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Ex-caddies turn meat into millions

By Al TaysMarch 4, 2018, 2:00 am

Most golf careers start out going in the same direction – with eager, talented young men and women headed down the path toward becoming a touring pro. But the game is overflowing with would-be touring pros, and only the best of the best can stay on that path. The rest have to find a new path.

This is the story of Blair Swiler and Dennis Riedel and their new path, one that took them from being players to being caddies to being the creators of a $100 million business.

One. Hundred. Million. Dollars. That was their projected retail sales for 2017.

Says Swiler, “I like to call it ‘bags to riches.’”

The “bags” of that slogan were ordinary plastic sandwich bags. Swiler would fill a few with jerky, made from his own family recipe – his dad owned and operated a restaurant – and brought them to the golf course as snacks for his caddying rounds. He’d bring enough for his player to have some, too, as well as any other players and caddies in his group. Most everyone who tried it loved it, and word got around.

Skip ahead to the present. Chef’s Cut – yes, he’s a real chef – Real Jerky is sold as a snack food at about 1,000 golf clubs nationwide, with more coming aboard virtually every day.

Swiler, 58, hails from the northern Wisconsin town of Hayward, which, he points out, is coincidentally only about 20 miles from the headquarters of the “800-pound gorilla” of the jerky industry, Jack Link’s, in Minong. Growing up, Swiler learned to play golf at Hayward Golf Club. He became good enough to play at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, then walked on at Arizona State. But a case of the yips steered him toward a career pursuing his second love, cooking.

He became a chef, working at high-end and historic venues such as the private suites at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minneapolis Golf Club and the St. Paul Hotel. But a combination of smoking and work-related stress and weight gain resulted in his having a heart attack. His wife insisted he get out of the restaurant business. He turned his focus back to golf, this time becoming a caddie. He and his wife moved to Florida and he began looping at Calusa Pines, a very private, invitation-only club in Naples. It was there that he met Riedel.

Actress Olivia Munn and Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller are investors in Chef's Cut Real Jerky.

Riedel, 38, grew up in Michigan, played golf at Michigan State and got as far as mini-tours in Florida before he realized that he wasn’t going to make his living as a touring pro. He, too, went the caddie route, becoming acquainted with Swiler and the jerky he always seemed to have with him. In the summer of 2009, Riedel went to New Jersey to caddie at Bayonne Golf Club, a then-3-year-old links course with spectacular views of New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline.

At Bayonne, Riedel spread the gospel of jerky among members and caddies, and the reaction was similar to what he had seen in Florida. People were jonesing for jerky. Having persuaded Swiler – “pestered” is probably a more accurate word, or perhaps “badgered,” which has the added advantage of being a nod to Swiler’s Wisconsin roots – to show him how to make the meat treats, Riedel secured permission to use one of the club’s kitchens to produce it. The club sold ziplock bags of the jerky at its halfway house for $9. Riedel soon joined him, and they set about trying to meet the ever-increasing demand for their product.

“When we first started we were literally going through 100 bags a day at first and then 200 bags,” Riedel recalls. “We looped and made jerky day and night.”

Not that they needed it, but with every round they caddied, they came across indisputable evidence of their jerky’s popularity – the trash can at the 11th tee was constantly full of empty, discarded jerky bags.

The network of caddies familiar with their jerky stretched literally across the United States. In Los Angeles at tony Bel-Air Country Club, one caddie happened to be carrying for Rohan Oza, a venture capitalist and veteran of the beverage and snack food industries. The jerky story came up in conversation, as it had so many times before. Only this time, the person hearing it had the resources to do something about it.

Swiler: “Rohan called us and said ‘Meet me at my loft in Tribeca.’” When they got there, they were blown away by the view. Oza was blown away by the jerky. He wanted in.

Today, the company’s investors include former Boston Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller and actress Olivia Munn. Their jerky, which includes chicken, turkey and bacon in addition to the original steak, is now sold at Costco, Safeway, Kroger and 7-Eleven stores. The estimated 1,000 golf clubs that carry the jerky include Pebble Beach, Bel-Air and Pinehurst.

“I think there’s always been a stigma behind jerky that it’s a redneck gas station product,” Riedel said. “People don’t realize that it’s actually a really healthy high protein snack and it’s perfect for on the course. We saw a void in the golf industry that wasn’t being filled and we went right after it.”

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Watch: All of Tiger's Rd. 3 birdies at The Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 3:20 pm

Tiger Woods started the third round of The Open at even par, having made seven birdies and seven bogeys over the first 36 holes at Carnoustie.

Following three pars to start on Saturday, Woods went on a birdie binge.

No. 1 came with this putt at the par-4 fourth.

No. 2 with this two-putt at the par-5 sixth.

No. 3 thanks to this 30-footer at the par-4 ninth.

No. 4 after nearly jarring his approach shot on the par-4 10th.

No. 5 when he almost drove the green at the par-4 11th and two-putted, from just off the green, from 95 feet.

And No. 6, which gave him a share of the lead, came courtesy another two-putt at the par-5 14th.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 21, 2018, 2:15 pm

Tiger Woods, in search of his 15th career major championship title, started the weekend six off the lead at Carnoustie. We're tracking him in Round 3 of The Open.

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Rose's Saturday 64 matches Carnoustie Open record

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 1:03 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose needed to sink a 14-foot putt on the final hole Friday just to make the cut on the number at The Open.

Freewheeling when he came to the course Saturday, Rose tied the lowest score ever recorded in an Open at Carnoustie.

Entering the weekend nine shots off the lead, the world No. 3 carded a bogey-free, 7-under 64 to at least make things interesting. It won’t be known for several hours how many shots Rose will be behind, but his back-nine 30 gives him an opportunity, if the wind blows 25 mph Sunday as forecast, to challenge the leaders.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

After all, Paul Lawrie was 10 shots back entering the final round here in 1999.

“I think the birdie on 18 last night freed me up, and I’m just very happy to be out on this golf course and not down the road somewhere else this morning,” said Rose, who is at 4-under 209. “So that might have been part of the shift in mindset today. I had nothing to lose from that point of view.”

Rose’s 64 matched Steve Stricker and Richard Green’s record score at Carnoustie (2007).

It also was Rose’s career-low round in a major.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 12:20 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Saturday, Day 3 (Times ET)

4:30-7AM (Watch): Sunny skies and birdies were on the menu early in Round 3, as Justin Rose made his way around Carnoustie in 64 strokes. Click here or on the image below to watch.

Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)

8:20AM-3PM (Watch): As the skies cleared on Friday afternoon, defending champion Jordan Spieth made a run to try and regain the claret jug. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

1:30-8:20AM (Watch): On a rainy Friday morning at Carnoustie, Rory McIlroy shot 69 to reach 4 under, while Zach Johnson fired a 67 for the early lead. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter and Cameron Smith.

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.