With over $60K of student loan debt, I now wish I’d managed my money better.
I’m a 24-year-old, full-time plastics engineer at a manufacturing company. I like to make extra money on the side for the sole purpose of getting the weight of these loans off my back.
I have no plans of sticking with the standard 10-year payment plan; my goal is to have my loans paid off within the next few years. I pay about $500 a month right now and aim to double down on my student loans in the summer months.
Thankfully, I have a great job making extra money in the summer: caddying. And for the last 10 years, I’ve spent my summers on the golf course.
When I was younger, I wasn’t really a fan of golf. My mother heard about job openings for caddies at the local country club from her friend, so my twin brother and I gave it a try.
I will say, you MUST be a morning person for this job. Since the age of 14 -- usually the minimum age to caddie -- I have adapted to waking up at 5 a.m.
Country clubs usually have a one-day orientation for new caddies: You watch a few videos and walk the course to get to know the surroundings. (Typically, there are only one or two orientation classes in the beginning of the season.) Then, each person takes turns caddying one or two holes.
You learn where to stand when the golfer is putting, the layout of each green and how to read putts. Also, how to rake sand traps, replace divots and a few golf terms, if you don't know them already. Finally, you take a small quiz at the end of the class (impossible to fail) and once you pass, you can show up and wait on the list to caddie a round of golf.
After I was trained, I was ready for my first round.
It was actually a tournament, so I was a little nervous. I ended up being a forecaddie for a foursome of golfers; this is much easier than what a regular caddie does because you don’t have to carry clubs or help with decision-making, like club selection. At the end of the four-hour round, the golfers paid me $100!
A hundred bucks for standing on the back of a cart, watching golf, cleaning clubs and holding a flag while putting? SOLD.
Now, keep in mind, I got very lucky my first time out. Most rookies only start out with one golf bag per golfer; you have to build your way up to two bags at a time. So, my first year was mainly single bags, but I had a few double bags as well.
The typical rate in the mid-2000s was $40-$50 a bag, which works out to $10-$12.50/hour. Pretty good for a 14-year-old!
The cons? You had to arrive early and, unless a golfer requested you as a caddie, it was first-come, first-served. So, if you were fifth on the list, you would have to wait at the “caddyshack” until a group of golfers wanted a caddie.
But, back as a teenager, I would easily rake in $2,000-$6,000 each summer before school was back in session.
Now, a decade later, I typically average around $70 a bag.
After building a good reputation for 10 summers and hanging in there all those mornings -- sometimes not even getting out on the course -- I make around $35 an hour or $140 for two bags (usually four-hour golf rounds). The great thing is, all pay is under the table (though the IRS requires you to report miscellaneous income) and you get the cash right after the round!
The country club informs golfers of the recommended tips. At my club, there are three levels of rates: $45-$55 for a beginner caddie, $55-$65 for intermediate and $65-$80+ for advanced. Outside of tipping, there is no hourly rate.
Experience definitely plays a role, as you need to be good at reading putts and determining yardage remaining from the ball to the pin. You can advance up the ranks slow or fast, depending on how many times you show up to work and how well you perform.
Now that I work 40+ hours a week as an engineer, I try to keep my weekend mornings open.
If I reserve a weekend, I can pocket, on average, an extra $250-$300. If I work both Saturday and Sunday, that’s 32 hours a month -- which could mean an extra $1,000-$1,200!
In addition to the money, a great perk of caddying is networking. You have the opportunity to meet different golfers and learn about their careers... even possibly land an internship. I saw this happen with a few of my friends.
Also, some golfers have pretty cool connections. On a normal workday, one of the members strolled up with several cars -- it happened to be the entire band and stage crew of Dave Matthews Band! I caddied for the sound and lighting engineers, and they were a cool bunch of guys.
An added bonus to caddying is you get A LOT of exercise! Plan on walking five to seven miles per day -- depending on the course length -- and carrying between 10-30 pounds per bag on your shoulders.
With technology (think: GPS devices that tell you the distance from your golf ball to the flag pin) and golf carts, Americans are adapting to "easier" transportation, instead of being active and walking. Many public golf courses don’t have a caddie program and only use golf carts.
Older, private country clubs have well-established programs. There aren’t many of those left, and they don't really advertise openings for jobs... it's more of a word-of-mouth thing from friends or members of the club. The caddies there usually don’t want to tell people about opportunities because it could mean less work for them.
If you’re interested, I’d suggest researching the country clubs in your area to see if they have caddies. It doesn't hurt to ask and give it a shot!
Thanks to this side hustle, I plan on putting the extra $2,000-$5,000 I’ll make this summer toward my student loan debt. By doing so, I’ll hit my goal of paying off my loans in four to five years -- maybe even sooner.
Your Turn: Have you ever worked as a caddie? Would you be interested in this gig?
Chris Desmond was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He’s a full-time plastics engineer and enjoys running, kayaking and spending time with friends in the city. He’s also a big Pittsburgh Pirates and Penguins fan!