"Don't tell me your name, I can guess it," says Bill. His name is stitched on his navy blue windbreaker. He pushes his Oakleys up to his forehead, cocks his head and squints.
"Weren't you in pigtails yesterday?" he asks. "Pigtails darling, come over here. There are some people I want you to meet." The quest for my true identity abandoned, I trot loyally behind. Get out of the cart--you get better tips when you stand up. Gesturing to the two carts pulling up to the 11th tee, Oakley Bill punctures the air with his index finger, ticking off monosyllabic names: John, Dave, Kev, Hank, Steve. "And this is my son," he says, pointing to the gangly teenager fumbling with his golf bag, "and this is my dad," a gray-haired gent with a mustache. "Why don't you give me four Crown-and-Cokes," says Oakley Bill. "We're three generations of Crown drinkers. You know how they say, 'When you're bad, you're good'?" I nod. I have no idea what he's talking about.
"Well, Pigtails, this group is b-a-a-a-a-d!"
Always laugh at their jokes, even if they're not funny.
"I'm staying where the Sheraton used to be," Oakley Bill continues. "Why don't you stop by around 8 o'clock tonight, Pigtails--I'm in Room 603." I look from Oakley Bill to his son to his father and back, half-expecting him to ask if I also do retirement parties and filial deflowerings.
"Don't worry, Pigtails," says Oakley Bill. "I'm the only one in Room 603." Smile, ask if they want any beers for the cooler, and find out if they'll be replaying.
"That's $11," I chirp. He hands me $15 and winks.
Smile again. Wave. On to the 10th tee.
I decided to spend three days training as a cart girl because there are only so many iconic roles a woman can try on for size, and supermodel, nurse and nun were out. Myrtle Beach isn't just golf's most popular town; it's also the main hub of Hooters Air, so it seemed only right that I fly the airline that purports to "put the fun back in flying."
On board, passengers are tended to by chesty young women in skimpy orange shorts and skin-tight tank tops with the words delightfully tacky yet unrefined printed on the back. Officially, the Hooters girls aren't flight attendants. "We're here to mingle, flirt and play trivia games," says Jackie, a 21-year-old blonde who's been a Hooters girl for three years.
Maybe it's because half the passengers are women or maybe they're focused on their golf games, but the men are well behaved, if boisterous and drinking on the early side. Aside from two heavyset men who want their pictures taken with Jackie and her co-workers, no one pays the girls too much mind.
In my three days on the job, it became apparent that the role of beverage cart girl has as much to do with beverages as being a Hooters girl has to do with owls. There are no prerequisites. No golf knowledge needed. Waitressing or bartending experience preferred but not required. Even men can apply, though no one has ever heard of such a thing.
I asked three women with a total of 20 years experience flirting with men in madras shorts for the basics of beverage carting.
Rule No. 1: "Pretty sells more," said Sandi Bobo, beverage cart manager at Wild Wing Plantation, a petite woman with dirty-blonde hair and tan skin. "That's one thing I look for when I'm hiring."
|When talking to cart girls, always:|
|1. Make eye contact. The eyes are the first thing you should look at, not the last. You know who you are.|
|2. Offer pleasantries. It's always nice to hear, "Hi there, how are you doing today?" It makes us feel more like a human and less like a cooler with breasts.|
|3. Buy something. Even a bottle of water or peanut butter crackers makes a difference to our inventory and by extension our salesmanship and by extension our good standing with our manager.|
|4. Remember our names. Yep, that's us, the same girls you saw nine holes ago. If you're going to ask us to visit your hotel room, it's the least you can do.|
|5. Tip. Think of us as waitresses on wheels--except we put up with a lot more petting, squeezing and bad jokes. A few dollars is always welcome.|
|And please, please don't:|
|1. Pretend you don't see us. If you're not hungry or thirsty, a simple, "We're good, thanks," is a polite form of rejection.|
|2. Give us sugary pet names. "Baby," "Dollface," "Sweetheart"--you're not Humphrey Bogart, and we're not your moll.|
|3. Ask for our phone number, e-mail address or what time we get off. This is especially true if you're more than 10 years north of us. We're here to mix drinks, get some sun and make some cash--not meet our soul mate. Or bed mate.|
|4. Make us wait Time is money. We shouldn't have to sit there while your group putts out or tees off before you tell us you don't want anything.|
|5. Try to buy us drinks from our own cart. We're good, thanks.|
Rule No. 3: Be sweet as pie. "The nicer you are, the more tips you get," says Judy Davis, beverage cart attendant at the upscale Myrtle Beach National. "And let me tell you, it never hurts to call them Honey, especially the Northern boys. They just love it when you call them Honey."
The unarticulated rule is that for 18 holes, the beverage cart girl is everything real girls never are. She is pretty, friendly and sweet. She doesn't make unnecessary noise. She speaks when spoken to. She laughs at bad jokes. She has beers at the ready. And then she disappears until she's needed again.
My first morning out, with the sun high and our cart freshly cleaned and fully stocked, the mood is ripe to make some cash. Sandi and I soon strike beverage cart gold: 12 guys from North Carolina on vacation.
"You brought me a woman!" Meet Hal, a tall 40-something with a wiry red mustache and a toothy grin. "Hell, that's all I need from you today, Sandi." Hal throws his arm over my shoulders and squeezes me into his chest.
"Sweetheart, my friends call me Hal, but you can call me anything you like. I'll take two Bloody Marys and two Miller Lites for the cooler." Sandi goes to the back of the cart to fill his order. Meanwhile, Hal is stroking the top of my head--we've grown close quickly. As a few of his friends order Crown-and-Cokes, Hal squeezes my hand and makes introductions. Be sweet as pie. Be sweet as pie. I gently disentangle myself and hand out the rest of the drinks. Once the transaction is complete, it's a smack on the ass, and back to the cart. "See you on the back end, darling!" Counting the minutes, Hal. He hands me a $4 tip--and his room key, which I drop back in his cart on the sly.
"They're all harmless," Sandi says. "In 13 years, I only know of one guy drinking too much and getting out of hand. Most of them just want to flirt and drink and have a good time. The vast majority are really nice, good guys." Driving alongside the fairway, Sandi pulls the cart off to the side and parks it. "Someone's teeing off up there," she whispers. "Never pull the cart up when they're teeing off--they'll blame you for a bad shot."
As morning becomes afternoon, Bloody Marys become Southern Comfort and ginger ales. "When it's cold, they usually want Kahlua and coffee," says Sandi. We arrive at the 16th hole as four men with white hair and loud polos walk off the green.
"Are you new here?" one asks. Sandi answers for me: "This is Danielle--she's my trainee."
"Danielle, I can tell you're going to be a great cart girl," says the man. And how can you tell that, I ask Gramps with a smile.
"Pretty face, long legs--damn, girl, you're going to give an old man a heart attack!" Smile, laugh, some peanuts maybe? Erase image of a 75-year-old man ogling your legs.
After their rounds, many golfers retire to Broadway at the Beach, a 350-acre complex of stores, bars and restaurants, including such tourist draws as Stool Pigeons and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. And here's the weird thing: Men who were most likely rubbing up against cart girls just a few hours earlier are quiet as altar boys inside the bars. They sit in small groups with a few pitchers, occasionally try to make the waitress laugh, and that's it. No playful nicknames. No room-key handouts. Not even a friendly shoulder squeeze. It's as if golf has humbled them. Or maybe they're just saving their flirtatious energy for tomorrow's round.
I'm driving around the Legends with Janelle Jeffrey, an attractive 33-year-old with wavy, shoulder-length mahogany hair and long, dark eyelashes. "Hey there," coos a freckled man with baby cheeks and a Virginia Crew hat at the ninth hole. "The starter said we were going to have a hot cart girl today." Crew man walks over. Janelle smiles, then laughs, then jumps out of the cart. She's a pro--hawking Heineken, crackers, even a few bottles of water that Crew didn't know he needed.
"The regulars and the members are the only ones who don't drink on the course," Janelle tells me once she's back in the driver's seat. "And they're the only ones who never ask any of us out."
I ask if she's ever had to cut someone off.
"A few times," she says. "The thing is, you want the guys to have a few drinks and have a good time, but you don't want them too drunk or they forget to tip. If I have to cut someone off, I'll say, 'Look, do you really want to have to explain it to your wife when you wreck a cart?' That usually works."
|Golfer profiles: A field guide.|
|15-year-old male |
Wears Baggy golf shirt with Dad's company logo
Also in cart Nintendo Gameboy, Snickers wrappers
|25-year-old male |
Wears Sweat-stained baseball hat, torn .golf glove
Orders Miller Lite, .cheddar cheese crackers
Also in cart Second-hand golf clubs, fraternity brother
|35-year-old male |
Wears Dockers, "Four Seasons, Jupiter" golf shirt
Orders Heineken and a Gatorade
Also in cart "Four Seasons, Maui" golf bag
|45-year-old male |
Wears Pink golf shirt, polished shoes, wedding band
Orders Two Crown-and-Cokes and anything with rum
Also in cart Divorce papers, little black book
|60-year-old male |
Wears Baseball hat from son's college
Orders Bloody Mary, peanuts
Also in cart Camera, newspaper
|80-year-old male |
Wears Polyester pants worn at the rib cage, Veterans association bucket hat
Orders "Just a pretty smile, Sweetheart"
Also in cart Heart medicine
|42-year-old female |
Wears Starched and pleated khakis, navy visor
Orders Nothing, Thank you
Also in cart Cell phone, handbag, rulebook
"Next time you see me, Sweetheart, you'll call me Daddy, right?" When you can't think of anything nice to say, smile and nod, smile and nod. Meanwhile, Red's friend calls over to me, "Hey gorgeous! How about you marry me?"
"How would your wife feel about that?" I yell back, pointing to the gold band on his finger. Smiling, always smiling. He looks down at his hand, mock-startled. "How the hell did that get there?" Deborah and I are back in the cart and on the move. Always leave 'em laughing.
The cart girl's currency is friendliness; the golfer's currency is tips. The rules are well established: The more you joke around, the more fun golfers have, and the more fun they have, the more they tip.
Demographics also play a role. "When you get a guy with that New York brawl in his voice, it's like 'Yes! I'm going to get a good tip from this one,' " says a cart girl who asked not to be identified for fear, I suppose, of being labeled a geographist. "A 20-percent tip is just standard to them. Generally, you can tell what kind of tip you're going to get from a mile away." Translation: College boys order a fair amount and tip OK but never make eye contact. Middle-aged men are the heaviest drinkers, biggest flirts and good tippers. Men over 60 don't order too much but always tip well and flirt shamelessly. And the few women golfers rarely buy, tip or even acknowledge the beverage cart attendant.
"It's a strange world out on the course," Sandi says during our last round together. "There's no rejection. We don't reject them, their jokes, their flirting. And they're certainly not rejecting us. We all respect the line, and we never cross it. Do they ask for my phone number? Every day. Do I give it to them? Not once in 13 years."
The thing i've learned about golf courses is that there's an understanding that no one is watching. No wives, no bosses. The only judgments to be made are about someone's drive. "It's a special relationship," says Sandi. "It's built on just enjoying yourself and joking around. And it works--golfers just love seeing that cart pull around the corner."