While running for re-election as president during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln advised voters that it was unwise to switch horses in midstream. The choice of a golf caddie may not rank as important as the selection of a wartime president (although some pro golfers might disagree on that point), but changing caddies during a golf competition can obviously be disruptive. Nevertheless, a player is typically permitted to change caddies during a round.
Caddies in General
A caddie may perform a variety of duties for a player. For some golfers, a caddie is just someone who carries your clubs. For others, he’s a source of advice regarding a course with which he’s familiar. At the professional level, a caddie is often a valuable teammate who collects detailed information about a course in advance of a tournament, then advises the player frequently regarding strategy and club selection. Rule 6-4 of the U.S. Golf Association’s Rules of Golf limits players to using one caddie at a time.
Changing Caddies During a Round
USGA Decision 6-4/7 permits a golfer to employ “more than one caddie during a round, provided he has only one at a time.” Should a caddie be injured, for example, a golfer may replace her caddie with another. The replacement caddie maintains the same rights and responsibilities as the previous caddie under the Rules of Golf.
If an individual offers brief help to a golfer or his caddie -- even assistance that would normally be performed by a caddie -- it doesn’t automatically mean that the golfer has switched caddies or has two caddies in violation of Rule 6-4. USGA Decision 6-4/4.5 offers the example of a golfer walking from a green to the next tee, while his caddie moves on ahead with the player’s clubs. Remembering that he also has the golfer’s glove, the caddie hands the clubs to another individual and takes the glove to the player. The caddie then returns to reclaim the clubs. The individual who held the clubs briefly has performed a “casual act,” according to the USGA, that is not in violation of the rules.
Changing Caddies to Solicit Advice
While changing caddies during a round is generally permitted, a player may not do so solely to circumvent another rule. Rule 8-1, for example, states that a player may not seek advice from anyone other than her caddie or golf partner. USGA Decision 8-1/26 adds that a player may not change caddies for the sole purpose of gaining advice from the new caddie, stating that the move would violate “the purpose and spirit of the Rules.” In this case the player would receive a two-stroke penalty, or would lose the hole in match play.