CLINE: A volunteer job with lots of baggage

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

DULUTH — Julie Coupland is married to an avid golfer and her sons like to play quite a bit as well. But next week Coupland’s golf family will grow by leaps and bounds and bags. Plenty of bags.

As chairwoman of the caddie committee, Coupland’s job is to make a home at TPC Sugarloaf for the men (and women) who carry those bags on the Champions Tour. The tour comes to the county for the second time next week for the Greater Gwinnett Championship, which will play rounds Friday through Sunday.

While there are many familiar names are in the field, including defending champion Bernhard Langer, the caddies are less known albeit much more colorful. Next week they’ll have plenty of tales to share and a common den mother in the form of Coupland.

Her job is to oversee the caddie tent located behind the putting green at Sugarloaf. She’ll arrive each morning by 5:30 to get things situated for the caddies, who will eat, rest and even look for work at their home away from home.

“It’s almost like we provide a little community for them,” Coupland said. “They can purchase yardage books from us, make sure they have their tee times. They ask a lot of questions. ‘Where can I get good sushi?’ and ‘Where can I get a haircut.’

“(We’re) basically a caddie service. We try to do our very best to make them feel at home.”

Though the Greater Gwinnett Championship is in its infancy, this is nothing new to Coupland. A resident at Sugarloaf Country Club, she previously served as a volunteer when the PGA Tour played in Duluth, taking over as chairman of the caddie committee from her husband John. She had many new recruits on her committee (which counts about 15) last year and was pleased with how many will be on call again this year.

“I’m proud that a lot of my volunteers who were first-timers have come back,” she said. “It is fun, and you meet great people.”

Coupland said she doesn’t venture away from the caddie tent much, so she rarely sees the golfers in tournament action but does come in contact with them a lot around the practice green. It can be a thrill seeing a big name — like Tom Watson when he played last year — but Coupland said the real entertainment comes from the caddies and their interaction.

“One thing I can tell you about caddies is they are great storytellers,” she said with a laugh. “(The tent) is quite social. Most of them know each other and most have been on the tours for years.”

Coupland is trying to build that type of camaraderie with her committee. She’s glad to have the tournament back in her neighborhood and is excited about building a volunteer base to continue in the years to come.

Thanks to Coupland and other volunteers like her, the caddies won’t be the only ones carrying the load next week.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.