Clair E. "Buddy" Smith, who shaped the lives of young men as longtime caddie master at the Inverness Club, died Monday in Magruder Hospital, Port Clinton. He was 81.
He had congestive heart failure and was a dialysis patient. Formerly of South Toledo, he lived the last two years with his son, David, in Curtice.
Mr. Smith in his youth was a caddie at Inverness, long known nationally for its youth caddie program. He was hired in the early 1950s by Lloyd Gullickson, the club's head professional, to oversee the caddies, a corps of boys generally ages 13 to 18. He remained in the post for nearly 30 years, through dawn-to-dusk summer work days, through two U.S. Opens.
"There are a lot of young men who are not so young anymore who had the chance to work that first job, and they worked under Buddy," said Ken Koperski, a retired Toledo police captain who is in his 19th season as Inverness caddie master. "He was a task-master but was very fair. That's all I’ve ever heard from the gentlemen who caddied for him in those days.
"He kept the program on the straight and narrow," Mr. Koperski said. "He's part of the legacy there.’’
Mr. Smith trained the boys, especially the new caddies, in their duties and every day organized the order in which they went out with members.
He took attendance and monitored behavior. Caddies were rated on a point system, he told the former Toledo Times in 1960. At a year-end party, those boys with the most points got prizes. "There is also a demerit system," he told the Times. "When a boy gets five demerits, he's finished at Inverness."
His son said: "He had to take care of the members. That's the primary concern.
"He developed a rapport with all the kids," said his son, who caddied under him and became a golf teaching professional.
"All the kids learned to respect him in the long run, and he grew fond of them. We had a lot of fun, yet we worked hard. My dad was a strong person. Very independent. Someone you could look up to. He made an impression on a lot of them."
He was confident in 1960, as electric golf carts gained popularity, that there would always be caddies.
"The cart hasn't been invented yet to take out the pin," he told the Times. "Or to clean a golf ball. Or to keep track of a sliced tee shot."
For the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness, Mr. Smith selected the best of his crew for the caddie pool. They all shared a mastery at estimating distances. His standard was that they be accurate within a foot in judging the ground between a fairway shot and the green, he told The Blade then.
Their excellence did not exempt them from a tutorial, to make sure they were in top form.
"We have reviewed every rule in the book," he told The Blade. "And they have learned again at what pace to walk and where to walk, and they'll make certain there are no more than 14 clubs in a bag."
For the 50th anniversary of the 1957 U.S. Open, caddies who worked the tournament organized a reunion at the club at which they honored Mr. Smith. Many hadn't seen each other, or Mr. Smith, for decades.
"The Inverness Club went all out for us caddies. He was excited to see all the old caddies," said Jerry Urbanski, who caddied for the tournament winner, Dick Mayer. "It was a pretty emotional day."
In 2008, Mr. Smith was inducted into the Toledo District Golf Association's Golf Hall of Fame. During his tenure, 58 caddies became Evans Scholars, a scholarship program of the Western Golf Association for caddies.
Mr. Smith in the off-season was a salesman at Damschroder's, the men's clothier located on Superior Street downtown and later in Sylvania's Starlite Plaza. "He made people feel comfortable around him and made them feel good about what they were purchasing," his son said.
He was born July 6, 1931, in Archbold, Ohio, to Isabelle and John Smith. He was a graduate of the former Burnham High School in Sylvania. His marriage to the late Phyllis Christen ended in divorce.
Surviving are his son, David Smith; brother, Charles Behrman; sisters, Marlene Geer and Diane Stechschulte, and two grandsons.
At his request, there will be no visitation or services. Arrangements are by the Blanchard-Strabler Funeral Home.
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