At this Oregon ranch, goats serve as helpful caddies.

Explore the vast pine forests and winding creeks of Eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains and you’ll find both the rugged and luxurious aspects blend together.

Silvies Valley Ranch serves as a haven for travelers, offering them a taste of the Wild West and, for those who appreciate a good swing, a chance to be caddied by a highly trained team of goats. This innovative concept made its debut in 2018 and Silvie’s owner Dr. Scott Campbell believes his current team is the best to ever do it. The dynamics convinced even the initial skeptics.

“A lot of people called it a foolish idea,” Campbell told CNN. “They thought this would make us look like a ‘goat trail.’ However, the experience is far from that. Everyone is having a good time… People come from all over the world.”

A new task for a well-known species

The origin of this unique practice came from a practical solution. McVeigh’s Gauntlet, a seven-hole challenge course in Silvies, was too steep for golf carts to navigate safely. Since players usually only need a few clubs to play the course, carrying such a load was well within the capabilities of the ranch’s 3,000 grazers. These goats have been transporting cargo for generations, long before golfers installed tees.

“The goats asked for more job opportunities, so we created a new career path for them,” Campbell joked.

The selection process for potential caddies includes assessing their friendliness and physical abilities when they are only six months old. Those who pass the first phase are then fitted with a custom-made golf bag – manufactured by Oregon-based company Seamus Golf – to monitor their comfort level. While the training bag is empty, a full-time caddy’s bag contains six clubs, spare balls and tees, six cans of drinks and their daily wage: a few handfuls of peanuts.

Candidates will undergo a three-month evaluation before starting their new role. They start from about two years old and work three to four days a week in six-hour shifts. A weekly visit from an on-site vet ensures that the caddy hut, located next to the clubhouse and open to visitors all day, is well cared for.

Currently there are eight active caddies – Chunky, Mulligan, Harry, Bogey, Birdie, Charlie, Carrot and Jack – with nine more in training and another ten three-month-old candidates waiting in the wings. The original four caddies were led by pioneering Caddy Master Bruce LeGoat. Jessica LeGoat and Peanut LeGoat are on maternity leave because they just gave birth to triplets. Meanwhile, Bruce and Mike LeChevon retired at the age of eight and now enjoy life as golfer’s pets.

What is striking about this program is that the word ‘retired’ does not mean a permanent transition to the kitchen. Instead, these former caddies can be hired to play golf at the ranch’s nine-hole Chief Egan family course, or even adopted by golfers.

Despite the enthusiasm of some, concerns were raised by animal welfare activists when the program was launched, with arguments such as “goats were never meant to carry golf bags.” However, Campbell emphasized that the caddies are happy with their jobs.

“These goats love to be around people,” he assured. “They want you to give them a peanut. They want to have a good time with you.”

Protect nature

Preserving the diverse ecosystems of the 140,000-acre farm is of paramount importance to Campbell and his team. About 26,000 cubic yards of soil was moved a decade ago during the construction of the two 18-hole link-style championship courses, while standard courses tend to move about 1 to 1.5 million cubic yards of soil.

“We were confident that our work would have the smallest possible environmental footprint when we built it,” said Campbell.

A large nearby well supplies most of the track’s water needs, while sprinkler pumps cover the remaining third. Birdhouses around the fairways provide insect control, so no chemical insecticides are used.

Unlike golfers who expect to see two courses when they arrive at the Silvies clubhouse, they only see one. For the first time, these are reversible courses, following in the footsteps of the iconic Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, which is five centuries old. Reverse course daily, with almost all fairways containing multiple tee grounds leading to “thousands of unique rounds,” according to Silvies’ website.

Another way to reduce the overall carbon footprint is to have employees adapt the grass to heat and drought during the summer season. Sometimes they let the fairways, roughs and greens dry out until the grass goes into a dormant state. After some time, the soil regains moisture and the grass revives.

Goats also take part in the maintenance of these courses, chewing on thistle and gorse found in the brush and outer foliage of the course. Grass is still part of their diet, but weeds these goats actually prefer.

However, not all golf courses with lush natural environments are so fortunate. An Arizona club suffered a damaging interaction with a group of feral pigs last year that cost them about $200,000 in damages.

“Luckily we don’t have wild boars because they are the worst,” Campbell said.

Although pronghorn antelope roam the course, it is the elk, black bears and cougars that are fenced in by a 10-foot barrier that surrounds the fairways.

These animals’ habitats are actively maintained by the Oregon Natural Desert Association, a nonprofit organization financially supported by golfer donations to Silvies’ unique goat caddies.

The track is located 1,500 meters above sea level, with an altitude of approximately 160 meters.

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