A Better Drive

By Pete Wofford
Today, in a slower golf economy, the trend of who drives the best on the golf course is no longer reserved for tee shots with oversized titanium drivers, but now includes the golf car and who drives the best from tee to greens. In fact the golf car is a booming industry, not from the club manager’s perspective but in the custom golf car marketplace. Now the best driver includes custom golf cars that offer versatility, from the homeowner’s driveway to the clubhouse with all the features often found in your combustion burning multi-geared automobile.
Although the golf industry-supported research groups and foundations admit they don’t track the amount of golf cars in play (or growth or trends), independent marketing firms from outside golf have produced a few outreaching reports.
“While the new fleet golf car [for golf course use] market remains flat, the robust growth is in the personal transportation segment and especially so to in the light and heavy-duty utility segments,” said Dr. Stephen Metzger, a managing director of International Market Solutions. “Further, due to the tight golf course market, the number of used golf cars coming off lease programs will not be sufficient to provide the number of vehicles required for this growing market.”
Metzger’s study projects that new vehicle production will be needed to fill this void, and he suggests new manufacturing facilities may be needed to accommodate this expanding customer base. And the newest manufacturer’s of golf cars are from China, Japan and Southeast Asia, targeting the U.S. market like the automobile industry with lighter, more user-friendly and more affordable golf cars. The implied message is that the way the automobile industry in Detroit is struggling, “heads-up” to Augusta, Ga. (home to Club Car and E-Z-Go golf cars), the competition is not across the street but outside the borders.
Basically the golf car terminology is being replaced with Small, Task-Oriented Vehicle (STOV), or more commonly known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV). STOV products may be powered by gas, diesel or a battery pack. They range from the common golf car and related golf carbased utility vehicles with cargo beds or extra seats and also encompass the heavy-duty, off-road, side-byside vehicles, including the beefy 4-wheel drive UTV products.
An NEV is technically defined as a “Low Speed Vehicle” (LSV) by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard as a vehicle: (a) that is 4-wheeled, (b) with a top attainable speed in 1 mile of more than 20 mph and not more than 25 mph on a paved level surface, and (c) with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of less than 2,500 pounds.
“Oh, the golf car industry is upside down from 20 years ago,” agreed Linda Hoffman, co-owner of Tucson’s Golf Cars of Arizona. “It used to be 80 percent of golf cars were fleet or green grass golf course driven and featured simple comforts to help the golfer. Today, the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) golf car manufacturers are limited to growth in a golf course downsizing, belt-tightening economy, and instead the aftermarket custom golf car business is booming with customers anxiously awaiting delivery.”
Ironically Hoffman figures the economy is driving business. No longer is the golf car simply a means for playing golf quickly, but instead an answer to economical issues (gas-saving), environment issues (no fuel burning exhaust), politically correct issues and an answer to planned gated community issues that encourage a slower, retired lifestyle. “The real estate market is keeping us busy with golf car garages that include inhome designs and dedicated 20 amp plugs for ease in maintenance,” added Hoffman.
The custom golf car industry as a whole is enjoying growth, but the aftermarket independent representative, in particular, is targeting non-golfers as well. “We offer a variety of golf car, NEVs such as the Cadillac Escalade, Hummer and even the Roadster that appeal to anybody, not just golfer’s,” said Rusty Jacobson, Service Manager at Classi Carts, Tucson. “Customers come in with a variety of requests, and just like adding features to your personal car from the rims to the paint color, we try to do it all.”
The cost of a custom golf car can range from a minimum pre-owned rebuilt model at $2,500 to a showroom Mercedes quality $18,000. “The baby boomer-generation will really have impact on supply and demand, and pricing,” said Ray Hoogenraad of California-based American Custom Golf Car. “Plus the international golf car is proving to be competitive in quality and price.”
So, when it comes to the best drive in golf, relax and buy a better drive. Remember it’s the journey between tees and greens that makes the final destination worthwhile.