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March 2019

Maybe You Can Reinvent the Wheel

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By Scott Kauffman

On the eve of this year’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, the 17th Annual PGA Show Demo Day at Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge looked like so many other Demo Days of winter’s past. The weather was sunny and picturesque as PGA Professionals pounded ball after ball and tested the latest golf equipment, training gadgets and anything else that could fit in a golf bag.

Indeed, other than the glaring omission of major equipment manufacturer TaylorMade Golf, Orange County’s acclaimed 42-acre circular practice facility appeared to be its usual Demo Day self as more than 100 golf retailers and thousands of shoppers mingled amongst 200 hitting bays, multiple putting greens, a vendor village and test track.

Yet, beyond the usual hitting and putting activity, there was a discernible difference about this year’s outdoor extravaganza: the wheels. Wheels as in all the innovative new vehicles beginning to creep into the golf business and hopefully attract new consumers to the game.

Front and center at this year’s event was GolfBoard Inc., the Bend, Oregon-based company enticing golfers to “surf the earth” more in future rounds by using their four-wheeled, surfboard-like standup vehicle. Around the corner, off the No. 2 Putting Green was upstart Arizona company Phat Scooters LLC, showcasing the new Phat Golf high-handlebar motorcycle (think Easy Riders meet Easy Golfers).

Then, back around the bend in the new Test Track area was a collection of catchy new contraptions to ride or use on the course:  Sun Mountain Motor Sports Inc. of Missoula, Montana, was displaying their version of a new motorcycle mode of transportation; Golf Skate Caddy of Pompano Beach, Florida, got attention with another four-wheeled standup vehicle option; and Club Car caught the attention of many with its new Tempo Walk, a slick new three-wheeled R2D2-like device that follows golfers on their stroll through the course – bag in tow.

In the five years since GolfBoard president Jeff Dowell made a PGA Merchandise splash with his very nontraditional vehicle, the company has grown its market penetration to an estimated 3,000 units worldwide at 300-some courses. Tetherow Resort, a resort-style community in Bend where GolfBoard shares an office, has 36 boards itself and rents them out year-round.

“We make it funner and faster,” Dowell says. “(Golf’s) got to be funner, faster and cheaper (for the next generation). If we don’t evolve, 10-15 years from now it’ll be a ghost town.”

So, slowly but surely, golf in its ever so conservative way is starting to look quite different these days in respect to the course experience itself. And Club Car, one of the game’s long-standing golf cart institutions, is embracing this change with all its corporate might and energy from Shark Experience in-car entertainment systems powered by Verizon to Tempo Walk.

Back at the Test Track, Golf Skate Caddy had a big truck parked behind the vehicles with a huge billboard stating: “The Future of Golf is Here.” Fred Palmer, Club Car’s longtime vice president of golf business development and industry relations, couldn’t agree more, saying his company’s content-rich TV screens and tech-driven Tempo Walk vehicles are by no means passing fads.

“We’re invested in technology as a company with everything we’re doing from the Shark Experience, our deal with Verizon and Greg Norman, to our whole Visage Fleet Management system. … to Tempo Walk,” Palmer added. “All these things, if you really you think about it, they’re all technological amenities to get people either interested in the game or keep them in the game. So, it’s really all about the experience.”

It’s a golf experience that’s starting to look a lot different these days — one new innovative wheel at a time.

Scott Kauffman is a golf business writer and the managing director of Aloha Media Group, and is regular technology columnist for Golf Business. You can contact him with tech news at iwritegolf@gmail.com.

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