You may not have given much consideration to the golf cart you drive along the course, but these vehicles have a long and exciting history that dates back to the 1930s.
However, early versions did not gain widespread acceptance, and their popularity did not begin to pick up until two decades later when several manufacturers started to develop a broad variety of models. Through the years, these vehicles have undergone significant changes, and today, golfers from around the world enjoy the use of golf carts to carry them and their equipment from hole to hole in comfort and style. Also, they are used as a primary means of transportation is small, exclusive residential communities.
Golf Cart Facts
Although they are popularly referred to as carts, these vehicles are officially labeled as golf cars by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This is because they are self-propelled while carts are pushed or pulled by people, animals or separate motorized vehicles. They are usually made to carry two golfers and their clubs at a maximum speed of 15 mph. Golf car manufacturing is a $7 billion industry, and models range in price from $1,000 to $30,000 depending on the brand and features.
The typical golf cart is 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 6 feet high, and it weighs approximately 950 pounds. The most popular engine is a battery-powered, four-stroke motor with less than ten horsepower. The first motorized carts were electric. Even though gasoline engines produce more power, they have never gained as much popularity as electric models because they are loud and produce unwelcome emissions.
The modern sport of golf originated in Scotland in the 15th century, and for hundreds of years, the course was traditionally walked by golfers with their clubs and equipment carried by caddies. Because tradition is an important aspect of the game, very few changes were made until the 20th century. At this time, the industrial revolution was in full swing and innovations that could make it easier for players began to be accepted.
One of the leading innovations in golf took place in 1932 when Lyman Beecher of Clearwater, Florida, invented a cart for golfers that was pulled by two caddies like a rickshaw. He used this cart at the Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, North Carolina, because his health was poor, and he found it difficult to walk the hilly golf course.
Around the same time, John Keener (J.K.) Wadley, businessman from Arkansas, noted that three-wheeled electric carts were being used in Los Angeles to transport the elderly to grocery stores. Mr. Wadley is said to have purchased one of them for golfing.
Wadley’s use of the electric cart remained unknown to Beecher as he began work on a modified version of his original rickshaw-style cart. He added two wheels to the front and a battery-operated engine, but it was not very efficient and required a total of six car batteries to complete an 18-hole course.
Several other electric golf carts were designed in the 1930s and 1940s, but none of them was widely accepted. In some cases, they were used for elderly or handicapped people who wanted to enjoy the sport, but most golfers remained happy walking the course with their caddies.
The 1950s and 1960s
A surge in golf cart use began in the 1950s after R.J. Jackson, an oil tycoon from Texas, received a U.S. patent for a three-wheeled, gasoline-powered cart dubbed the Arthritis Special. He marketed it toward older, seriously ill and handicapped golfers. Sales were brisk at first, but soon, Jackson found his cart being banned from courses across the country because it was noisy and produced a great deal of smoke.
The company responsible for the golf cart as we know it today is Marketeer, which was founded by Merle Williams in Redlands, California. In 1951, Marketeer began manufacturing what is considered to be the first electric cart designed specifically for golf. By the end of the decade, several other companies emerged to compete in this new industry, but these early carts were expensive, and few people could afford them. Many courses still did not allow the electric carts, and some required players to provide a note from a physician.
Soon, however, golf courses and country clubs realized the revenue potential for electric carts, and they began to rent them to players who could not afford to buy one. By the end of the decade, several new companies emerged to compete with Marketeer, and a few of the most popular of these early cars are as follows:
- E-Z Go – E-Z Go golf cars were introduced in 1954 by Beverly and Billie Dolan in Augusta, Georgia. They were first made in a small machine shop, but today, the company commands a large, state-of-the-art facility and is one of the top golf cart manufacturers in the world.
- Golfmobile – The Golfmobile was first manufactured in the early 1950s by Autoette, Inc. in Long Beach, California. It had three wheels and three gears: two forward and one reverse. There was enough space available for two golfers and their clubs, and it sold for $990. It could complete two 18-hole circuits on one charge.
- Cushman – Cushman had a long history manufacturing electric cars, and the company was known throughout the United States for producing the vehicles of choice for parking meter attendants, often referred to as meter maids. The first Cushman cart for golf included a 36-volt electric motor made by GE.
The 1970s to Today
The growing golf cart industry accelerated even further in the 1970s when cart manufacturers found a new niche off the golf course. The same carts they made for golf courses were now being marketed as a means of transportation in small, closed communities and on islands. Peachtree, Georgia, and The Villages, a retirement center in Florida, are only two examples of communities that are connected via vast networks of golf cart paths.
Although the basic design of golf carts hasn’t changed much, they now include new technology that makes them more durable and safer than ever before. In the 1950s, the average golf cart could only complete 18 to 27 holes on a single charge. In the 1980s, that number rose to five 18-hole circuits, and today, most vehicles will make seven to eight trips around a full course without needing a recharge.