SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Westin Kierland Resort has a reputation for offering out of the ordinary: Air conditioning on the golf carts, bagpipes at sunset, virtual surfing (Flowrider), the best Scotch whiskey collection in the Southwest and Segways as an option instead of golf carts for players who like a little adventure with their golf.
Segways, of course, aren't for everybody, but the Westin Kierland Golf Club didn't stop there. Having seen the new Golf Bikes (www.thegolfbike.com) at the PGA Merchandise Show recently, the resort ordered up a couple of foursomes. By late April, they had two with more on the way.
Like the Segways, they leave very little footprint on the golf course because of their smaller, wide-profile tires, and they're also good for speed of play. But unlike the Segways, of course, golfers have to provide their own power. And that adds a new element to the sport.
Golf as a workout
Last weekend, I got to try the $800 Golf Bike, a custom-made bicycle with two saddle golf bags over the rear tire to distribute the weight evenly. The golf bags have pockets for balls, tees and other stuff you might want to carry.
As you might imagine, doing this in June in the Valley of the Sun has its challenges. So I gave it a try with Nancy Dickens, a former superintendent and now club manager pro at Troon-operated Kierland Golf Club. We were joined by Director of Golf Pete Treyve, who used one the resort's golf Segways to move him and his equipment around the course. The odd threesome drew lots of interest from other golfers.
We started at 7:30 a.m., but even then it was approaching 90 degrees. (But, hey, it's a dry heat.) By the time we were done around 11:30, it was triple digits, but we had survived, having downed about two gallons of water and sports drinks.
Treyve pointed out correctly that Segways aren't without effort as well. After all, you are standing during the entire round, and there is some physical exertion in balancing and steering the Segway, much like you'd have with a motorized trail bike.
But let's not kid ourselves: Segway vs. Golf Bike in the Arizona heat is no contest. There are 27 holes at Kierland Golf Club, the Acacia, Mesquite and Ironwood. Fortunately, we started with the hilliest, the Acacia nine. The design of this Scott Miller course is very friendly to golfers. Hit the ball left or right, and if it's not too wild, the slopes on the side will direct the ball to the fairway -- great for drives, not so great for bikes. Because getting back up the hills takes quite a bit of pedal power.
There are also some elevated tees, and even on the cart paths, climbing up to them on the bikes is a workout. Fortunately, these well-built machines have an excellent transmission, meaning it's easy to shift down to make those hills manageable.
At one point, Treyve asked us if pedaling the course affected our game. Both Dickens and I agreed that there were times we got on the tee box a little jelly-legged, but for the most part, we couldn't use it as an excuse for any bogeys on the course. I'm sure that after doing this a few times, leg fatigue would not be a factor.
Genesis of the Golf Bike
The Westin Kierland is one of the first golf facilities in the country to offer the Golf Bike, a new product developed by a company that already specialized in performance bikes. The first Golf Bike was delivered to Vinoy Renaissance Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., back in March, not far from the Higher Ground Bicycle Co. in Tallahassee.
Todd May is the founder and CEO of the company. He developed the Golf Bike by combining his love for mountain biking and golf. Since he debuted it at the PGA Merchandise Show, he has received interest from all over the world, not only from clubs looking to add them to their fleet of golf course vehicles but from individual golfers who have expressed an interest in riding the bikes from their homes to the golf courses.
Of course, not all golf courses will let individual Golf Bike owners do that, but as they become more commonplace, that might change.
Undoubtedly these bikes will get some tweaks. I was surprised that they didn't come with water bottle holders, standard on most serious bikes. The kickstand also needs work, perhaps a wider platform to make the bikes more stable when you get off of them to hit a shot. They also need a receptacle for sand bottles, but these modifications shouldn't be difficult.
And riding these is a little different than your normal bike. In the short orientation before rounds, the staff advises golfers that they can't swing their legs over the seat, which is how most people get on a bike, because the clubs are in the way. You have to step into the bike over the low bar in the middle, which isn't very difficult. As for what to wear, Kierland Golf Club still requires golf attire but might be a little more liberal with shirts, for example. A pair of the new athletic golf shoes without aggressive spikes is the way to go.
Kierland Golf Club not stopping with Segways and Golf Bikes
I think this is a shot in the arm for golf; and by the way, Kierland Golf Club isn't stopping with Segways and Golf Bikes. In the next couple of weeks, the resort will be adding Golfboards as an option. Yep, these motorized giant skateboards, influenced by world-class surfer Laird Hamilton, will let you traverse the course like a snowboarder. Talk about combining two sports.
But back to the bikes: I especially like the idea of the Golf Bikes on flatter courses. It's good for pace of play, provides real exercise (golf with a motorized golf cart is almost useless in the exercise department), and it might just attract a new breed of golfer to the game. I'm just surprised nobody thought of this sooner.