‘War baby’ Ross Burchall still pounding the fairways at 77
While most eyes are inevitably drawn to the golfers at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, there was one caddie on Port Royal Golf Course garnering more attention than the pro whose bag he was carrying.
Sprightly 77-year-old local Ross Burchall has been involved in every PGA Tour event since the tournament came to the island in 2019.
This time around, he was lugging the clubs of German professional Stephan Jaeger, who despite birdieing the last yesterday, missed the six-under cut by one stroke.
A fully-laden professional staff bag can weigh up to 50 pounds. Carrying that over 18 holes of the hills of Port Royal is no mean feat, even for a younger man.
Born into a family of 12 children, Burchall has been walking the golf courses of Bermuda for more than 65 years, starting at the now closed Riddell’s Bay Golf Club, where he was only allowed to carry cameras and the like at first, at 11-years old.
A year or so later, he had his own gig.
“I took a lot of licks to get there because my father didn’t want any of us to caddie. He told us that only three things happen on a golf course with caddies — gambling, swearing and smoking.”
Burchall was a “war baby” born in 1945 and benefited from the postwar boom in tourism that brought more golfers to the island.
The advancement of pull carts and motor carts has meant he sometimes has supplemented his income with construction work.
He spent 20 years during the season in Brooklyn, carrying bags on Long Island courses.
Being a caddie has been his constant, even after losing his wife, a New Orleans native, to an aneurysm in 1998.
Burchall is not the only Bermudian looping for visiting professionals, with 15 local caddies in action this week.
They include well-known golf professionals Dwayne Pearman and Camiko Smith, who played in the tournament last year.
With the championship featuring a number of players struggling for form and trying to potentially keep down costs, some hire caddies on a weekly basis.
When a player picks up the services of a visiting caddie, a price is negotiated and they go from there.
It could be $600 a day pre-tournament, $700 a day for tournament days — four days if the player makes the cut and two if he doesn’t — but whatever share of the prize money the player earns, he typically provides at least 10 per cent of the winnings to the caddie.
The caddie life is not always easy. Burchall has never been fortunate enough to work the weekend at the PGA Tour event.
Visiting caddie, Douglas Schwimer, was injured in a serious road traffic crash, an incident that resulted in pro Grayson Murray withdrawing from the tournament with a broken kneecap.
But despite his own injuries, the caddie was on the course carrying the bag of the first alternate, Johnson Wagner, who will not be around for the weekend after rounds of 71 and 73 meant he finished eight strokes below the cut.