Local course looks to new golf vehicles to drive business

A Kemptville golf course hopes to ride a new wave of popularity by letting players “surf the turf” on a device described as a cross between a skateboard and a cart.


Last month, eQuinelle Golf Club became just the second course in Canada to introduce the GolfBoard, a battery-powered vehicle that wheels players around the links at speeds of up to 19 km/h. The club is leasing four of the gadgets for the season to see how the market responds.
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So far, so good, said Rob Knights, vice-president of golf operations and business development for eQuinelle’s owner, TMSI Sports Management.

“They’re a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s just a different way of getting around the golf course. It might bring that casual golfer or somebody who doesn’t really play a lot of golf out more often. At the same time, myself and other die-hard golfers love them. The feedback’s been very good so far.”

Users drive the one-person vehicles while standing up, controlling their speed with a handheld device and steering them by rocking back and forth. Proponents say they are easy to use and feel similar to skateboards or snowboards.

One of the device’s inventors, Miami businessman Don Wildman, recently told a British newspaper he hopes the GolfBoard does for golf what “snowboarding did for skiing.”

Mr. Knights agreed the vehicles, which debuted to much fanfare at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, might give the flagging golf industry a much-needed boost in popularity among millennials.

“I think it will help to generate some interest,” he said, adding the GolfBoard also speeds up play. “We’ve seen it here already – these boards are going out all the time every day. Some of the staff here that have tried them, they’re like, ‘I don’t even play golf, but I’d play golf just to use the board.’ I think it could have a similar kind of impact that the snowboard had on skiing. It gives a different demographic a reason to come out.”

But not everyone is ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet.

Mike Copeland, general manager of Ottawa’s Pine View Golf Course, said his club also considered leasing some of the trendy devices. However, he decided the cost just didn’t make sense in a region with such a short golf season.

“At a lower price point, they would be appealing,” he said. “It doesn’t fit our pricing model at this time.”

That price tag – a GolfBoard costs nearly $7,000 to buy, as opposed to about $5,000 for a cart, Mr. Copeland said – means courses charge golfers a premium to rent the vehicles. At eQuinelle, for example, golfers must shell out $25 each to play 18 holes while riding a GolfBoard, compared with $17 for a two-passenger cart.

“Generally, junior golfers, you’re trying to get them on the course at a reasonable rate, so do their parents really want to fork out extra for the GolfBoard?” Mr. Copeland said. “It’s a bit of a tough sell. I could see getting a few of them for their uniqueness, (but) they’re never going to replace the golf cart.”

Still, Mr. Knights said an industry that has struggled to stay relevant among younger generations needs to do whatever it can to attract new customers.

To that end, some local courses – including Kanata’s Thunderbird Sports Centre, another TMSI property – have already tried innovations such as wider cups and FootGolf, a blend of soccer and golf, in an effort to boost declining revenues.

Mr. Knights believes the GolfBoard will also help.

“I think it’s more than just a passing fad,” he said. “I think this is something that will be around for a while. There’s a lot of golf courses that I know are hurting, especially in this area, because we have more golf courses than the population can really support. Golf courses have to be willing to try different things, I think, to bring people out and make the game more fun.”

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