How can clubs take members and guests to the next level of enhanced golfing experiences? The answer may be parked right in front of them.
Sometimes, philosophers like to remind us, the journey can be as enjoyable as the destination. With ever-improving golf car technology, the same can be true on a trip from tee to green.
Reliability and performance are clearly rated by course managers and operators as the most important features for a fleet of cars at a golf property. However, while they cannot straighten out a slice or drop a putt into the bottom of the cup, extra bells and whistles on today’s new breed of golf cars can do a lot to improve a golfer’s experience on the course, too. And while golfers may not recognize exactly what’s “different” or “better,” a ride that’s smooth, comfortable, worry-free —and even fun on its own, separate from the golfing—can be the key to getting them to come back for repeat excursions.
SUMMING IT UP
• Golf cars hold a key to enhanced experiences that will make players of all levels come back again.
Will It Get Me There? And Back?
Golfers generally have a single expectation when it comes to carts, club managers feel.
“People expect a golf cart, like a [rental] car, to be in good shape,” says Craig Sasada, Director of Golf at Poipu Bay Golf Course, an 18-hole resort property in Koloa, Hawaii.
Extras like steel rims or padded steering wheels can enhance golf cars’ appearance and make rides more enjoyable. Then there are the add-ons that just make good sense, such as canopies that channel rainwater off the back of the car through a downspout, and behind-the-seat storage baskets or compartments. The 72-car fleet at Sable Oaks Golf Club, an 18-hole public facility in S. Portland, Maine, also features windshields and back flaps.
“Golfers will go out and play in the rain if they can stay dry and keep their clubs dry,” notes Roger Densmore, Sable Oaks’ General Manager and Head Professional.
The 60-car fleet at Yellowstone Country Club in Billings, Mont., features windshields as well.
“When it’s cold, driving down that fairway, keeping that wind off you makes a huge difference,” notes Bob Eames, Director of Golf at the 18-hole private facility.
The golf cars at his course also feature ball washers and club cleaners as a courtesy to the members, Eames adds—and these features have a side benefit for pace of play as well. “They’re able to clean their balls and clubs as they play,” he notes.
Homing In on the Fun
Global positioning systems (GPS) have become another increasingly common golf car feature that is proving to be helpful
for enhancing the golfing experience, and not only because of how it can give the most serious golfers more precise yardage to the pin. The technology is also helping to improve pace of play and make the game more enjoyable for players of all levels, simply by taking a lot of the mystery out of how to navigate around the course.
“Instead of looking for markers on the course, you just look at the screen,” notes Sasada of Poipu Bay, which has had GPS on its cars since the 1990s.
A communications consultant for a leading golf car manufacturer agrees that the role of GPS is changing. “It’s become not so much a golfer amenity as a golf course management tool,” he says.
GPS lets course personnel know where their golf cars are at all times, he points out. The system can map out environmentally protected areas that are out-of-bounds to a golf car, and serve as a two-way communications tool.
“You can send messages to a certain person if you know which cart they’re on. You can send warnings,” agrees Sasada. And, as many properties have profitably discovered, golfers can use GPS to order food at the end of their rounds, and have it waiting for them when they arrive at the 19th hole.
However, Sasada also cautions against adding too many amenities to golf cars. “You only can put so much on the cart,” he notes. “You can’t put too much weight and contraptions on it. The more weight you have, the more power you need.”
Powering a New Trend
More and more properties have converted their golf car fleets from gas to electric in the last 10 years, the industry consultant reports. About 70 percent of one leading manufacturer’s golf course customers now have electric cars, he says.
“The electric technology has gotten a lot better in the last decade,” he notes.
In addition, he reveals, staff at hilly, mountainous properties once thought they needed gas cars to get over the ups and downs on a course. Now, however, improved electric cars have the power and capability to not only climb hills more smoothly and reliably, but also to brake and stop better on the downside.
Sable Oaks has had its current fleet of electric golf cars since 2005.
“The maintenance is pretty easy. There’s not as much that can go wrong with them,” reports Densmore. That leads to double savings, he adds, not only through more cost-efficient maintenance, but also through a lack of downtime. “Every day a cart sits is revenue lost,” he explains.
Golfers also appreciate the “quiet factor” of electric cars, he adds, and he likes how each golf car can run for 36 to 54 holes on a charge.
Yellowstone has had only electric golf cars throughout its 50-year history. Automatic chargers, which shut off when carts are charged, are key to the upkeep of the batteries, says Eames.
Sasada agrees, adding that the automatic switches for the Hawaii resort’s fleet of 97 electric cars save energy.
Tapping Another Market
Some facilities, including Poipu Bay, have added single-rider or adaptive golf cars to their fleets, so they can be available to seniors or disabled golfers.
The special cars feature hand controls, seat harnesses and stand-up seats that raise and swivel, to allow golfers with limited mobility to swing from seated or standing positions.
This accommodation is particularly important for a resort property, says Sasada. “You need everything accessible for people with disabilities, and that was just a small part to do,” he notes.
While the adaptive cars are allowed on greens, he adds, they must be kept on cart paths during inclement weather, for safety reasons.
Leaning to Leasing
Poipu Bay leases its electric golf cars, while Yellowstone purchases its fleet for four-year cycles. “We had leased our
previous fleet,” Densmore reports from Sable Oaks. “We purchased [our current] fleet, for cost-effective reasons.”
As these reports indicate, the lease-or-buy decision hinges on individual needs. The trend has leaned toward leasing in the last decade, with about 60 percent of one leading manufacturer’s customers now leasing their fleets, according to the consultant. The recent spate of large capital projects such as clubhouse and course renovations has led to more leasing, as a way to keep other expenses down, he notes.
You Don’t Want to Hear About It
Not every “bonus” feature on golf cars works out as planned. Sable Oaks equipped its golf cars with divot bottles at one time, Dinsmore reports,
but discontinued the practice because golfers didn’t use the dirt and seed to replace divots, and grass started growing in the bottles.
Still, industry experts expect electric golf car technology to continue to improve, with more efficient battery systems that will extend the range and use of a fleet.
And while property personnel say they usually get little input from golfers about their golf cars, the potential to extend the operational time of electric cars should be welcome news.
“Only when one doesn’t make it back—that’s when we get a lot of ‘feedback,’ ” says Yellowstone CC’s Bob Eames.
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