An American Caddie in ... 'Udhailiyah?

This article originally appeared in my community newspaper and here. You, dear blog reader, get a bonus photograph! 

Author, caddy and recreational golfer Oliver Horovitz tees off at ‘Udhailiyah’s Wadi Al-Saeed Golf Club while visiting the area recently. The author of “An American Caddie in St. Andrews” said he would rather play the ‘Udhailiyah course than Pine Valley, the No. 1 ranked course in the world. Photo by Josh Olson

Author, caddy and recreational golfer Oliver Horovitz tees off at ‘Udhailiyah’s Wadi Al-Saeed Golf Club while visiting the area recently. The author of “An American Caddie in St. Andrews” said he would rather play the ‘Udhailiyah course than Pine Valley, the No. 1 ranked course in the world. Photo by Josh Olson

UDHAILIYAH — When ‘Udhailiyah’s Wadi Al-Saeed Golf Club vice president Josh Olson contacted Oliver Horovitz about coming to Saudi Arabia, Horovitz’s first thought was, “There’s golf there?”

His second thought was, “I want to play golf there.”

And so it was that the author of An American Caddie in St. Andrews made the trip not just to Saudi Arabia, but specifically to ‘Udhailiyah — Saudi Aramco’s smallest and most remote family community — for a couple of speaking engagements and a few rounds of golf on the compound’s oiled sand course in early May.

“One round here or one round at Pine Valley (ranked by Golf Magazine as the No. 1 course in the world in 2012)? No joke, I would play here. It was just wonderful,” he enthused, especially with “Saudi Aramco’s kind of amazing radio station playing.” Horovitz and several ‘Udhailiyah residents played the course two days in a row, traveling in a golf cart tricked out with oversized tires and a “kickin’” stereo. (There are several of these in ‘Udhailiyah.)

Horovitz chilling on a classic tricked-out Udhailiyah golf cart. Photo by Josh Olson

Horovitz chilling on a classic tricked-out Udhailiyah golf cart. Photo by Josh Olson

“When I grow up, I want to have a golf cart just like that,” Horovitz said.

Horovitz grew up in New York City and made his mark at the academically rigorous Stuyvesant High School by founding its golf team. “I was not exactly The Fonz in high school, but I did love golf,” he said.

As a high school senior, he was admitted to Harvard, but he was accepted for the following academic year, leaving him with a gap year to fill. With family in St. Andrews, Scotland — the birthplace of golf — it was an easy decision for him to take a year of courses at the University of St. Andrews.

Students there are offered unlimited play on the Old Course, one of the world’s oldest golf courses, for a modest one-time fee. It was a “weird parallel universe, where the golf team was the coolest team,” he said.

Horovitz had such a great time at St. Andrew’s that he decided to stay on for the summer, getting a job as a caddie alongside the “old, gruff Scottish caddies” that have looped the course for decades. He did return to the United States to commence his studies at Harvard, but he kept going back to St. Andrew’s every summer to caddie — and he’s still at it. Horovitz has clocked nine seasons there, and he’s not finished yet.

An American Caddie in St. Andrews describes Horovitz’s journey from trainee caddie (“the absolute lowest of the low”) to seasoned veteran with humor and obvious affection for the quirky denizens of the caddie shack. He also has plenty to say about the often starry-eyed golfers who are fulfilling a lifetime dream by stepping onto the green in St. Andrews.

The book — and Horovitz’s talk — was full of funny stories about golfers he has encountered over the years. He describes one player as a “loud banker with the social graces of a mollusk” and talks about oddly generous players. Sometimes certain “golfers are so excited they take off running down the fairway” and bring gifts for their caddies: a packed lunch; a gigantic wind chime; a sleeve of three golf balls embossed with a picture of the golfer’s face. He said that the majority of people who come to play are Americans, who tip well (tipping is a subject of scathing, hilarious commentary in the caddie shack) but can be obnoxious and overbearing — unlike their Canadian counterparts, who are nice people but tend not to tip as well.

Not surprisingly, Horovitz has rubbed shoulders with some very famous people who have played golf at St. Andrews, including Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Huey Lewis (“a great golfer,” according to Horovitz), even Samuel L. Jackson, who said on The Late Show with David Letterman, “The only thing I’m afraid of in life is my caddie at St. Andrews.”

The golf jokes come fast and furious in the book. “’That’s a South America,’ Horovitz announces when his golfer’s putt stops 1 inch in front of the cup. ‘One more revolution needed.’” Or “That’s a Bon Jovi … halfway there.” Those are the ones that are appropriate for a family publication.

In addition to the delicious insider’s peek at St. Andrew’s caddie culture, Horovitz also talks about time spent each summer with his beloved Uncle Ken, and Ken’s best friend Henry. “They were like the two old guys in the Muppet Show,” he said, referring to Statler and Waldorf, offering grumpy commentary from the theater balcony. The difference is, Ken and Henry were enthusiastic gardeners and avid followers of local news and gossip, more likely to giggle than grumble. Both were World War II veterans who had led soldiers into battle, and now both were relishing life in their gardens and around town. They dragged Horovitz to flower shows, enlisted his help weeding the flowerbeds, and had him up on ladders trimming shrubbery.

An American Caddie in St. Andrews was a pleasure to read even for this nongolfer, and listening to Horovitz speak was like hanging out with a comfortable old friend. The crowd of about 50 clearly enjoyed themselves at the golf club, as did the group of students he spoke to at the ‘Udhailiyah School earlier in the day.

The morning after his golf club appearance, Horovitz got back on the road for the long trip north, with several newfound golf buddies in tow. They crossed the causeway for more golf in Bahrain, thereby ticking off a second Middle Eastern country in which Horovitz has now played.

Oliver Horovitz speaks to a group of ‘Udhailiyah youngsters during his recent stop in the Southern Area community. Photo by Josh Olson

Oliver Horovitz speaks to a group of ‘Udhailiyah youngsters during his recent stop in the Southern Area community. Photo by Josh Olson