In these troubled times, I’m sure the same question is on all of our minds:
“Just where the heck did golf carts come from?”
Well, the first things you could call golf carts appeared in 1932. The first was the Beecher Rickshaw, invented by Lyman Beecher so that he could continue to play golf despite his poor health. It was originally designed to be pulled by two caddies, and the caddies hated his guts for it. They would not put up with that nonsense, so Lyman invented an electric version. It was very inefficient and required six car batteries to make it through all 18 holes, but it worked well enough that he used it all the way up until about 1960, when it got stuck in a sand trap and fell over, causing him to break his arm and quit golf.
Also in 1932, a man named John Keener decided to use an electric cart originally designed for the disabled as a golf cart, and apparently it did not work out very well for him. However, he is often credited as the first person to use an electric cart on a golf course.
From this point forward, there were lots of different electric and gas carts on the market for purposes such as mobility for the disabled or shopping cars for housewives, and during WWII the popularity of electric carts increased due to gas rationing.
Every now and then, a person would see one and think, “What if this, but for golf?”, and try to take it on the golf course. It usually did not work out well for them, and pretty soon these people and their carts were despised by the serious golf community. The carts were seen as a nuisance, and their drivers as idiots. It was not going to be easy for golf carts to gain acceptance. However, the idea had succeeded in capturing the imagination of numerous entrepreneurs.
The first golf cart actually designed and marketed as a golf cart was the 1951 Marketeer. Merle Williams, the company’s founder, had gained experience building electric vehicles during WWII, and he used that knowledge to start a company building those vehicles soon after.
The Marketeer and other similar early golf carts were not without their problems, however. Several golf courses bought fleets of them as rental vehicles (although some of them required you to show a doctor’s note before being allowed to rent one), only to discover that the crappy battery technology of the time made getting through all 18 holes on a single charge quite challenging. Dead, abandoned golf carts became a common sight around the last few holes. Not only that, but the technology to stop charging the battery once it was fully charged had not been invented yet, so the carts had to be monitored by an attendant while charging to prevent the batteries from boiling. Gas carts were considered as a solution, but they were seen as too obnoxiously loud and unreliable. Despite all this, the Marketeer was a success, and several other companies wanted a slice of the pie.
By 1954, Two other companies, EZ-Go and LEKTRO, had begun making golf carts.
In 1955, Cushman joined in with their Golfster, and in 1957, the first gas-powered golf cart, the Walker Executive, came out.
It was considered a decent solution to the range problems electric carts were having, but as battery technology improved, he decided to pursue other things and sold the patents and rights in 1963 to Salina, Ks group. In all, about 1,000 of them were built.
In 1958, Club Car started making golf carts, and after changing hands several times over the years, by 1978 the company had been bought by one of the two brothers who had started EZ-GO. The two brothers had had a falling out, and as a result, EZ-GO and Club car had a bitter rivalry for many years.
In the 1960's, The Flagmaster golf cart, based on the design of the Tripco Tee-birdie, became the first to feature electronically-controlled acceleration. Which would’ve been impressive, except that it often caused the Flagmaster to accelerate uncontrollably and/or burst into flames. Flaming, runaway golf carts were not a good look, and the company didn’t last long.
By 1963, even Harley Davidson was making golf carts!
By the 1970's, both gas and electric carts were common, and several small communities, such as Peachtree, Georgia and islands began using them as transportation. Companies even started branching out and making more variations on the golf cart design for other uses. And with that, the golf cart was here to stay!