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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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Van Rooyen continues links run with impressive 67

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:27 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For Erik van Rooyen familiarity has not bred contempt.

The South African, like many European Tour players, has been on a links golf odyssey the last three weeks, playing the Irish Open, Scottish Open and this week’s Open Championship in consecutive weeks, and the crash course paid off on Day 1 at Carnoustie when he opened with a 4-under 67 to assure himself a spot among the early leaders.

Although van Rooyen missed the cut last week just down the coast at Gullane Golf Club, he entered the final round in Ireland with a four-stroke lead.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I didn't pull it off the final day,” said van Rooyen, who closed with a 74 to tie for fourth place. “I still think I played pretty well. I was nervous. That's completely normal, and I'll learn how to deal with that. I'll take that experience into tournaments like this.”

Van Rooyen, who was alone in second place when he completed his round, began his round with back-to-back birdies and was bogey-free until the last hole. It was just what one would expect from a player who has immersed himself in links golf for the better part of a month.

“We've been playing nice golf now the last three weeks, so definitely used to the way this course is playing, definitely used to handling the wind,” he said. “So I'll be ready.”

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Vegas helicopters in to Carnoustie, without clubs

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 9:33 am

Jhonattan Vegas did some range work, putted a little and strolled to the first tee for his 5:31 a.m. ET start in the 147th Open Championship.

Everything before that, however, was far from routine.

Vegas' visa to travel to Scotland expired and the process to renew it got delayed - and it looked like his overseas' flight might suffer the same fate. Vegas, upon getting his visa updated, traveled from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland, and then took a helicopter to Carnoustie.

He arrived in time on Thursday morning, but his clubs did not. Mizuno put together some irons for him and TaylorMade got him his preferred metal woods. He hit the clubs for the first time on the range, less than 90 minutes before his start.

"I'm going to go out there and play with freedom," Vegas told Golf Channel's Todd Lewis.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM ( Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (