Right about now, St Andrews caddie Graham Low should be starting to hit his stride on the Links’ fairways.
As the nights lengthen, the traditional high season at the Home of Golf would usually signal the return of the loyal army of caddies, each carrying out their “loops” once, twice or the dreaded treble, each and every single day.
But instead of undertaking his fifth consecutive season at the world’s most famous Links, the 53-year-old finds himself walking the wards of Wythenshawe Hospital, near Manchester, playing his part in supporting the NHS response to the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Graham, who followed caddie manager Fraser Riddler from Trump International Scotland in 2016, had been closely following the spread of coronavirus. And with the traditional golf season facing disruption he took the decision to pursue alternative employment for a few months, having not enjoyed the prospect of sitting idle for any period.
“I was in regular contact with Fraser and I think everyone was beginning to get a sense in March that this was going to have a big impact on the season and the number of visitors or rounds there might be,” explains Graham.
"I live with my fiancée Jan in Manchester and for the last four summer seasons I’ve travelled up and rented a place in St Andrews. When I began to understand what coronavirus might mean I knew it might not be a normal summer season in St Andrews, or anywhere else for that matter. I’ve always worked, I like to keep busy and I decided that if I could get a job and it could help in any small way that was what I was going to try and do.”
Last month Graham successfully applied for a post as a Porter at the Wythenshawe Hospital, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, initially on a 3-month contract. In a short period of time he has swapped his caddie bib and spikes for face mask, surgical gloves and medical apron, experiencing at first hand just how stark a contrast it is from the Links’ landscape he has called home in recent years.
“The hospital is split into 2 areas effectively,” Graham adds. “One side is for non-Covid-19 patients and the other is set up to deal exclusively with Covid-19 cases. I’ve spent most of my time in the latter doing a variety of things, from moving patients and equipment to pushing laundry cages and delivering various medications to the patients around the hospital.
“Unfortunately, some of those we have seen coming in have been very ill, and regrettably I have had to make a few trips to the mortuary. It’s incredibly sad to see, especially when so many of the patients can have no real contact with their family and friends.
“When I am on a ward I’m just trying to do my job and talk to the patients when we can, some of them like to talk about golf so I tell them about St Andrews, if they’ve never been they want to hear all about what it’s like, who comes to plays, where they come from and what it’s like being a caddie.”
Across the country, from city centres to genteel suburbs and village high streets, the explosion of gratitude for NHS staff, care workers and key workers has resulted in a weekly clap for carers as millions show their gratitude for those working on the frontline. And Graham insists working closely with his new colleagues has given him an even greater appreciation for their work.
“What the doctors and nurses are doing for us all and just how committed they are to saving lives is just incredible,” Graham says. “I’m obviously just on a temporary contract but from the day I walked in and had my induction there’s been a real team morale and a sense of everyone being in it together, regardless of what each shift might hold.”
Though it’s a far cry from helping golfers to navigate the Old Course, Graham sees shades of the same camaraderie that exemplify the Caddie “Shack” at the Links.
“There’s a great group of people at St Andrews,” Graham says. “There’s a mixture of old and young and over the last few years I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of great bags. Everyone knows it’s the Home of Golf, a special place for everyone to go to and caddies are part of the fabric of it.”
Many of those caddies, whom Graham counts as friends, have been unable to secure alternative employment due to the widespread economic impact of lockdown.
And with no play possible for the foreseeable future and international travel set to be badly affected for the remainder of the summer season, Graham was hugely grateful to see Caddie Manager Fraser Riddler establish a GoFundMe account to help ease concerns over financial hardship.
To date more than £45,000 has been pledged by the global golf community with Graham, who caddied for European Tour star Erik Van Rooyen at Qualifying School, committed to playing his part to support the initiative.
“I’ve kept in touch with some players, including a few Professionals on the tour, who I’ve been fortunate to get a bag for,” he says. “So I’ve sent a few emails just trying to raise awareness because so far the golf community, especially those who have visited St Andrews want to help.”
Ahead of another shift at the hospital, where Graham will be measured for his own permanent Personal Protective Equipment, he looks ahead to a time beyond Covid19 and a return to St Andrews.
“I’m grateful to have this opportunity at the hospital,” Graham says. “My contract is for three-months and I hope when we reach the end of it that things have maybe changed and there’s a sense of when and how I can get back to St Andrews.”
Any monies donated to the fund will be used to assist caddies who regularly work the fairways of the courses at St Andrews Links and who are in need or face financial hardship and who apply for assistance. At present donations totalling almost £45,000 have been recorded with the next fundraising target being £50,000.
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