Rob Fisher spent summers in the 1980s as a caddie at Westwood Country Club, which, for many in the area, plays out as one of the great picaresque narratives of Northeast Ohio youth. The program exists to this day; I caddied at Westwood from 2003 to 2010. To reflect on those summers and honor the memories, Fisher wrote The Wichita Kid, a novel about a young boy who shows up in Cleveland for a summer with his grandparents. The Kid finds work slinging bags at Westwood, where he falls into the bizarre and timeless world of golf-course servitude. You can find the book in Amazon's Kindle store and Apple's iBooks store.
One thing I noticed as a reader was how true to form all the idiosyncrasies of the caddying life were. The references were so familiar, even after so many years.
Yeah. Now, how many caddies were in the program when you were working there?
Total? Maybe a couple hundred, but only 100 or so were caddying regularly.
That's about the same. That's pretty cool.
Have you been back to the club recently?
I haven't. I've driven through, but just a quick drive-by. I've seen that they changed the caddie shack; the old caddie yard doesn't really exist anymore. I'm actually going back this month. They're putting on a lunch for the members, and then we're going to play a round of golf. In the afternoon we're going to have a caddie alum event for those old-timers like us who caddied back in the '80s and '90s. That should be fun.
I imagine most former caddies are going to love diving into this book.
I think what it tapped into was that this was a really important thing that we did in our lives. I'm sure you feel the same way, and you'll feel that more so as you get on in years. There's no structure to look back and connect with people. There haven't been any reunions like there are for high school or college. We all just kinda went our separate ways, but we all carried that special time with us without being able to share it with many people. It's been fun to get in touch with people who, you know, I haven't talked to in 30 years. A lot of them said the same thing to me: that I had tapped into something that they always thought was so important and that it was nice to read the book and see that it was so important to other people too.
It's very interesting to realize how thoroughly the job defined my summers.
It's also funny to look back at how little money we made back then. It's not just inflation-adjusted. I mean, $6 was a pretty good round. We were paid peanuts.
That might be one of the bigger differences, actually. By the time I got well into the job, it became very lucrative.
How much would you make for a round of doubles?
The flat rate eventually became, I think, $30 a bag. So that'd be a $60 round, plus tips.
I personally fell into the job knowing nothing about golf. How did you get into the program? Is the book autobiographical?
It's semi-autobiographical. I found that I needed to write it into a novel. I wanted to compress all the stories into a single summer. I realized after writing about half the book more as a memoir that some of the things that happened actually happened to this kid who caddied for a summer. He was from Kansas City, and we called him the Kansas City Kid. No one knew his name. I got this idea that I'm going to turn it into a novel and kind of borrow his viewpoint so that it's more of an outsider looking in. I just made up the rest of the back story, although some of the struggles that I had — you know, I definitely was the smallest caddie there and I had some anxiety issues.
Each chapter has great character development within all of these funny little stories. So you were able to fall back on real memories for much of the plot?
Most of the things that happened in the book actually did happen. Two idiots in the pro shop did burn the pro shop down. That might have been '83. Mr. G, the caddie master, really was the caddie master there for about 40 years. I changed everybody else's identity, except for his. I kind of viewed him as a public figure. But at the last minute, when they say his actual last name in the book, I changed that. But Mr. G was real. People who read the book will be very familiar with Mr. G. He was a caricature of a person, and he was very easy to write about.
I caught the DeLorean reference in the book too. I caddied for Mark DeLorean a bunch of times.
I don't know how old these guys are now; he's got to be in his late 60s now. He was pretty young when we were there. But yeah, that's a good point, I did note him as well in the book. And there was a DeLorean parked at the front of the circle everyday. It was pretty cool. Even before Back to the Future, everyone at Westwood knew what a DeLorean was.
Could you elaborate on what drove you to want to write a book in the first place?
I felt like I had a bunch of stories that I kept telling to friends about what happened when I was caddying. Another thing was that I went to Ignatius. When I would go back to Ignatius reunions, I would find other guys who caddied with me. We would spend so much of our time reliving our caddie days — to the annoyance of my best friend, who was the basis for Mouse in the book. Every time he'd come over, he'd be like, "Oh my god, you're telling those stories again!" I realized after one of those reunions that there are some great, unique stories. I started writing it as a series of vignettes of funny things that happened. I felt like it wasn't enough. To turn it into a book, I really had to switch it up into a novel. It became an intellectual challenge for me; I'd write when I was traveling on planes or trains. It just kept growing and growing.
What do you do for work? And have you written other books?
No, this is the first one. I'm an economic consultant. I work primarily for railroads, defending their rates here in D.C. Like I said, it became a side project where I'd learned to write. I read a lot of books about how to write. It's a lot better than it was when I first started writing it. I've also thought of it as just a good story that speaks to teenagers, as well.