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August 2020

Golf Bikes Hit A Sweet Spot

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Social Distancing On Two Wheels
By Steve Eubanks

Timing might not be everything, but it plays an important role in whether a product or service soars or flounders. Remember Prodigy, the online shopping and information service that was a joint venture between IBM and Sears? The PC-based service was, in essence, Google and Amazon rolled into one. The only problem was, it was launched in 1984, the year the first Mac came out and long before anyone outside of a few college professors had ever heard of the internet.

Golf bikes might well have suffered the same fate. Launched two years ago as part of the ongoing effort to speed up play and attract millennials to the royal and ancient game, the fat-tired motorcycles with front-mounted holsters for golf bags looked for all the world like the game’s latest novelty – more “pet rock” than permanent addition.

Then the coronavirus hit, along with its social-distancing requirements. Just like that, a vehicle that would allow golfers to get around the course quickly, efficiently and alone became one of the hottest items on the market. And once people tried the bikes, they realized that they were more than just a toy for the pseudo Easy Rider.

“I saw them at the PGA Merchandise Show a couple of years ago,” said Kelly Miller, the CEO of Pine Needles and Mid Pines resorts in Southern Pines, North Carolina. “At that time, they still had a few kinks they needed to work out.” 

There is more than one model. Miller, who is the son-in-law of World Golf Hall of Fame member and longtime Pine Needles owner Peggy Kirk Bell, kept his eye on the FinnCycle, created by Sun Mountain and named after Sun Mountain founder and CEO Rick Reimer’s dog.

“The salesman brought them by last fall, and I saw that they had done their homework and made some improvements in the bike,” Miller said. “And I thought it was the right time to try something. Obviously, this was before any of the (shutdowns or social-distancing requirements) happened and I said, ‘Why not?’

“A friend of mine who teaches entrepreneurship (at the University of North Carolina) in Chapel Hill, has told me numerous times that if you want to stay ahead in business you need to look at kids coming out of college and what they want,” Miller said. “The challenge in golf, of course, is mixing in what (the younger generation) wants without offending the traditionalists and long-time guests. Things like music (on the golf carts) are just one example. I wasn’t a big music guy but playing with my son and son-in-law, they’re always listening to music, so guess what, I found out that I enjoy listening to music.”

That experience led Miller to dip a toe into the golf-bike market.

“We started going out with the bike a little bit in January and February and people kind of liked them,” he said. “Then, of course, with what happened (with coronavirus) and the social distancing, the response has been incredible, especially as more people have seen them.

“We started out with four (bikes), quickly went to eight and now we’re at 16 and looking to get more.”

Unlike golf boards, another novelty single-user item intended to make golf more attractive to millennials, golf cycles require no more skill than riding a bicycle. They have electric motors, they speed up gradually (no wheelies that can get away from you) and the tires are fat enough that it would be difficult to fall off.

“It’s a little faster than a (traditional two-person golf) cart,” Miller said. “You’re on it alone. It’s lighter than a cart so that the rules are, keep it off the greens and out of the bunkers and you can pretty much get around everywhere else. And they’re relatively safe. We tried the golf boards for a little while and, truthfully, that requires some skill. You turn them by leaning, which can be difficult. Almost everybody can ride the bikes. It’s really simple, really enjoyable.

“It’s not for everybody, I get that,” Miller admitted. “Some people still don’t like seeing them out there. But I can tell you from first-hand experience that from a pace-of-play standpoint, it’s amazing the impact they’ve had. I went out (with a friend) and we were the first out for a casual round and played (18 holes) in right at 2 hours.

“We’ve got eight at Pine Needles and eight at Mid-Pines. Our staff enjoys riding them back and forth (across the street between the clubs). 
“Now, you’re not going to see them at Cypress Point or Seminole or Pine Valley,” Miller said. “But there are places where they not only fit but are a great addition to the business – resort operations, places where you have young people, or a place where players don’t mind trying out new things. I think there are a lot of applications.”


 

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