely highlight the benefits, including earning your own money, as well as the fun part, of caddying. By doing this, as well as adding creative new programming within the game of golf, you help break the stigma of having the sport be seen by many as an old game only for the privileged. With golf courses being built and renovated even in urban areas and initiatives like Topgolf, more people than ever before have access to some kind of driving range or golf course. There’s so many different ways golf can be fun, and it’s become more accessible and more all-inclusive than ever before.
From a socioeconomic standpoint – caddying really can open a lot of doors for different people who wouldn’t exposed to golf otherwise. When you look at some great golf stars of the previous generation, many learned the game through caddying. Caddying can really help bring new people into the sport that otherwise would not have gotten involved.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Came from my grandfather, the night before he died. The last thing he said to me was: “Keep your head down.” That advice was about golf and a common bond we both shared. Growing up in the city, we’d go hit golf balls with our shag bag in city parks – football fields, between baseball diamonds, really, any open area with grass. Keeping your head down was critical to executing shots in tight quarters. But it’s also about living your life in general – to keep plugging along, to work hard, stay humble and good things will happen.