Even on an enlisted man’s meager salary, golfing in the Azores was inexpensive.  Arriving on the island without any golfing equipment, our foursome was able to purchase new clubs (Ram), Naugahyde bags, shoes, balls and tees for a very modest sum.  Greens fees with a caddie and tip was under $1.00/round.  All in all, very much within our budget.

On our first day of play, we were assigned four caddies.  Caddies at the course were Portuguese boys between the ages of eight and twelve.  Whatever money they made was used to supplement their family’s income.  We soon found out that once a boy reached his teenage years, he would drop out of school and get a full time job to help support the family.  Being  from suburban, middle class backgrounds this was an eye-opener, to say the least.

I’m not sure how or why it happened, but, the four caddies that were assigned to us that day became our regular caddies.  Whenever we would show up at the course, they were there waiting for us.  While none of the caddies was much help with club selection or green reading or much else that you might think would be required of a caddie, they were fun to be around and we soon formed a bond with them.  On occasion, we would bring them to the base for a movie or bowling or lunch at the mess hall.  Given the near poverty most of the island’s inhabitants lived in, this was a greatly appreciated treat for them.

My caddie’s name was Jose.  Jose was the oldest of the four and the quietest of the group.  Taller than the others, he was almost stoic in his bearing and his behavior.  This was going to be his last year as a caddie as soon he would be working full time on his family farm.  Jose was fast approaching the part of his life that would take him from boyhood to manhood.  While he was looking forward to helping his family, he was also apprehensive about the responsibilities that he would soon assume.

If one had to ‘pull’ duty in the military, I can’t think of a much better place than the Azores.  The living was cheap, the weather was unbeatable, the people hospitable and the work was not bad at all.  But, like life, time moves on quickly.

As my time on the island was drawing to an end,  I thought about my future as we rode the bus from the Air Station to the golf course for what would turn out to be my last round of golf in the Azores.  I would be going back to the ‘real world’ soon and I was definitely looking forward to the end of my Navy days.

The day was gorgeous as the bus twisted and turned its way up to the top of the mountains  where the course was located.  The sun shone brightly and the temperature (as always) was very pleasantly in the low 70’s.

As we clamored off the bus, we spied our caddies waiting with our bags and shoes in tow.  I immediately noticed that Jose was not among them.  It was not unusual for one of the caddies not to show up.  If they had some family obligation, they would enlist a cousin or a neighbor to take their place.  Still, I was a bit saddened by the fact that this may be my last round and my regular guy would not be there.

As we approached the caddies, we immediately sensed that something was wrong.  The horseplay and the normal boyhood antics was missing.  The four boys stood silently, shuffling their feet as we neared.  I looked at one of the boys and even though his head was bowed, I could see a glistening in his eyes.  After some prodding, we found out that Jose had been killed that week; felled by a tree while helping his father on the farm.  It felt like we had been punched in the gut.

We played that day or, really, we went through the motions.  Four young Navy enlisted men and our four Portuguese caddies; we were all in a complete fog during the round.

After the round, I went in to the pro shop, were I was able to sell back all of the equipment I had purchased.  I took the money and gave it to one of the other caddies and told him to give it to Jose’s family.  I didn’t know what else to do.

Jose’s death stayed with me for a while, but, it was soon pushed to the back with the whirl of activity surrounding my return to the states.  I have  to admit that as the years went by I have rarely thought about Jose , but, every now and then on a golf course somewhere, a thought or a memory would take me back to the days on the golf course up in the mountains of the Azores and our four caddies.