Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Golf Boom Here Fuels Golf Car Business
By Kelly Hill

Often taken for granted by players, the golf car is essential to the efficient operation, and bottom line, of every golf course.

Here are a couple of questions for players: Which of the industry's three leading manufacturers produced the last golf car you rode in? Was that car gasoline or electrically powered? For most of us, the answers to those questions are trivial. If a car moves when I step on the accelerator, stops when I press the brake, turns when I ask it to and has enough room for my clubs, why should I care who made it or what powers it?

Course owners and managers, however, know about golf cars for a variety of reasons. They care about their cars, perhaps because their average player does not.

Here are a couple or questions for course managers: How many of your players would complain about slow play if you had no cars? How much income would be lost if you had no cars?

We're not asking that you spend more time considering your next golf car than you do considering how to correct your next slice. Just know that the golf car industry is constantly changing and the management at your favorite course has spent a lot of time considering your comfort and convenience. As such, here's an update on what's new with the golf car industry in Michigan and the U.S.

CLUB CAR

Dubbed the Exclusive Golf Car Supplier for PGA Golf Properties, Inc., Club Car, Inc. is located in Augusta, GA and is a subsidiary of Ingersoll-Rand. Club Car's newest additions to the golf car market include the PowerDrive System 48 and a unitized Tranquility power train design.

Introduced in September of last year, the Club Car 1997 DS Gasoline Car features the Tranquility power train design which is intended to make a vehicle operate quieter, smoother and safer. This product enhancement is a by-product of the transaxle design similar to that found in modern automotive technology. This design, a Club Car exclusive, combines transmission and drive units on a single platform, where the transaxle is bolted to the back of the engine block. The result is a stronger, unitized assembly consisting of 69 fewer parts. Those fewer parts mean an improved ride because of reduced vibration.

"Quiet is critical of gas golf car customers," said Michael Harris, Club Car's vice president of sales and marketing. Our original Tranquility golf car was the quietest when we introduced it in 1992. Now we've made it even quieter."

The '97 PowerDrive System 48 is a 48-volt battery system found on Club Car's electric models. The system is available in the original PowerDrive 48 or the PowerDrive Plus that features regenerative braking.

"Tests show Club Car is the most energy efficient electric golf car in the industry," said Chuck Fain the company's vice president for design engineering. "The key is in the unique combination of the exclusive onboard computer and our 48-volt battery system."

While Club Car in Augusta constantly works on new innovations, Michigan Club Car emphasizes an old axiom. "The basics of this industry are service, service, service," said Michigan Club Car's Mark McAlpine. "The continuing story is the new courses. That is the story for the entire golf industry.

"Our role is sales," McAlpine continued. "Things are going very well for 115. We have been very happy with the response of customers to our products."

Club Car's Michigan customers, however, are different than those in other parts of the country. "Michigan is different from Florida and California markets," McAlpine noted, "in the sense that ours is seasonal, so cars are not used year-round, so (Michigan) customers keep their cars longer."

E-Z-GO

Billed as "The No. 1 Golf Car in the World," E-Z-GO is also headquartered in Augusta and is a division of Textron, Inc. The creator of Solid State Energy Control and DriveControl System have helped E-Z-GO's TXT become the No. I selling golf car in the world.

Introduced by E-Z-GO in 1988, the Solid State Energy Control revived the electric golf car market. This control significantly improves electric car efficiency and range. Last year, Solid State Energy Controls became standard equipment on all E-Z-GO electric cars.

Unveiled in January of 1995, E-Z-GO's DriveControl System introduced the industry to regenerative braking. This system senses when a car reaches a predetermined downhill speed, slows the car to less than 15 miles per hour and channels energy back to the batteries.

Early last month, the 1998 models began rolling off the assembly line at E-Z-GO's 600,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Augusta. The TXT, introduced two years ago, features the unique Thermoplastic Elastomer DuraShield body produced by Textron Automotive Company, the largest injection molder in North America.

Gasoline-powered E-Z-GO cars are driven by the industry's only twin-cylinder, overhead cam engine, the QuietDrive engine. A 295 cc, nine-horsepower, air-cooled engine, it features a counter-rotating balance shaft.

"Things are going very, very well," said George Brophy, who joined the E-Z-GO staff in January. "From what I have seen so far, Michigan is a fantastic market," Brophy said. "The number of cars continues to grow."

Brophy moved to Michigan from Kansas City where golf can be played 12 months each year. "The business cycle is different here," Brophy admitted, "because of geographics, but customers are the same."

YAMAHA

Based in Newman, GA, Yamaha USA Golf Car group entered the U.S. golf industry in 1978 and opened its golf car manufacturing plant in 1988. The current line of Yamaha golf cars includes the G-16 Ultima electric and gasoline cars, the G-19 48V electric car and the G-11 Yamahauler.

The 36-volt G-16 Electric Ultima is driven by the first speed controller in the industry that was designed and manufactured specifically for use on a golf course. The gas version of this model features a 10-horsepower engine with an air-cooled muffler which significantly reduces emissions.

The Yamaha Ultima 48-volt electric car reportedly provides more hill-climbing performance than any other electric car on the market yet it draws less energy from its batteries than a typical 36-volt car. This car's charger system regulates the current and the voltage output of the charger, thereby eliminating under or overcharged batteries.

"Things have picked up slightly because of all of the new courses that have opened up," said Mike Boylan of Boylan Sales and Service, an authorized Michigan Yamaha dealer. "For about the last three years, Michigan led the nation in new courses being built and new courses mean more golf cars."

Boylan noted that the golf car industry's Big Three all profit from different sectors within the state of Michigan. "In certain parts of the state we are pretty strong," Boylan said. "Club Car is strong in the Detroit area and E-Z-GO is strong more in the central part of the state. We are strong in the west and up north and that's where most of the new courses are being built. We are holding our own and there are a lot of courses that are still in the process of being built."


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