Local Llamas Find Work, Gain Fame … As Caddies!

llamacaddy-coverpicSource: The Greeneville Sun
BY TOM YANCEY
STAFF WRITER

Llamas from Greene County have been getting a lot of attention — international attention, even — since they moved to North Carolina and went to work as golf caddies.

The llamas that are now caddies were born in Greene County and were featured a few weeks ago on a Greenville, S.C., TV station, which led to a story on CNN, which led to a story on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
On Sunday night, a long segment about the llamas and their work as caddies was the closing story on the NBC Nightly News.

In that segment, another Greene Countian, Seth Saylor, a member of the Mars Hill College golf team, appeared with the local llamas at the request of his coach, who is also the course pro at Sherwood Forest Golf Course in Brevard.

The Greene County part of the story started almost two years ago when Jerry and Carolyn Ayers, who operate Walnut Ridge Llamas in Chuckey, sold six llamas to Mark English, of Brevard, N.C.

“We show llamas at the Mountain State Fair,” in Asheville, N.C., Ayers said Tuesday.
English “kept coming by our stall” at the fair, and finally told the Ayers that he liked the look of their llamas best. “They’re the friendliest,” Jerry Ayers recalled English saying.
Soon English, a “turf grass manager” for two golf courses near Lenoir, visited Walnut Ridge Llamas and spent most of a day there. In October 2007, he bought six llamas from Ayers and began training them.

A year ago, English purchased six more llamas from Steve and Tammy Kinser, who have been raising llamas for about three years on East Allens Bridge Road.

The Kinser llamas “can see the (Nolichuckey View) golf course” every day (just across East Allens Bridge Road), Steve Kinser said, which may have been at least a little help in getting them accustomed to their new jobs.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” English said in a telephone interview.
Engish said he can’t really remember where the idea of using llamas as caddies came from, but the concept never left him once he had it.

‘THOUGHT I WAS CRAZY’

When he approached the board of directors at one golf course with his idea, “They thought I was crazy,” but that’s not the case now that worldwide publicity has made the llamas famous.

The llamas are available as caddies every Tuesday and Saturday at Sherwood Forest Golf Course at Brevard, and for the next eight weeks they will be at Maggie Valley Golf Course every Thursday.

English keeps the animals on his grandparents’ farm near Brevard.
He trained them there, first leading them around the perimeter in a pack, then four at a time, then in pairs.

He then started putting soft packs on their backs, added weight gradually and worked up to the wooden “cross trees” he uses now. Two golf bags can be attached to the trees.
English said llamas are “natural” caddies, adding, “It was easy.”

But Tammy Kinser says, “Just to see Mark deal with those llamas is amazing. Putting that many males together takes patience and some real talent,” she said.

English said that when he takes his llamas by trailer to a golf course, unloads and feeds them, he then brushes them. The llamas are washed once a month.

He sets up a “potty area” by putting a small amount of llama manure wherever the golf course wants the animals to “go to the bathroom.”

The llamas will not potty on the course, but will wait until they get back to that area, English and Ayers said.

When English puts down his small amount of manure, the llamas find it, then they go back up to it, “shoulder to shoulder and butt to butt,” and poop. “They’re communal pottiers,” Ayers said.

English also sets up a small “petting zoo” area and gives a little talk about safety, and then the llamas are ready to caddy.

In today’s golf world, “Caddying is a thing of the past,” English said. “I caddied when I was a kid,” and learned responsibility, and the kids he hires as handlers also can learn that, he said.

Another part of what English says he wants to do with llamas is to get people off of golf carts, walking again, “and enjoying the course,” without having to “wag a golf bag around.”

Right now he charges $40 for one llama to carry two sets of clubs on one 18-hole round of golf.

“It’s a pretty darned good deal,” he said. A handler is part of the package, and on some courses, two are required, but often the golfers themselves end up leading the llama, and the handler just watches. Often children of golfers ask to lead, he said.

Steve Kinser, an employee of Jardin Zinc Products, said the gentle nature of llamas is not the only reason they make good caddies.

“You very seldom hear a sound out of them,” he said, and best of all, they have a soft pad on the bottom of their feet, not a hoof. “They don’t tear up the course,” even on the wettest of days, Steve Kinser said. Brian Lautenschlager, the professional golfer at Sherwood Forest, agrees. A llama hurts the course “less than a golf cart,” he said. “Even deer create some damage” when they get on a golf course, he said, “but llamas don’t,” and they don’t litter either.

FUN AND CLEAN

“They’re a treasure to have around, and really fun,” said Lautenschlager. And lately, they’re great at bringing people to the course.

The Sherwood Forest pro said “some of the locals” were not too happy about the llama caddies at first, “But when the grandchildren came to visit, the llamas were the first thing they wanted to check out,” he said. Now the llamas are becoming a point of local pride.
Llamas do have toenails, and if they need to defend themselves, they can stand on their back feet and use their toenails. Males can bite unless their biting teeth are removed, and llamas are known for spitting, if they go on the defensive, but that’s rare.