MYRTLE BEACH — At the time, it seemed like a mildly offensive request.
In February 2005, Meghan Tarmey was a junior cheerleader at Coastal Carolina and was selling shots at Club Kryptonite to help pay for her education. A vacationing golfer patronizing the nightclub invited Tarmey to join his group on the course the next day and drive the golf cart.
“I was like, ‘That’s weird. I’m not going to do that,’ ” Tarmey recalled.
But given time to mull over the proposal, she identified its advantages.
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Her daily ritual for much of the week at that point involved waking early to complete 1-mile cheerleader runs at 7 a.m., attending classes, studying, practicing or cheering at games, working until 3 a.m. or later at the club, then getting minimal rest before starting the routine all over again.
“I had to find a way to make more money and do it without having to work until 3 in the morning,” Tarmey said. “I was home one day sitting there and I went to my roommate and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ I printed out business cards on my computer and the next night I went into work and handed out the cards, and like the first guy I gave one to that was a golfer said, ‘I need five of you tomorrow.’ ”
Tarmey got some of her fellow cheerleaders and a softball player to join her on the golf course the next day.
“We kind of wung it. We had no idea what we were doing,” said Tarmey, who charged the golfers $90 per girl.
That was the beginning. The end is anyone’s guess.
Tarmey has built Myrtle Beach Caddy Girls into an empire that does business in several states and golf destinations across the U.S., has spawned related marketing and modeling companies, and is destined for a reality-based television show in the near future.
“At the time I was never looking at the big picture, I was looking at how I could get through college and pay my bills and not have to work in a nightclub,” said Tarmey, 28. “I wasn’t even thinking of it in a business sense. I wanted a way to make extra money and I thought it would be cool.”
The Caddy Girls – the national business name – provide a combination of caddie services and entertainment for approximately $150 per round. They are at least minimally trained in caddie duties, which they perform with doses of cheek and flirtation.
Their outfit generally consists of skorts or shorts, knee-high argyle socks, sneakers and collared golf shirts.
“We’re not only hot and fun, but we’re doing all this [work] as well,” said the Myrtle Beach resident. “Some people probably think we’re sluts. But we just provide a service and we look good doing it. It’s the same thing as Hooters girls, or having a hot bartender or waitress in an effort to increase revenue. People who are open-minded get it.”
Tarmey is a New Hampshire native who graduated from CCU with a 3.8 grade-point average in communications with a minor in theater.
When she told her parents, who are recreational golfers, about her business idea, they thought it would be prudent for her to learn more about the game. So they bought her golf clubs, took her golfing on their home course of Darlington Country Club – they moved from New Hampshire a year earlier – and taught her the ins and outs of the game. “They taught me everything about golf and were totally supportive,” Tarmey said.
Tarmey also received assistance and guidance in setting up the first of her four related limited liability companies from CCU communications professors Linda Kirkendall and Deb Walker, and theater professor Robin Russell, who all also helped her get publicity.
The Hookers n Slicers online golf package and tee time service based in St. Louis built a website for Myrtle Beach Caddy Girls that the company still maintains.
Tarmey adjusted her class schedule so she had afternoons off two days a week and mornings off three days a week. She met with new Caddy Girls on campus and often trained them there.
She found no businesses like it when she founded the company. Female caddies in Thailand were about all she came across. But there are others now.
“Since then there have probably been two dozen that have popped up,” Tarmey said, “and they’ll cut and paste word for word from my website and have pictures of my girls from our calendar shoot on their website. They’re trying to really model after us, which is very flattering but it drives me nuts.”
For awhile, Tarmey didn’t make a percentage of the other girls’ bookings.
“I just wanted to go to be able to do it myself,” Tarmey said. “Then when people started ordering more and more it started becoming like work, and I was like, ‘Wow, I guess I could make extra money and take maybe a cut from each of these girls.’ ”
Tarmey often discounts the $150 rate up to $20 for repeat customers or several caddies in one booking. The caddie gets $100 plus tips, Tarmey gets the remainder.
The Myrtle Beach golf market was unreceptive to Tarmey’s concept at first. Three golf pros attended a meet and greet she organized at Kryptonite. “Initially I didn’t understand how stuffy golf was,” Tarmey said. “Back then I was really naïve and I thought, ‘This is going to be great.’ ”
Tarmey discovered she was battling a stigma regarding young women accompanying male players on Grand Strand courses – one that she still battles in an area with more than 15 gentleman’s clubs.
“I wanted it to be open and friendly, and I learned it’s frowned upon based on the precedent that other girls in town set,” Tarmey said. “Most of them are strippers. I didn’t even think of that when I was out doing this. I was like, ‘What, girls get naked?’
“Unfortunately the stereotype is that because you’re an attractive female on the golf course then you must be doing something wrong.”
There are still courses in the market that don’t welcome Caddy Girls. Barefoot Resort’s four layouts are among them. Barefoot general manager Dave Genevro said it’s in keeping with the facility’s policy against solicitations such as photographers on the first tee and charity representatives running par-3 contests.
“It’s what we want for the experience of our golfer,” Genevro said. “We just try to offer the experience of the golf course without distractions. We want our golfers to get good customer service and experience the golf course without anyone else out there other than beverage cart attendants in the mix. We just think it’s better for our facility.”
An incident contributed to Barefoot’s ban, and Tarmey is wary of inexperienced Caddy Girls going rogue, perhaps after too many libations.
She said two young caddies jumped into a pond in their uniforms last August on a Barefoot course when their golfers offered them $500 each. They helped get the Caddy Girls banned from Barefoot, got themselves fired, and never did collect the $500, Tarmey said.
The vast majority of Strand courses allow Caddy Girls, including the 22 courses operated by the area’s largest management group, National Golf Management.
“Our caddie policy is we don’t allow independent caddies on our golf courses, you have to be professional caddies that work for an organized professional caddie company, and we consider The Caddy Girls a professional caddie service,” said NGM vice president of marketing and sales Steve Mays. “Any incidents we’ve had have been more the case of individuals who weren’t associated with a professional caddie group. As long as they’re adhering to our policies we’re fine with it.”
Tarmey is getting her employees identification cards “so they don’t get us confused with those other girls, so that will hopefully keep them from ruining our good time,” she said.
Tarmey employs approximately 50 caddies in Myrtle Beach, each with their bios and pictures on the company website. Approximately 20 will work for her multiple times a week during busy spring and fall seasons. “It’s a part-time job that pays full time,” Tarmey said.
There is an employee manual, and each caddie must sign a code of conduct contract. “They have strict policies on behavior,” Tarmey said.
Tarmey said caddies are not allowed to take money to join their golfers after the round, and she discourages meeting clients later that night, though it’s not strictly forbidden.
“It’s frowned upon,” Tarmey said. “While it’s really tempting because we love food and love free drinks, it’s just best not to. There’s a fine line. None of our girls have ever been paid to go out at night or go out to dinner. That’s escorting.”
A few club pros on the Grand Strand teach new Caddy Girls the etiquette of the game and duties of a caddie. Wachesaw Plantation assistant and former Indian Wells head pro John Lust, and The Pearl director of golf operations Bryan Thomas have been paid by Tarmey to train Caddy Girls.
“I believe if they’re going to be a caddie they should know what their responsibilities are,” Thomas said. “ I’m trying to help her because I think she has a good business going. If the girls can treat the facilities correctly I think it can be a good business.”
Caddy Girls ride with groups or get their own cart. Some courses require separate carts if there is an even number of golfers.
Caddies can drink on the job, and sign injury liability waivers. “I’m not liable for them and the golf course is not liable for them,” Tarmey said. “If they crash a golf cart or get eaten by an alligator, they’re on their own.”
Tarmey said she had more than 130 bookings in Myrtle Beach this April, the company’s best month in the market by more than 30 percent.
She quit a full-time bartending job in Manhattan – where she has an apartment – in May 2012 to focus on her businesses. “This was the first year I quit a regular job just to pursue my business,” Tarmey said. “I’m really going to actually focus and try to promote.”
Asa Shirley of Chattanooga, Tenn., and his group of 12 golfers found the service, and hired four caddies for their three foursomes as part of a bachelor party weekend in Myrtle Beach in early April.
“If you’re going to do it, do it right,” Shirley said. “It’s a good time. I had a blast with them. I think when it’s a big group like this, put them in and let’s do it. They’re cool girls and they put their guard down. We’ll walk away and have some new friends.”
There are clients Tarmey would just as soon avoid, also. “We have problem golfers that are jerks and are always giving me headaches whenever they come to town,” she said. “I don’t even want to answer their calls.”
The Caddy Girls are bound to be hired by a group that is hoping for more than it is receiving with the service. “My first day was a little scary because the group I had was a little rowdy,” said Lisa Richardson, a three-year Myrtle Beach Caddy Girl. “After I went out the next time I learned it could be a lot more serious and more fun. You learn to control rowdy golfers.”
In the past couple of years, Caddy Girls has expanded to the Northeast with East Coast Caddy Girls based in New York City; Scottsdale, Ariz., which features about 15 girls and was the busiest market this past winter; West Coast including San Diego and Los Angeles; throughout Florida encompassing Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach and other areas; Atlanta, which took off after the Urban Daddy magazine and website did a story on the service; and Las Vegas.
“What happens is people will call me and ask if I have caddies in say Tempe (Ariz.), and I’ll be like, ‘Yeah,’ and then I’ll figure it out,” Tarmey said. “I never say no.”
Many of her Caddy Girls in other markets are relocated CCU grads who worked in Myrtle Beach. Through all the modeling jobs, trade shows and rallies she’s worked – some through the Nopi car shows and competitions – Tarmey has made enough contacts to find interested girls in most markets. She also posts casting calls on sites including Model Mayhem and Craigslist, and acquires resumes and head shots and conducts interviews, sometimes on Skype.
She entrusts a few longtime caddies with booking duties and commissions when she’s too busy, and has added partner Chelsea Olsen, a CCU grad and former Myrtle Beach Caddy Girl who overseas East Coast Caddy Girls and assists with other locations.
Tarmey has purchased a number of website domains including the words “CaddyGirls,” that all bounce to the main thecaddygirls.com site.
The Caddy Girls has spawned the Smart Models modeling agency and Coctail Caddies, a traveling bartender team that has been hired by bars and vendors for numerous events including Mountain Fest in West Virginia and Ocean City Bike Fest in Maryland.
“Basically every single caddie crosses over as a model, and every model crosses over as a caddie,” said Tarmey, who owns and operates all of the businesses. “You have to caddie and you get to do these other fun things if you’re a good caddie.”
Clients hire large groups of Tarmey’s girls for bike rallies, trade shows, and celebrity and charity golf tournaments. Travel expenses are covered on top of pay.
Richardson, who graduated from CCU last May and is attempting to get into grad school for occupational therapy, joined Tarmey’s modeling and bartender teams and traveled to events throughout last summer.
“I’ve definitely reaped any and every benefit from it that I could,” Richardson said. “I’ve gotten to travel a lot and it’s been a lot of fun. There aren’t too many jobs you can go out and have a beer and it’s totally fine.”
Tarmey believes the lure of other modeling and appearance gigs is incentive to act appropriately on the course.
“There are a lot of opportunities. for them so they don’t want to mess up one time on the course and ruin everything,” Tarmey said. “ The amount of money these girls can make in a year with me is more than anyone else who is in Myrtle Beach at that age and in school still.”
Tarmey said there is little competition for trade show opportunities in Myrtle Beach. “There are no agencies here, so when they Google it, it comes to us somehow,” she said.
Tarmey has been promoting The Caddy Girls on radio and Internet shows in the past few months. She was a guest on the Fairways of Life show with John Maginnes and Matt Adams on XM-Sirius Radio; a live Internet show on GolfDirector.com that Tarmey said has about 1 million subscribers; and a Canadian radio show.
TV on horizon
A Caddy Girls reality show doesn’t appear to be a question of if, but when.
Tarmey is awaiting approval of a show on Back9Network that already has footage, and has production companies in waiting if that show doesn’t come to fruition.
“If it doesn’t happen in the next couple months, it’s going to happen,” Tarmey said.
Back9Network was confident enough about the likelihood of its show to bring Tarmey and other caddies to their booth at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in January. It ran clips of its footage and introduced the Caddy Girls as their talent.
Back9Network is a golf lifestyle multiplatform media company and emerging television network that has amassed a number of heavy hitters in the golf industry to be executives and contributors including Clint Eastwood, past PGA of America president Jim Remy and three-time major champion Padraig Harrington.
The company made its online debut in 2012, is near completion of its 13,400-square-foot digital headquarters in Hartford, Conn., and is constructing its state-of-the-art TV studio and video production facility in Hartford.
Rather than televise golf tournaments, Back9Network is focused on more lighthearted and offbeat aspects of the game, including storytelling, personalities, features, fashion, interviews, instruction, travel and gear.
The Stage 3 Productions independent production company out of Philadelphia created three 5- to 8-minute concept presentation reels from three locations for the Back9Network. It filmed Caddy Girls in the Myrtle Beach, Miami and Scottsdale markets, and network executives are expected to choose one location for the reality series.
Tarmey prefers Myrtle Beach because it’s where the business started, is her largest operation and has the most experienced caddies. Stage 3 executive director of original programming Anthony Uro said the show would likely debut as short Web episodes while Back9Network solidifies its place on TV, and he believes executives are leaning toward the Myrtle Beach location.
This is the second time Stage 3 has filmed the Caddy Girls. Uro said the company discovered the Caddy Girls online about four years ago and filmed a full 30-minute pilot for the Oxygen Network, but Oxygen opted not to go through with the series.
“We thought it would be a perfect show for this new network,” Uro said, “so we pitched it to them and they were like, ‘Oh yeah. Here’s some money, go and shoot these reels and we’ll go from there.’
“This really appealed to them. Hopefully it will go to series.”
Filming by a five-person crew in Myrtle Beach took place over two days in December and included four Caddy Girls with a foursome, Lust providing training for new caddies, and the 2013 calendar release party at the Rodeo nightclub.
Tarmey said she has been approached by eight production companies, and Caddy Girls have been filmed six times by three different companies pitching shows to networks.
In addition to Stage 3’s dealings with Oxygen, she said a company from Atlanta filmed with Country Music Television (CMT) and The Learning Channel (TLC) interested, and the E! Network considered a show.
“The president of E! turned it down because he said we weren’t old enough,” Tarmey said. “All the girls were really young and they wanted us to be older. I’m like, ‘That’s dumb. We wouldn’t be older.’ That doesn’t make sense.”
The Caddy Girls concept has made sense to enough people to become a burgeoning business empire.