The 63-year old Augusta native will caddie in his 49th Masters next week. On Ben Crenshaw’s bag since 1976, Jackson started caddying at the Augusta National Golf Club in 1961. Since 2004 he has been the caddie manager at the Alotian Golf Club in Roland, Ark., where he oversees a staff of 16 to 20 full-time caddies.
How did you start working at the Augusta National Golf Club?
I tell people that when I went to caddie I was in diapers where you had to wear pins in them. I caddied in my first Masters in ’61, but I started caddying at the Augusta Country Club in 1958. I went over to Augusta National after the 1960 Masters and worked for the remainder of the season and that next fall I dropped out of school to caddie full-time at the club.
Why did you drop out of school?
I was ashamed when I had to do that. I was a good student. The year I dropped out of school the school board implemented a dress code that said you couldn’t wear blue jeans, which was all I had. When I went to school with my only pair of dress pants, they fit, but they were too short and the kids laughed at me. I dropped out after the first day.
You dropped out of school in the ninth grade. What did the members think about having a 14-year-old high school dropout working full-time at the club?
Mr. Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder, told the caddie master that I had to go. Mr. Roberts and General Eisenhower were very concerned that I was working at the club at such a young age. General Eisenhower pulled me aside one day and asked me in a very sad voice, “Son, why aren’t you in school?” But then the caddie master explained to him that I needed to support my family.
Your first bag at the club changed your life.
I started working for Mr. Jack Stephens in the winter of 1961 and I’ve worked for the Stephens family ever since, except for the 12 years I spent as a Tour caddie from 1990 to 2002. When Mr. Stephens’s son Warren opened the Alotian Club in 2004 he brought me in to start the caddie program. Mr. Stephens had a way of doing things and he promised Mr. Roberts and General Eisenhower that he would see to it that I got my schooling.
Tell me about your foundation.
The Carl Jackson Foundation has a plan to take golf and the golf industry into the inner city of Little Rock, Ark. It’s not just about teaching kids golf and showing them how to assemble golf clubs, but how the rules and etiquette of the game instill values about integrity and honesty in life. During Masters week I will be presenting my first Stay in School Award to a young person from my old high school in Augusta.
Doesn’t the First Tee already do some of this?
In my opinion inner-city kids don’t benefit from the First Tee for many reasons. It’s not the First Tee’s fault. Many of these kids don’t have the transportation to get to First Tee facilities, which are often on the outskirts of town. I want to reach the kids that aren’t being reached by the First Tee: kids from underprivileged, single-parent homes. I want my Little Rock program to ultimately be a model that can be used at any community center around the state of Arkansas and the country.
How far did you live from the club growing up?
It was a three- or four-mile walk. I lived near the 16th hole of the Augusta Country Club and many times I had to cross that 16th hole to get to an entryway to Augusta National at the 13th tee.
What made a good Augusta National caddie?
There was a real pride in being able to do club selection. You also had to be an excellent reader of greens. If you couldn’t do those things you were known as a “bull” caddie, which meant that you couldn’t get far in that program. If you gave a member or a guest a really bad read or club, the older caddies teased you on the spot.
Who was your mentor in the caddie shack?
Pappy Stokes. He had about six different Masters winners and he was also there to help build the course.
What is it like working for Ben?
I usually meet Ben on the Sunday before the Masters. When I was on Tour I did my yardage books on Monday, but at Augusta Ben and I don’t use numbers that much. We rely a lot on instincts and eyesight. Still, I have numbers prepared if he wants them. He and I agree almost on every club selection.
No yardage books?
You have to remember that no one really used a yardage book on the course until Jack Nicklaus had one there around 1968. There was a change and some players and caddies rejected yardage books. I didn’t start using one until I worked for Steve Melynk in 1972 because he wanted to use numbers.
What particular disagreement over a club selection stands out for you in your 48 Masters?
In 1970 I caddied for Gary Player. We were in agreement on every club until the 72nd hole. He was tied with Billy Casper and Gene Littler. At his approach shot into the 18th fairway, he asked me what club I thought he should hit. I told him 5-iron and he said, “No, Laddie, I feel pumped up. I’m going to hit a six. He hit that 6-iron into that left front pin and it fell into the bunker that fronted it and he bogeyed the hole to fall out of the playoff with Casper and Littler.
As a caddie for Crenshaw in 1995 you gave one of the greatest golf lessons in Masters history.
Ben came to Augusta that year struggling pretty badly. At the beginning of the week I told him to move the ball back in his stance a bit and just try to make a good shoulder turn. He had gotten it too far forward at address. After that things just clicked for him and he took his second Green Jacket that Sunday.
What do you think of the course changes over the years at Augusta National?
The old course is still there if you play it from the front tees, with the exception of the 11th hole. The greatest difference is all the added length to the tees for the pros.
Tell me about the tricky undulating greens.
They all have a certain pull to them or a hot spot. In Arizona they say everything breaks toward Indio. Well, Augusta has a certain area where everything breaks. I call it the pull: the place where the green pulls to a certain area.
What do you miss about the old Augusta National of your youth?
Since Mr. Roberts died in 1977 the standards of the caddie program have gone down. Mr. Roberts paid attention to everything when we were out on the course. If you made a mistake reading a green, his famous line was “You know such of a damn lie.” This would scare the caddies to death and then he would call another caddie in to read the putt.
How was the pay for caddies?
Now caddies can’t take tips at the club and that was a big thing for us. Mr. Roberts used to put it like this when asked by a guest how much to pay caddies: “Did he do a good job?” If the guy answered yes, Mr. Roberts would say, “Then pay him good then.”
After the ban on non-Augusta National caddies was lifted in 1983 you continued working for Ben. How was that time?
The Masters was always a bonus week for Black Augusta. It definitely hurt the caddies and their families. I remember after all the guys would get paid on Sunday night they would put together a party the week after the tournament. A lot of businesses in the community benefitted from the money that came in from the tournament and from the caddies who worked it.
How is your golf game?
I used to play around scratch golf. But after I had colon cancer in 2000 something changed in the joints in my hands and I could no longer properly grip the club. So now I don’t play at all, but I love to pass along my knowledge of the game.
Did your ever go back to school?
Yes. I earned my GED before my high school classmates graduated.
Next year will mark your 50th year working the Masters, more than any caddie in the tournament’s 74-year history. How many more will you do?
If I’m blessed to make it through 50 years I may seriously think about not going back again, unless Ben just wants me there.
Who wins the Masters next week?
Obviously if it’s wet then it’s going to favor the longer hitters, but if the course plays firm and fast that will bring in a lot more players, including Ben Crenshaw.