By Brian Smith
Special For the Macon Chronicle-Herald
(Millsboro, DE) The way Monte Schisler saw it, the chance to caddy for Jack Nicklaus comes along once in a lifetime. So he figured if he was going to get that chance, he should dress the part.
So when Schisler emerged from his office at The Peninsula Golf & Country Club near Millsboro, Delaware with Nicklaus’s clubs, he was sporting a full white coverall identical to the ones worn at Augusta National for The Masters. It included Nicklaus’s name on the back, The Peninsula logo on the front, and the number 06 to signify the year the Club opened.
“That’s what a real caddy looks like!” called out a member of the gallery, one of the 1200 members, guests and staff invited to Nicklaus’s official Grand Opening of the course. Although the course has been open to members since late April, the day’s event was Nicklaus’s customary kickoff for his new signature designed layouts. He played the circuit in a one-under par 71, setting a new course record. The impact of the caddy on that course record was at least marginal, if not more so.
Schisler, who grew up in Macon, Missouri and lived in Branson for nearly 25 years, is the director of membership for The Peninsula, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus signature course that is the centerpiece of a 1400-home exclusive gated community near the resort beaches of southern Delaware. He works for Troon Golf, the nationally-renowned golf course management company based in Scottsdale, Arizona that runs the facility. Schisler moved to Delaware two years ago to work full-time at The Peninsula after spending the previous five years working at courses around the world while based at Branson Creek Golf Club in Missouri.
Schisler’s role at The Peninsula is to introduce prospective homebuyers to the golf course and all the other amenities the country club has to offer, while also being of service to the existing members. He’s expanded his role from past projects, working with Peninsula developer Larry Goldstein on assisting customers with the actual homesites.
“I helped open our course in Branson and have done a handful of other course openings, but it’s different on the East Coast,” Schisler said. “It’s the first Nicklaus signature course that I’ve worked at, and the first time I’ve gotten this involved with the development and the real estate.”
It was that job that landed him the caddying gig for Nicklaus’s visit. He’d also had previous caddying experience on the Buy.com and Nike Tours and for some friends who were playing in big tournaments. But he had some time to prepare – Schisler knew about a year ago that he was going to be filling this role. And prepare he did, especially in the last month or so leading up to the event, when he ordered his coveralls and discussed Nicklaus’s needs and requirements with representatives from Nicklaus Golf.
“Sure it’s an exhibition round, but I want to do this to the best of my ability,” Schisler said. “They told me the three ups – you show up, you keep up, and you shut up. The one thing Nicklaus doesn’t want is when he says ‘How far do I have,’ you don’t say ‘Oh, about such and such.’ You need to know it. If it’s 165 into a little bit of a breeze, it’s a lot different than 160 with no breeze. I’ve played golf and played competitively, so I know the yardages, but it’s a little different carrying for Jack. It’s intimidating to say the least, this is Jack Nicklaus for crying out loud.”
The day before Nicklaus played the course, Schisler spent several hours on the course measuring and recording yardages with a senior design consultant from Nicklaus Golf.
“Every yardage you can think of, I had in my book,” Schisler said. “We looked at what is it from the tee-box over a bunker, how long to carry across the fairway, what’s the widest point, narrow point, how far to cut a corner, how far it is to get yourself into trouble. Jack was going to ask me what he needed to know and I was going to give him the answer. I wasn’t going to give him any info he didn’t want, but I was going to be precise.”
The night before the event, it was Schisler’s role to pick up Nicklaus at the airport. It was at that point that he took charge of The Coveted Clubs.
“At the airport, he joked that I might as well start now, so I took his clubs and dropped him off at the hotel,” Schisler said. “Then he said I might as well keep them, so I had Jack Nicklaus’s clubs at my house for a day. I was a nervous wreck, walking them down the hall, making sure I didn’t bang them against the door.”
The day of the round, there was a buzz on the course. Members skipped out on work and came from their hometowns just to see Nicklaus before returning to their homes, in some cases several hours away. Schisler’s parents (Don and Lueann) drove out from Missouri for the special day. And as for Schisler, he treated Nicklaus’s clubs as if they were a two-month old baby.
“I had those clubs with me all day and I didn’t let them out of my sight,” Schisler said. “I took them to breakfast, took them to the press conference, and took them to the range.”
After all the ceremonies and events prior to the round, it was time for some golf. The gallery followed Nicklaus and Schisler to the first tee, and Schisler’s job was underway.
“There’s 1200 people watching, and I’m waiting for him to ask what he’s got from the back tee,” Schisler said. “I tell him from here across that bunker, it’s 250 to carry. And he did it. Just like I imagined he would. We get out into the middle of the fairway and I knew he had 168 to the pin on his second shot. Jack still wants to play his best, so I’ve got to make sure he has the right yardage. He knocked his second shot within 6-7 feet. It relaxed me, and it relaxed him a little bit. It gave me confidence that I gave him the right yardage. I took it just as seriously as if I was carrying for him in the Masters or the British Open.”
The round was a little bit different from a normal golf tournament. The members were only restricted to certain areas during Nicklaus’s actual shots. While moving from shot to shot, members were able to walk up right next to Nicklaus, talking to him and taking photos with him. They even asked his caddy how he was making it. A nod, a smile, and the brisk walk continued to the next shot. This was all business.
There were some mishaps. But the ones that did take place did more to entertain the gallery than to do any sort of harm to Nicklaus’s round. One exchange took place on an early par 5, when there was a slight discrepancy in yardage calculation.
“218 from here to the pin, over the front bunker?” Nicklaus said, standing over a sprinkler head several yards ahead of his ball on the 2nd hole that runs parallel with The Peninsula Esplinade.
“Yeah, from there,” Schisler said.
“How many steps did you take?” Nicklaus said. Schisler stood silent next to the ball, several yards back.
“If you want me to lay up from here,” Nicklaus said, “then toss the ball up here.”
This exchange drew raucous laughter from the gallery, nearly all of whom knew Schisler. Fortunately for the gallery, everything Nicklaus said was clearly audible with the microphone he wore throughout the round, via a mobile public address system set up on carts that traveled with the crowd.
“Are you nervous?” asked Nicklaus of his caddy at one point early during his inaugural round at The Peninsula. “Are you flustered because of the crowd? Or is it that you can’t add?”
Those kind of tongue-in-cheek remarks continued throughout the day, whether Schisler was doing things right or was slightly off. On the fourth hole, a short dogleg right par 4, Schisler gave Nicklaus a yardage of 141 on his second shot, which he hit about six feet from the hole. Upon arrival at the green, Nicklaus commented that it must have actually been 142, winked at his caddy, then marked the ball with an old penny.
“It’s all about the yardage,” Schisler said with a grin, as the two continued to wind their way thru Delaware’s first private Nicklaus signature design.
After a birdie on the par 5, 10th hole, The Golden Bear was three-under par, and Schisler was greatly impressed.
“He’s so good,” Schisler said walking down the fairway of the par 4, 14th hole, the first hole finished during the construction phase of Nicklaus’s design work at The Peninsula. “I know he’s not playing the tour anymore, his hip’s bothering him and what not, but he still hits the ball pure. He’s hit it in a couple bunkers, but he’s trying to cut the corners a little bit. But he’s still Jack Nicklaus and everyone here still wants to see him light it up like the ’86 Masters. He’s keeping it in play and the good thing is, he’s having fun. If Jack’s having fun, we’re all having fun.
“I made some comment to a member walking beside us that I had my boy at three-under through 10 and we might want to think about the tour again. Nicklaus heard me, looks over and says, ‘Your boy? Three-under? What if I make a couple bogeys? Am I still going to be your boy?'”
Odds are, Nicklaus could have bogeyed every hole on the rest of the course and Schisler wouldn’t have batted an eye as to the supposed status of their relationship. But that wasn’t the case. Things continued to go quite well, even when the skies opened with a late-afternoon summer thunderstorm as Nicklaus came down the final hole.
“I didn’t work with Monte, I just had fun with him,” Nicklaus said afterwards. “We had a good time. He was fun. I’m not sure he was a math major. We had some subtraction and addition issues there. But we had fun with it.”
It was a heavy bag and it was a long walk on a day where temperatures approached the low 90’s, but Schisler did a laudable job. He came away with many mementos, most of which will cover a blank wall in his office that’s been reserved for those very items. But he also brought away many memories that will be around long after he’s forgotten how hot it was.
“For one given afternoon in the summer of 2006, it was just me and the greatest golfer of all time,” Schisler said. “For me, that was he highlight. People have watched him for years, and he’s won all these majors, and I was with him walking the golf course, inside the ropes, carrying the bag. Walking up 18 trying to beat the rainstorm, course record in hand, parents over my shoulder beaming ear to ear, and a bunch of members getting wet but wanting to see him finish. Then Nicklaus saying to me ‘Thanks very much – I had a great day and I hope you had fun too.’ He was sincere when he said it, and that meant a lot. We were golden together- just me and Jack.”