Mark Long never thought he would become a professional
caddie back when he was a
student at the University of Maryland, where he played on the
Two years after Long graduated, his former coach, Fred Funk, set out to join the PGA Tour. Long agreed to carry his bag, accompanying Funk when he made it to the Tour.
In 1991, Long teamed up with Nolan Henke, whose victory at a tournament in Arizona earned him invitations to The Masters, the British Open and overseas events. And so a career was forged.
Caddies serve as trusted advisers to the golfers they work with, helping them plot their approach to each hole. Many rely on detailed course maps called yardage books to guide their strategies. After becoming frustrated by the yardage books available through the Tour, Long, 45, set out to make his own.
At first, he used a survey wheel to take measurements for his maps, which proved inaccurate. Then he tried a handheld laser with limited results.
Long eventually called a surveying store, where he found a helpful owner who walked him through the latest technology. Taking a leap of faith, he bought expensive equipment and set about raising the standards for yardage books.
Today, the self-taught Long uses six different computer programs, many designed for engineers, and global-positioning devices to create his yardage books. His work helped him become a stronger caddie.
"Measuring angles and understanding how yardages work has been good for me," Long said. "When I used to work for Nolan, I'd tell him, 'Watch this: The guy's going to come up five yards short.' He would, and Nolan would just love that."
Long built his business by selling books to tournaments, which received volume discounts on his $25 book. This year, the weak economy forced some tournaments to trim expenses, so Long has been selling directly to fellow caddies. The U.S. Open is one of the few events providing business to Long.
"The St. Jude Classic, for example, used to always buy books, but they were sponsored by
," he says. "That's all gone."
Long's enterprise isn't confined to his yardage books.
hired him as an adviser before the company released its SkyCaddie handheld rangefinder. He taught the company's early "mappers," the people who survey courses for digital maps.
"I was bringing a Tour caddie's perspective," he says. "They were helping me out with learning about equipment and other things on the technical side."
Though coy about details, Long is excited about SkyCaddie's upcoming products. "Let's just say it's my vision of what I thought the ideal handheld GPS application would look like," he says. He expects these devices to gain popularity.
"There's so much more to it than knowing what the yardage is," he said. "If golf is so easy that you need a challenge by trying to guess the yardage, more power to you."
Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Staatsburg, N.Y. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.