Spokane golfers might already be well grounded in decorating their golf cars with accessories ranging from beverage coolers and chrome wheels to portable heaters and custom upholstery, but the newest wrinkle in golf-car gadgetry comes from above.
With the help of satellites orbiting the earth, golfers now can quickly determine the distance to the next green, water hazard, or sand trap, thanks to the addition of global positioning system (GPS) devices that are showing up more frequently now in golf cars.
The devices, say golf-car dealers here, who prefer the term golf car for powered vehicles as opposed to golf cart for units pulled by walking golfers, can be programmed with information about local golf courses, and typically hang down from the roof of the car so that a golfer can see and use them while sitting in a golf cars seat and driving about the course.
Use of GPS devices even has been legalized by the U.S. Golf Association for tournament play, beginning this year, says Ed Sonderman, owner of Northwest Golf Cars Inc., of Spokane Valley. The USGA says the devices can be used to determine the distance to the next green, but not to determine changes in elevation on the course, Sonderman says.
Northwest Golf Cars, which also has a store in Kennewick, Wash., is selling the mounted GPS units for $395, he says, adding that they tend to speed up the game. Sonderman says hes already programmed GPS data for five golf courses here that hes sharing with Northwest Golf Cars customers. He plans to do the same for other local courses as time permits, and says customers also can program the units themselves.
Bill Renz, owner of Spokanes Golf Cars Etc., says his company doesnt install GPS units yet, but is researching hand-held GPS units for possible sale to its customers.
We dont want to sell bells and whistles until we know they work for our customers, he says, but adds that the potential for GPS is great. He says the Circling Raven Golf Club, in Worley, Idaho, which uses in its rental fleet the same Club Car brand golf car he sells, has GPS-enhanced devices in its cars so golfers can measure the distance to the next golfer ahead of them on the course, to check the leader board if in a tournament, and even to order food so its ready at the completion of a round of golf.
Renz says golf cars at resort courses have had GPS units for a while, but such units are just now becoming available to individuals who own golf cars.
The average new golf car ranges in price from about $4,700 to as much as $7,000 and typically seats two people, though some seat four, says Sonderman.
The average refurbished golf car sells for about $3,000, says Luke Tolley, co-owner of Aces E-Z-Go, of Spokane, which specializes in the refurbishing of used golf cars. At an average car-rental fee at a course generally about $25 for a round of golf, buying a car and the accessories needed to haul it$250 for ramps and $950 for a trailerisnt economically viable for most occasional golfers.
Aces E-Z-Go, which also sells new E-Z-Go brand cars; Northwest Golf Cars, which sells Yamaha cars; and Golf Cars Etc., which sells the Club Car line, handle the three top-selling golf-car brands in the U.S., says Sonderman. Each dealership sells at least 220 new and refurbished cars annually, and employs as many as five people in the busy summer months, say owners of the businesses.
People want their cars to stand out, says Tolley, who owns Aces E-Z-Go with his father, Mike Tolley. The dealership paints many of the up to 500 golf cars it refurbishes each year with two-tone paint schemes, and often includes custom striping on the cars. Most of our customers want customization, he says.
Many golfers, says Sonderman, choose to increase the size of their tires, from 8 inches diameter to 10 inches, for a better look and smoother ride. Custom wheels also are popular, dealers say. Common variations include chrome and aluminum-brushed wheels ranging in price from about $550 to $800 for a set of four, Sonderman says.
Another popular add-on is to enclose a golf car completely to protect the rider from rain, wind, and even sunlight. Sonderman says Northwest Golf Cars adds steel-framed canvas enclosures with hinged doors to a car for about $950, and sells propane heaters for about $95 to keep the enclosures warm. With the heaters, the golfers buy small propane refills for about $2 a canister, which will provide enough fuel to heat the car for an entire round of golf. Air conditioning units are also available, but arent popular yet.
Renz says some customers use golf cars as a secondary, economical mode of transportation to traverse trails and visit friends within a neighborhood.
For that reason, he says, a surprising number of cars are being equipped with headlights and horns, at an additional cost of about $320. Others also are now equipped with taillights and turn signals, Renz says.
Other aftermarket additions to golf cars include radios, DVD players, 6-pack or 12-pack beverage coolers, accent oak and plastic veneer trims, bag covers, custom upholstery, custom steering wheels, and both golf ball and golf club washers.
Gas versus electric
Although theres little cost difference between most gas-powered and electric golf cars, easily 90 percent of the golf cars sold at E-Z-Go and Golf Cars Etc. are electric, say Tolley and Renz. Sonderman, on the other hand, says Northwest Golf Cars sales of Yamaha-brand cars is split evenly between gas-powered and electric.
He attributes that to a high percentage of repeat customers whove had gas-powered cars in the past and dont want to change. He adds, however, that gas-powered golf cars have been outlawed in California to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the air.
Renz says cars can be configured to go as fast as 19.4 miles per hour, but no faster without requiring additional, more costly safety features. He says the maximum speed allowed on most golf courses is 15 mph.
He attributes the popularity of electric cars to how quiet they run, and to a popular high-voltage system on many cars that often includes an onboard computer that tracks the cars usage between charges. When ready to recharge the car, its plugged in and the computer does a diagnostic test that usually reduces hand-set recharging times and extends the life of batteries, Renz says.
Contact Rocky Wilson at (509) 344-1264 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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