Legislation puts more kids in the loop

Bill would expand work, scholarship opportunities for young caddies

By PAUL GORES | February 19, 2020

Young caddies wouldn’t be deemed golf course employees in Wisconsin under legislation that backers say will put state law in sync with common practice and could create more jobs for youths who are willing to haul golf clubs around the links.

Legislation (Bill 699 in the Assembly and 629 in the Senate) governing employee status for caddies has garnered bipartisan support from lawmakers. It has passed in the Assembly and is on the Senate calendar for a vote Wednesday.

Under current law, minors who serve as caddies are considered employees of the golf course or organization that uses them. But in reality, many golf courses typically have looked at 12- to 17-year-old caddies as independent contractors.

The legislation, which was sought by golf course operators and a program that offers college scholarships to caddies, would eliminate the requirement that minor caddies be employees. By removing that mandate, clubs and golf courses wouldn’t have to adhere to overtime and wage requirements, and could more easily keep their overall employee headcounts under the 50-worker threshold that triggers mandatory health insurance coverage via the federal Affordable Care Act.

If caddies are not considered employees, it could encourage clubs and golf courses to use more of them, proponents of the legislation say. A golf course still would have the option of making caddies their employees.

Two of the main sponsors – Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) in the Assembly and Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) in the Senate – say caddying is a great way for young people to develop a strong work ethic.

“It’s really their first work experience – kind of an entrepreneurship is the way I look at it when they enter into an agreement with a specific golfer to perform the service and then be rewarded by how well they perform those services,” Knodl said. “It’s just a terrific opportunity.”

Added Knodl: “You really earn on merit. The better job you do – the more understanding you have of the game or the course layout – and you’re able to help out golfers, they’re going to reciprocate and recognize you for those efforts.”

Kooyenga said caddying is a good job for young people because it teaches them a strong work ethic, including rising early.

“It’s a profession, much like the fast-food industry or many others, where it’s also teaching the proper way to interact with adults, the proper way to behave, be a gentleman or lady, and so I just think for many different reasons the bill makes tremendous sense,” Kooyenga said.

Kooyenga said the bill also indirectly supports the work of the Western Golf Association Evans Scholars Foundation college scholarship program because clubs and golf courses are likely to use more caddies if they don’t have the expense of considering them employees.

The Evans Scholars program provides academic, professional and social resources that help students with good grades who work as caddies. More than 11,050 young men and women have graduated as Evans Scholars since 1930, according to the Western Golf Association.

“The Evans Scholars program has reduced barriers for thousands of young men and women with limited access to a college education, and by reforming these mandatory requirements, Wisconsin can increase scholarship opportunities for students of limited financial means and drive more students into success,” Kooyenga said in his written proposal for the legislation.

With support from Republicans and Democrats, the legislation seems unlikely to run into problems when it gets to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk, Kooyenga said. Ten Democrats signed onto the bill in the Assembly, and in the Senate, five Democrats were on board.

“With such broad bipartisan support, I don’t see him vetoing it,” he said.

Paul Gores is a retired business reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.