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The Golf Cart Is Here for Good
Alfred Wright
December 14, 1959
It brought the game to the elderly and infirm, and at Palm Springs it has started a whole new way of life
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December 14, 1959

The Golf Cart Is Here For Good

It brought the game to the elderly and infirm, and at Palm Springs it has started a whole new way of life

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The elderly people of Palm Springs were understandably delighted with the carts, and it wasn't long before their enthusiasm was shared by many of their able-bodied juniors who went around explaining that that way they could play more golf in a day. Nowadays, with the cart as common as it is in Palm Springs, it is taken as a matter of course that a player will ride one and no explanations are needed. Claude Harmon put the case for the cart as well as anyone when he said, "The most important element in a person's life today is time. Every hour you spend on golf you must take away from something else. It may take as much as four and a half to five hours to play a full round of golf on a crowded course. If everyone uses carts you can shave this by an hour and a quarter or an hour and a half. You can even play 36 holes in one day if you want."


By as early as 1955, the cart population of Palm Springs was in the hundreds. Local residents still note with pride that there were 206 carts following the Ryder Cup matches at Thunderbird that year, and hardly a soul who was there will ever forget the awesome sight of this motorized audience swarming down a fairway like one of Hitler's Panzer divisions invading Poland. So far, no one has seriously disputed the claim that this was the world record for the largest number of golf carts ever operated on one course at one time, but it must be remembered that golf carting is so new that its statistics are kept rather haphazardly.

Inasmuch as everyone in Palm Springs insists that the golf cart is here to stay, traditionalists and those who are still devoted to the ideal of physical fitness might just as well stop fretting and look at the bright side of the picture. For instance, golf carts make money. Although privately owned carts account for nearly half of those in the Palm Springs area, most courses are not partial to them, and some, like the new Indian Wells Club and the new public course, would like to ban them completely. For the fact of the matter is that each golf cart in the rental fleet at a course is capable of earning as much as $700 during a five-to six-month season. It works like this. The going rate for a cart rental for 18 holes is $7 or $7.50. A course that knows its prospective trade and thus is not overstocked with carts can figure to rent each of them at least 150 times a year for a gross of better than $1,000 per cart. A good golf cart nowadays costs about $1,200 new and has a life expectancy of five years if properly maintained During that time it will need only one new set of the six-volt, 170-ampere batteries that power its one-to 1½-horsepower motor (the batteries must be recharged after every round of golf at a cost of about 56 for juice). A good cartman is capable of maintaining and servicing about 50 carts, and his wages should run to about $400 a month—or roughly 30¢ a day per cart. Adding it all up, a cart will gross around $5,000 during its lifetime, and it will cost about $1,500 to purchase and maintain it during that period. Hence the profit of $700 a year. Anyone can quickly see what this means to a club like Tamarisk, whose 61 rental carts represent the biggest rental fleet in Palm Springs.


However, it is only natural in the world of cartifacts that plenty of people should want to own their own. Man's pride in his carriage, which is almost as old as the wheel itself, has a pronounced manifestation in the golf cart—and particularly at Thunderbird, where there are 165 privately owned carts housed in the Thunder-bird Buggy Stable, a wood and cinder-block shack out behind the clubhouse kitchen. There you can see enough cart varieties to satisfy a Heinz. Two partners in a Plymouth agency have fashioned special rear ends on their carts to resemble the hind end of a Plymouth Fury—tail fins, spare-tire housing and all. Many private-cart owners favor gaggy nicknames like Lagniappe or Jambon, which they paint on the front or rear of the machine. One owner, getting right to the heart of the matter, has painted on his cart: "Let's Play Faster!!!" Bandleader Phil Harris and his favorite golfing partner, Milt Hicks, had a built-in bar and ice chest, to say nothing of a radio, in the cart they owned jointly just prior to their present one; also, a bottle of bourbon was painted on the side where Harris liked to sit and a bottle of gin on Hicks's side. Everyone who knows them got the point. Most private carts, however, simply settle for some pedestrian identification like the owner's name or nickname or initials.

The brand names of the carts are legion—Autoette, Turf Rider, Golf-mobile, Golf Pony, Marketeer and Taylorcar, to name a few—but their variations are not conspicuous. Most of them seat two people side by side and have an open compartment behind the seat for carrying two golf bags. They generally have one floor pedal for a single-speed throttle, another for the brake, and a hand lever for switching from forward to reverse. Just about all of them have a tiller for steering the single front wheel and are geared to travel about 8 mph. Above and beyond the basic cart it is possible to get extras worth hundreds of dollars, such as a radio, a top, a collapsible top, a top with a white-tasseled fringe, a cigarette lighter, headlights, chromium trimmings, a windshield to fend off bugs and the cold evening air, and terry-cloth seat covers that won't overheat in the sun.

Naturally, the private-cart owner cannot be sure he will always be playing on the same golf course, particularly at Palm Springs, where it is not unusual for one person to belong to several golf clubs within a few miles of one another. So some cart owners have cart trailers they can attach to the rear of their automobiles. Then there is the status-happy type who will maintain a cart at each of his clubs; and perhaps another one at home to take him back and forth to the golf house if, like so many of the new Palm Springs resorters, his house is built somewhere on the club premises. A man named McCulloch, who once manufactured a very fine singleseater cart but abandoned the project when he found he couldn't sell it for less than $800, actually keeps five of these little carts at one of his clubs and four at another for the convenience of his guests.

The single most famous cart now in existence belongs to President Eisenhower. It is a Turf Rider IV, a $1,385 fiber-glass job which the experts almost unanimously rate as the Cadillac of golf carts. All the Palm Springs golf clubs combined to give this cart to Eisenhower while he was vacationing among them last October. It has a cigarette lighter and a radio and a fringed top, and eventually inscribed in dignified lettering on the front are the words "Our President." Ike liked it so much he took it home to Gettysburg with him.

A golfer who finds himself playing in a cart for the first time may discover that for all its comfort it is a mixed blessing. For one thing, a cart lends itself to irrelevant social chatter, and before he knows it the golfer has arrived at his ball and is about to hit a shot to which he hasn't given sufficient advance thought; in other words, his concentration is likely to suffer grievously. Another problem is the meandering cart driver who will dump you off some distance from your ball and then head for his own while you try to decide whether to hit your shot with the wrong club or delay the whole foursome by testily demanding that he bring your clubs back. Nor are injuries unknown to cart riders. Ankles have been instantly snapped when a careless rider has let his spikes trail outside the cart, and rattled drivers have been known to plunge into ravines and come up badly bloodied. Many clubs now demand that carters sign a form releasing the club from all liability, and in at least one case where these forms have been broadly and carelessly drawn up, the carters out playing golf could be held legally liable for almost any catastrophe that happened to anyone within five miles of the clubhouse.

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