The golf cart rental industry is a multi-million dollar business. There are currently around 200 golf course management companies in the United States, and they own more than 7,000 carts total.
Golf cart demand has increased since 2005, as people who previously thought of driving to the club as an option have switched to walking or biking because of high gas prices and environmental concerns. This booming demand has created some major challenges for golf courses across the country. Chief among these challenges is the high price of gas-powered golf carts and the federal and state laws that have created a market for alternative-fuel vehicles.
The price of gas alone typically affects rental prices, but as gas prices have soared to over $4 per gallon in some parts of the country, golf management companies are facing the prospect of paying even more than they did in 2005. In many instances an electric golf cart can replace an internal combustion engine (ICE) golf cart. According to Carlie O'Doherty, author of a recent study by the National Golf Foundation on "Alternative Fuel Opportunities" that compared fuel costs from 26 courses, electric carts can save clubs between $600 and $2,500 per course per year.
While electric carts can be a better option for clubs interested in alternative fuel, it's important to understand the trade-offs involved. When installing an electric cart, some courses convert parking lots from gas pumps to charging stations or install charging stations on golf course grounds. There are a number of drawbacks in switching to electric golf carts. For one, many golfers are accustomed to using a cart when they play nine holes on the weekend and require several charges of the battery for the drive home. Charging stations can be costly–ranging from $450 to $2,000 per site—and there's no guarantee that visitors will make use of them.
That means there are quite a few issues that golf management companies need to consider before they make the switch.
One of the biggest issues is fuel supply. More than 75 percent of golf courses in the US have gas tanks for vehicles, according to one study by John Deere, and that number is likely higher today. Can they afford to maintain those tanks if they don't use them? Can they justify installing more facilities if the price of fuel doubles? What about unplanned maintenance or switchovers from gas to electric for customers who want an alternative? Golf management companies need a plan in place for refueling and maintenance when switching over to electric carts.
Alternatives in fuel options are also important. Electric golf carts are healthier for the environment and offer a less expensive option to gas-powered carts. They do, however, have some drawbacks. Most electric golf carts can travel at speeds up to 15 miles per hour and require a full charge in less than 20 minutes.
The alternative fuel market is growing quickly, but it's not readily available. Still, clubs are looking for ways to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and get the most out of alternative-fuel options when they make the switch. As a result, courses with either hybrid or electric golf carts are seeing enhanced customer satisfaction ratings and higher scores from Golf Digest's "Golf Excellence" program.
In addition to the presidential election and a review of the new USGA handicapping program, there was also discussion about an environmental issue. One of the speakers at the meeting was Tom Davis, a regional land manager for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), who spoke about two initiatives that have been undertaken in recent years to protect golf-related lands.