Mountain climbers. Livestock guarders. Long-range spitters. And now llamas have a new distinguishing role to add to their resume: golf caddy. Yes, for $40 the llamas at Sherwood Forest Country Club will carry your bags, accompany you on a nine-hole run, and maybe even channel their peaceful temperament into quiet but unwavering moral support.
For many delighted golfers, the grass just got a whole lot greener – literally. Because of their soft, padded feet, llamas do not make marks on the green and actually leave the courses with less damage than golf carts. This is only one of the characteristics that prompted Sherwood Golf Course manager Brian Lautenschlager and his superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains Greenskeepers Inc. owner Mark English, to bring 11 llamas (with 4 more on the way) from the latter’s farm to the Brevard, N.C., country club. The animals, all boys ranging from 1 to 4 years, are English’s pets, and a long-held dream to bring them into this unique role has taken off “like wildfire,” Lautenschlager tells PEOPLE Pets.
For the past few months, he and English have trained the llamas to become caddy extraordinaires through a series of acclimation exercises, first allowing them to get used to golf swings, and then to become harnessed with saddles that carry two clubs. “They go at the speed of a golf cart,” says Lautenschlager, a professional golfer, who feels no hindrance from having a llama caddy vs. a human one. Even better, llamas are what he calls natural “communal pottyers,” meaning they don’t go to the bathroom on the green anytime they feel like it but will rather line up rear to rear and go together in one spot. “It’s the funniest thing,” Lautenschlager says.
For their part, the llamas seem innately attuned to a game that’s all about mental poise. English told BlueRidgeNow.com, “They’re so calm and relaxed. They’re perfect for the sport.” Lautenschlager agrees, describing them as “real gentle, docile creatures. Just a treasure to be around.” Visitors need not worry about allergies; llama hair is hypoallergenic. The creatures are also highly social. Every time they know it’s golf-course day, “they come running.” Over the 2 -hour, 9-hole run – typically done with a pair of llamas led by a trained supervisor – “they want to be around you. They’re really good with people.”
And the people are in love. “The reaction has been phenomenal,” Lautenschlager says. Visitors regularly pet and talk to the animals, some even stopping by the side of the road just to take photos. As one of only two golf courses in North Carolina that offer llama caddies (the other is Talamore Golf Resort), Sherwood is helping to bring the sport to a wider audience, many of whom may not know Tiger Woods’s scores but are drawn by the curiosity for these animals. “Some people have more fun walking the animals around than playing golf,” says Lautenschlager, adding that the llamas are a hit with kids. Regardless of your expertise with the club, having a llama caddy is a unique “little twist on the game of golf, no doubt.”
See more talented animals on PEOPLE Pets:
Chimp Artists Make a Colorful Splash in a Louisiana Art Exhibit
Cancer-Sniffing Canines Could Save Your Life