There’s that old saying everything happens for a reason. What I came across while brainstorming for new article ideas happens to be one of those times. It is moments such as this that in this crazed, egotistical, “my Facebook profile is better than yours” world that we learn that there are people out there still quietly fighting to make a difference, to provide enjoyment and to create hope.
My original concept was to reach out to professional caddies in hopes of conducting one-on-one interviews with a twist; I would caddie for them. I began to google “Professional Caddy contact information” eventually landing on the Caddy For A Cure website. Caddy For A Cure is a program thru which people can bid on the opportunity to caddy for a PGA TOUR player or celebrity in an upcoming PGA TOUR Tournament. However, this opportunity goes beyond just carrying the golf bag; you get a real taste of what it’s like being on the PGA TOUR, on and off course! This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but more importantly, it serves a purpose. All proceeds from each auction benefit several charitable causes, including the fight against Fanconi Anemia and wounded warriors through the Birdies for the Brave Foundation. I was fortunate to sit down with Mr. Russ Holden, Founder and Chief Executive Officer for Caddy For A Cure to learn more about how this program came into development.
Russ Holden is a Florida resident who has been a PGA member for over 28 years. He played professionally for several years following a successful college golf career. Eventually, he made his way to Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton, where he became the Head Golf Professional.
Woodfield Country Club also happens to be home to legendary golfer, two-time Masters Champion, Bernhard Langer. Russ and Bernhard developed a friendship and Russ became his part-time swing coach when Langer’s regular coach, Willi Hoffman, was out of town. In 1990, when Langer’s regular caddy, Peter Coleman was unable to attend the PGA Championship for Langer, he called on Russ to fill in…
RH: “I was like a kid in a candy store the first time I got to caddy for Bernhard. I was surrounded by the legends. To my left was Greg Norman and over to my right was Jack Nicklaus. Being able to caddy was the next best thing to me being good enough to play on the TOUR!”
Since then, Holden has caddied off and on for Langer for over 18 years, including 5 full-time years from 2001-2006.
Russ Holden and Bernhard Langer
The Collins Family
When Russ wasn’t on tour with Langer, you could find him in the pro shop at Woodfield Country Club going through the regular routine of operating a golf course. That’s when in 1993, former MLB pitcher, Chris Collins walked into his shop.
RH: “Chris came to me after spending time with the California Angels. After two Tommy John surgeries, he decided to explore other career options. He had a deep passion for golf and wanted to become involved in the golf industry.”
Holden took Collins under his wing where he soon worked his way to being Holden’s Assistant Professional at Woodfield. It was during that timeframe when Holden was introduced to Collin’s sons, first Christian, then five years later, Calen.
Christian and Calen with Phil Mickelson
Christian Collins was born on August 25, 1993 with a rare bone marrow disorder known as Fanconi Anemia. His younger brother, Calen, born in 1998, also suffers from the same disorder. Fanconi Anemia prevents bone marrow from producing enough blood cells for the body to function normally. As a result, this can lead to serious health problems, including bone marrow failure. It is a rare and serious condition and children born with this disorder suffer from serous birth defects, as well as body system and developmental problems.
Russ had formed a very strong personal relationship with the Collins family. After becoming aware of Christian and Calen’s disorder, Russ knew he had to come up with a way to help support the Collins family, as well as to help spread awareness about Fanconi Anemia.
The Creation of Caddy for a Cure
Many of us wish we had the talent level of PGA TOUR players. For some of us, to play golf every day, get paid for it, earn the endorsement deals and live that type of lifestyle, would be ideal. But let’s face it; what are the odds of us all making the TOUR tomorrow? As a PGA member and having spent time on TOUR with Langer, Russ Holden knows what those odds are.
RH: “Caddying, you’re tied at the hip with your player. Let’s face it; they won’t be able to hit a shot unless you give them the club. During my time spent with Bernhard, I got to learn the ins and outs about the TOUR. I got to learn a lot about Bernhard and other professional player that I didn’t know before. Our time spent together formed a great relationship, like most caddies and players out on TOUR.”
Holden understands those player-caddy relationships, as well as the lingering and unfortunate stigma that still prevails, “There is still a negative caddy stigma, fueled from some TV shows and movies, albeit intended as comedy. What happens behind the scenes, off the course, in the locker room and clubhouse is a different story. The professional caddy has become one of the most respected and sought after positions in the golf world today.”
Back to Holden’s mission about Fanaoni Anemia, while actively working with Langer, Holden approached the PGA TOUR, laid out a business plan, secured a 501C-3 status by the IRS and was granted a program trial with the TOUR to start the fight and support.
Throughout the TOUR season, Holden and his team post on the Caddy For A Cure website who is up for auction to caddy for at a particular tournament. Players are added during the year as they commit to their schedules.
Who: While PGA TOUR players are the primary opportunities, the ‘who’ category varies, including musicians, other professional athletes and actors, depending on the tournament. In February, at the Honda Classic, people had an opportunity to bid on caddying for Roger Clemens, Toby Keith, Ben Roethlisberger, Branford Marsalis and Darren Clarke. In May, people have the opportunity to bid on caddying for Jason Dufner and Harris English. Nearly every PGA TOUR Player is involved with the program.
What: Golf fans bid on the opportunity to not only caddy for a particular player or celebrity, but to also experience the behind the scenes action at a PGA TOUR event, including experiencing the caddy amenities, equipment areas and more. The winning caddies also receive:
- A Caddy For A Cure Logo’d shirt and hat
- Sharpie custom pen package
- v-1 Home Version golf analyzing software package
- Custom Caddy Bid
- Autographs/Photographs with your Player
When: Depending on the set up of the particular tournament, the winning bidder will caddy during the official practice round or the Pro am competition of the tournament (which is usually a Wednesday).
How: When you reach the website, look at the CURRENT AUCTIONS column on the right hand side fo the homepage. From there go to the LIVE AUCTIONS page where you can see which player or celebrity is up for auction, the time left and the current bid. Follow the guidelines on the website to submit your bid! This is a 100% tax deduction.
Teaming up with Birdies for the Brave
In 2008, Caddy For A Cure teamed up with Birdies for the Brave. For those who are not aware, Birdies for the Brave is a PGA TOUR military outreach program founded by Phil and Amy Mickelson. Caddy For A Cure provides the opportunity for one wounded soldier to walk along with each Caddy For A Cure group.
RH: “These men and women have paid big prices and sacrifices to protect our country. They have done so much for us, this is OUR way and time to thank them.”
I call it fate that I stumbled upon the Caddy For A Cure website. I call it luck that I got to speak to Russ about this wonderful organization. And I call it an honor to talk to a man whose passion for the game of golf and the drive to help those who are in need shows the make-up of a man who goes well beyond his calling. It’s men like Russ who work hard to give hope a new meaning. 13 years ago Russ Holden wanted to make a difference. Now he is making a statement.
For more information about Caddy For A Cure, please visit their website at www.caddyforacure.com
Should you have any questions and would like to contact Russ directly, please email all inquiries to [email protected].