06 Sep Greens Surfing
Think of a mix of skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. Add a lithium-ion battery pack, four turf-tires and a power control system similar to that which drives the infamous Segway, and you have what many in the golf industry say is one of the best new products since soft spikes. The product is GolfBoard and it’s making a major splash on the Central Oregon golf scene.
Created by a group of sports’ world notables led by Bally Fitness World founder and snowboard addict Don Wildman, surfing legend Laird Hamilton and entrepreneur Paul Hodge, GolfBoard was launched in 2014 after several years of intense design and testing. The result is a fun, safe, easy-to-use golf innovation powerful enough to carry a golfer and gear for 18 holes, yet more turf-friendly than the typical electric or gas-powered golf cart.
Taking the leadership reins for GolfBoard is Bend native Jeff Dowell, a 30-year-plus high-tech entrepreneur and former golf club assistant professional. Dowell was recently named as the first president of the Bend-based company, and now is charged with taking GolfBoard forward from its current start-up mode. “In all the start-up ventures I’ve been involved with over the years, I’ve never experienced a new product that has the market pull and offers so much fun and excitement on the golf course as GolfBoard,” he says. Dowell, and many in the golf industry, acknowledge that the game is going through tough times as the younger demographic has opted for outdoor activities that are less expensive and time consuming, and which offer more excitement. Capitalizing on the current popularity of board sports, Dowell believes GolfBoard is perfectly positioned to attract this younger demographic that is critical to the growth of the game. “For this generation that has grown up with board sports, ‘GolfBoarding,’” as Dowell describes it, “speeds up the game while maintaining its traditions.”
For golf course owners, the benefits of GolfBoard are equally intriguing. Its four turf-tires virtually eliminate tire-spin and torn-up turf, reducing course wear and tear. A lithium-ion battery pack is completely contained, requires minimal maintenance and lasts far longer than its lead-acid counterparts. The board is controlled using either a thumb throttle or wireless, handheld remote, with a maximum speed of 10 mph and an automatic parking brake that activates when thumb throttle is released. “We understand that safety and reliable performance are major priorities for golf course owners, so GolfBoard has been designed to optimize safety and ease of use,” Dowell says.
As for cost, the product is currently priced at approximately $6,500, which is comparable with many standard electric or gas-powered golf carts. As for rental costs for the golfer, Dowell explains that, because of its current popularity with users, golf course owners are getting as much as a 20 percent premium over the rental cost for a standard golf cart. (At Tetherow, the cart comes with the greens fees; the GolfBoard is $20 extra.)
Not surprisingly, Central Oregon, with its abundance of quality golf venues, is at the center of GolfBoard’s early success. Tetherow has 30 GolfBoards available, the largest number for any golf course in the country. Also, Aspen Lakes, near Sisters, currently has four boards and expects to add another 12 boards by May 1. All in all, Dowell says more than 100 golf courses in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and as far away as Australia have GolfBoards on-site or on order—a remarkable marketing success given the product has been on the market less than a year.
Looking ahead, Dowell says he expects GolfBoard’s market will continue to expand and eventually, within the next few years, capture the attention of a major golf company as a strategic acquisition opportunity. “GolfBoard can be the perfect complement for an established golf cart company, one that has the strategic vision and resources to take GolfBoard to its full potential,” he adds.
For now, Central Oregonians can count themselves lucky to be among the first to try the most exciting new golf product since soft spikes.
As a golfer, of sorts, and a long-time downhill skier, GolfBoard got my attention. Thanks to Jeff Dowell of GolfBoard, I had the opportunity to test drive a board on the driving range of Bend’s Tetherow golf course on Century Drive. After a five-minute introduction to the thumb throttle and braking system, I set sail down the range with a fair number of herks and jerks, barely avoiding plunging into a sand bunker before eventually getting the feel of the board. While I’m pretty good at walking and chewing gum at the same time, getting used to the thumb throttle and steering with my weight took some doing. The vertical handlebar mount with the thumb throttle helps with steering, but is mostly there for stability. Not unlike skateboarding, snowboarding, or skiing, the key is shifting your weight from side to side, depending on your intended direction.
Like with a golf cart, you won’t get hurt on a GolfBoard unless you recklessly push the limits of the board. While riding a board is more physically demanding than driving a golf cart, it’s not that big of a workout. More importantly, it’s fun, especially after you get the hang of it and can tool your way down the fairway at a cool 10 mph.