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Tracking the Evolution of Golf Cars

The 2004 Lido 'Woody' neighborhood electric vehicle decked out to resemble Chrysler PT Cruiser is far cry from the original electric golf carts of the past. Photo courtesy of BobsClassics.com.

Published: 01-Jan-2006

lass=content>THE VILLAGES - When Ken Zalecki first started playing golf in the 1970s, he used a pull cart to haul his gear around the course.

Although motorized golf carts had been around since the 1950s, Zalecki preferred something quieter and perhaps safer, he said.

“They were noisy,” he said of the early gas-powered golf carts. “The brakes were really touchy. They would lock up very easily, and they were just ugly-looking, not attractive at all.”

He was about 20 years old when he drove his first golf cart, and even though it had its undesirable traits, “it was fun to drive,” he admitted.

At that time, he didn't envision the modern-day golf carts, now increasingly being referred to as golf cars, which can be custom made to look and feel like full-size cars, complete with back seats, front wheel disc brakes and radios.

That's a far cry from the small electric vehicles created by Merle Williams during World War II. According to information provided by Villages resident Dave Vanderwall, Williams developed the first electric golf cart, initially created for his wife to use for short trips to the grocery store in an effort to conserve gasoline. It wasn't long before there was a demand for his electric vehicles from the golfing community. Williams founded the Marketeer Company, which produced the first electric car designed for the golf course in 1951.

 

During the next few years, the golf cart market grew. Pargo, Harley-Davidson, E-Z-Go, Melex, Taylor-Dunn and Cushman were among the first golf cart producers. Some were battery-powered, some gas-powered, and the old-fashioned pull carts were still available as well. Many of the early models had just three wheels and would be considered awkward by today's design standards, but by the 1970s, the variety of sizes and styles had grown.

In the mid-1980s, hot rod enthusiasts began the trend of having their golf carts modified to resemble classic cars.

Today, golf cart production is still a growing business. Manufacturers are producing golf cars that are modeled after high-end cars such as Cadillac Escalades.

Vanderwall owns a golf car designed as a modernized version of the 1932 Ford Roadster. The 10-foot long golf car includes a radio, front-wheel brakes and a back seat with an attachment to secure golf bags.

“The original golf carts didn't have all this stuff,” said Vanderwall, who retired from the customer service department of General Motors.

He actually developed a love for the customized golf carts before he ever played golf.

“They ride just great,” he said. “They almost ride like a car. It's fun to drive around and get a reaction from people. It's a great conversation piece.”

Zalecki agreed.

“You don't get the kind of exercise you did with the old-time pull carts, but they're stylish,” he said of the custom-made golf cars. “It's like driving a hot rod. It's just fun.”

Even the simple pull carts have been modernized in recent years, with the advent of remote-controlled carts.

“A lot of younger athletic people like to use the pull cart because you get exercise and you don't have to carry your bag,” said Zalecki. “I preferred the pull cart because I liked getting exercise, but when I got a little older, I liked the comfort of the car.”

While modernized hot rod golf cars are increasing in popularity, there are still golf courses where one can find simpler methods of carrying golf equipment. The Talamore Golf Club in North Carolina, for example, offers golfers the chance to use llamas as caddies.

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