Army of caddies at your service

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2007, 12:00am

It took a televised game of golf for Amanda Liu Min's father to understand his eldest daughter's profession.

To golfers, Liu's job as a caddie is straightforward and easy to visualise. But for someone who has no concept of golf - including Liu herself when she first started her job in 2004 - the notion is slightly more complicated.

'He had no idea [what I did], but he finally watched,' Liu said. 'Once he saw, he was excited to [understand] what I actually did.'

Liu and Helen Ma Pei are two of the over 2,000 caddies at Mission Hills.

The 22-year-olds are both from Hubei province (Liu is from Xianning and Ma is from Xiangfan) and both arrived at Mission Hills three years ago, Liu having just finished school and Ma already having a background in hospitality, having worked at a hotel.

Three months of intensive training taught them not only the basics of the game, such as terminology, but also how to read the greens and offer basic advice. They also started learning English and though they start speaking slowly, they are, 20 minutes later, in full conversation mode.

In their spare time (right now, during the peak season, they have just one day off every two weeks) they take classes and read books with Chinese down one side and English down the other. On the course, they speak to their clients, but it's not always easy.

'In this area, there are so many foreigners - Europeans, Canadians, Americans, Australians, so we should speak English, but sometimes we know the words but cannot say them,' Liu said.

In reciprocation, the foreigners attempt Chinese. 'There are so many foreigners who can say ni hao, xie xie and zai jian,' Liu said.

To say the girls live unexpected lives would not accurately describe the situation. As they were growing up in their respective towns, golf was a non-factor and simply not in their realm of possibilities.

Ma wanted to be a teacher and Liu, who would accompany her sick mother to the doctor, thought of becoming a doctor. Once they are finished at Mission Hills, both would like to go into some form of business.

As caddies, Ma and Liu are able to earn a higher income than what they would in their hometowns and, like many of the other girls, they are not from Guangdong province. Fortunate to be in positions where neither of them have to support their families, Ma said she sent money home if her parents needed help, but in general, she had tried to save her earnings for her own future.

The caddies, usually between 18 and 25 years old, live in dormitories in Mission Hills itself. With six girls (there are no male caddies) to a room, they end up sharing everything - borrowing clothes, trading jewellery and using each other's makeup.

On their days off they order in food, watch television, and practise English.

Their days can sometimes be long, with shifts starting as early as 4.30am.

The mornings, however, are less troublesome than the scorching heat of the summer months. At that point, they are fearful of the sun, covering their necks with big towels, their hands with gloves and slathering themselves with sunscreen.

'My sister doesn't want to work here because she says it's too hot,' Liu said.

Summer aside, the environment is comfortable and Ma and Liu both like their jobs.

'The working area is very nice, there are green trees and for us, it's not very hard to work here,' Ma said.