Push carts aren't the only mode of golf transportation gaining in popularity during the coronavirus era.
When states started issuing strict cart mandates, only allowing one rider per cart or no carts at all, to meet social distancing guidelines, it opened the door for alternative vehicles to make a move. Single-rider transports like GolfBoards and Finn Scooters have been on the fringes of the game ever since the GolfBoard launched six years ago. Both operators and golfers might finally be more accepting of these upstart modes of transportation.
GolfBoard President Jeff Dowell said business the past two months has been a "landslide." Currently, there are approximately 3,000 GolfBoards at 300 courses nationwide. He believes new business this year will grow sales 50 to 100 percent.
"This could be a game changer for us," he said. "When you say individual rider, the first thing that comes to people's mind is the GolfBoard. We are hoping that this is the tipping point (for acceptance)."
The rise of single riders
Single riders make a lot of sense in today's climate. Golfers can ride without fear of getting too close to their playing partners or worry about sharing touch points. There's no plastic shield necessary to separate cart partners. Drivers can stay as far away from people as they feel comfortable.
Finn Scooters, which launched last year, are also experiencing a boost. Ed Kowachek, the president of Sun Mountain Motor Sports, the creator of Finn Cycles, said business has more than doubled the last 6-8 weeks. Courses had leased roughly 300 Finn Cycles by the end of 2019. He expects more than 1,500 to be available at courses by the end of the year.
"We now have a financing option for courses to buy Finn Cycles, and we’re seeing a growing trend of courses opting for this financing option," Kowachek said. "More than half of courses that have taken delivery in 2020 are on the lease program but the financing option has definitely increased the number of purchasers. And, we’re seeing courses that leased Finn Cycles in 2019, adding more to their fleet in 2020 and deciding to purchase."
I've ridden the GolfBoard at least three times and they're great fun as long as you have some natural balance and enjoy surfing, skiing and/or skateboarding. There's a learning curve, though, and they can be difficult for beginners to steer, especially on hilly terrain or missing curbs on cart paths.
Tetherow, a popular resort in Bend, Oregon, has long been a hotbed for GolfBoards, but Finn Scooters are gaining steam. Nicole Ward, Tetherow's golf shop manager/merchandiser, said the resort offers a fleet of 12 Finn Scooters as rentals and that at least 12 members bought one once they tried it.
"They're fast. They're quick," she said. "They're easy to learn. They're easy to jump on out there and have a good time."
Westin Kierland in Scottsdale, Ariz., is also an industry leader in single transports. I rode the Ellwee, a sort of golf ATV, during a round last year. It offers golf bikes and the motorcycle-like TurfRider.
Dowell said many operators don't have room in their cart barns to order more carts, so they are turning to GolfBoards, which take up less space. He added that operators also like the single-rider transports because they don't cause as much wear-and-tear on the turf.
"One operator I talked to said 'I looked out to the first tee and saw 12 carts, four by the green, four in the fairway and four at the first tee. That's just ripping the pieces out of the place'," Dowell said.
GolfBoards and Finn Scooters are light enough that riders are allowed to park them near the greens at Tetherow, instead of driving the golf cart to the path. That speeds up play.
"Their footprint is smaller," Ward said. "There's not much impact on turf."
The future of alternative golf transportation: Fad or Trend?
The question is, how will long will golfers stick with single transports once cart restrictions are lifted? Is this a COVID-19 fad or a long-term trend?
Price is perhaps the biggest obstacle for the staying power of alternative modes of transportation. Ward admitted there will likely always be an up charge to rent one. A golf cart is included in Tetherow's green fee, but riding a GolfBoard or Finn Scooter costs $20 more. Unless you buy your own, of course. Both Dowell and Kowachek said direct sales to individuals is also on the rise during the pandemic. Finn Scooters cost $3,500+ and GolfBoards run $6,500-$7,500.
"We may live under these guidelines for a while, so long that it (single-rider transports) may become the norm," Dowell said. "Once people realize how safe and fun they are, it may change the industry."
How likely are you to try and adopt using single-rider transports should they come to your course? Let us know in the comments below.