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Golf car makers look for new ways to succeed in changing business

Posted: April 15, 2014 - 11:12pm
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Otis Rivers helps assemble a new Club Car Carry All 500 utility vehicle at the Club Car facility in Evans.      Photos by Michael Holahan
Photos by Michael Holahan
Otis Rivers helps assemble a new Club Car Carry All 500 utility vehicle at the Club Car facility in Evans.

In the aftermath of the recession, the area’s golf car manufacturers have found ways to make money by making more electric vehicles with purposes other than golf – street-legal variants, utility carts and transportation for outdoorsmen.

But with the recession five years in the rearview mirror, the golf business is again inching upward.

“In the last 18 months, the golf course operations have been doing better,” said Randy Marquardt, Club Car’s vice president of global marketing. “It is a more stable environment.”

Holleran said the demographics of golfers is changing, where it seems to be even with new players replacing those leaving the game.

In 2013, there were more golf course closures in North America than courses opening. It’s a trend that has been going on for almost a decade.

“It’s anyone’s guess how long that trend will continue. It’s been eight consecutive years. Most of us in the industry would say that the correction is necessary. There is still an oversupply relative to participation and rounds played,” said Kevin Holleran, president of E-Z-GO.

According to data from the National Golf Foundation, there was a net reduction of 143 golf courses last year.

That’s 157 courses closing with 14 new ones opening. While the game is shrinking in the U.S., it is growing in other parts of the world.

Internationally, there are some golf courses opening, which offsets what is happening in the U.S., Holleran said. The game is growing in Southeast Asia, South America and some pockets in Europe.

“Announcing golf as an Olympic sport, debuting in 2016, down in Brazil does have excitement,” he said.

“The emergence of some course development down in that region is capitalizing on that swell of excitement that comes from the announcement.”

Helping customers make a competitive advantage to gain business from its competitors is at the core of an idea Club Car has embraced.

“The growth for us in golf won’t be new golf courses,” Marquardt explained.

“It is figuring out how you can be a bigger piece of what they do operationally.”

Club Car is concentrating on how technology can play a bigger role in golf course owners’ management tools. About 400 courses in the world use its Visage golf information system, Marquardt said.

It underwent a price-model change, allowing more than just the elite golf courses to have the system.

This year, Club Car launched a new version of its Precendent golf car that integrates the car in the communications system via a mounted touch screen.

For the golfer, there is course information. For the golf course owner, there is data and control.

“It’s a connected car. It’s connected to the clubhouse. There will come a day where we can stream live football games on it, advertisements,” said Marc Dufour, Club Car’s president
and chief executive officer.

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