If You Don’t Use Them to Play Golf, Are They Still “Golf” Carts?

Dan Morse at the Washington Post has written a light feature story about the spread of golf carts as a mode of transportation, typically in retirement communities but also in small towns and suburban subdivisions. The story doesn’t reach any profound conclusions, but there is some interesting data embedded within it.

As many as 40,000 of the 200,000 golf carts built each year are used for purposes other than golf. In other words, they’re used for local transportation as an alternative to the automobile. Some people are using them to cruise around subdivision streets. With a top speed of 18 m.p.h., they generally are not used to travel any great distance.

In Colonial Beach, a Virginia town on the Potomac River, carts have been street-legal since 2002. There are now an estimated 400 golf cart owners in town.

In the winter, riders can enclose the sides of carts with thick curtains akin to soft convertible tops and warm the inside of carts with a propane heater that fits into the drink holder. On Saturday, up to 25 Colonial Beach residents are expected to climb into their carts for an annual holiday parade, following Santa in their carts. This follows a golf cart scavenger hunt earlier in the year.

Very cute. But there are serious questions: (1) To what extent can golf carts substitute for automobiles on a large scale, (2) to what extent can they ameliorate the ills of an autocentric society such as pollution and traffic congestion, and (3) what can local authorities do to encourage their use in a socially utilitarian manner?

If golf carts simply substituted for cars on short trips, using the same roads and parking spaces, I don’t see how they could make much difference… Indeed, limited to 18 m.p.h., they might make matters worse by slowing traffic. However, if carts could utilize trails and bike paths used mainly for recreation rather than providing access, they might alleviate some congestion. Also, if bike/jogging/cart paths are added to provide connectivity in places where you can’t build a road — between cul de sac subdivisions, for instance, or through parks and/or school grounds — they could provide inexpensive options not currently available.

It would be helpful to know more about how people and communities are using the carts.

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8 responses to “If You Don’t Use Them to Play Golf, Are They Still “Golf” Carts?”

  1. E M Risse Avatar

    Why can citizens not learn from the past, or even recall what we did in the past that was better than we are doing now. See Soft Consumption Paths at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com.

    In the early 70s Peachtree City, south of Hartsfield in the Atlanta New Urban Region, was designed by RBA with golf cart paths that allowed residents to reach the Planned New Communities’ houses, jobs, services, recreation (including golf) and amenities.

    The community was designed before I became Sr VP for Planning and Design at RBA but we supervised implementation for several years.

    The 70s were also when we designed Overhills.


  2. I take this as evidence we really don’t need 300 HP vehicles for a lot of trips.

    But as Waldo points out 18 MPH is a considerable speed in the city, better even than some Metro trips, and about half the usual rush hour speed on many roadways.

    But if we use a lot of smaller vehicles we will need to separate them from the behemouth and 18 wheelers, and much of this will come at additional cost.

    I think there is tremendous potential here, as it is, some of my local roads are barely suitable for golf carts. But remember, many of these are powered by small gas engines, which are prolific polluters in need of serieous improvement, even though much has been done in recent years.

  3. I have a friend that lives in Peachtree City, and he does do grocery store and other local trips via the golf cart.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I call this the “parallel universe” effect.

    Golf Carts – in terms of facilities, location, pollution, mobility, etc in many respects are exactly the same as bike and ped – and for that matter, skidoos, ATVs, scooters, etc.

    WE have cars and their facilities and we have….. what? a few recreational trails… not designed for transportation but recreation …

    And if we talk about these fairly efficient modes as integrating… we worry about … not focusing on the facilities necessary for safety but what doing so would mean in terms of impacts to autos and our auto-centric lifestyles.

    Which really brings the question – are we REALLY serious about these things.. are do we think of them as curiosities?

    Golf cars, by the way.. can be electric and they can be 4-cycle (like many skidoos and ATVS.

    gee .. Golf Carts as the ultimate plug-in electric vehicle.. 🙂

    take a look also at “smart cars” (just google the phrase for links).

    These are cars that make the Civic or Prius look like limos…

    take a look:

    smart electric vehicle – or smart ev, an electric socket concealed behind what used to be the fuel cap.
    complete absence of exhaust fumes
    no CO2 emissions
    no engine oil,
    no road tax,
    and no London congestion charge

    and you’ll start to get a sense of what really makes the new smart ev tick.

    Powered solely by electricity, the smart ev can achieve the equivalent of 300 mpg –


    Chrysler is looking into what it would take to import them… to this country… but I have absolutely no doubt that some version of them will appear…. at some point… and urban areas will see them in numbers.

    So .. RAY.. how would you need with road funding if these critters appear and catch on with commuters?

  5. E M Risse Avatar


    See our post on horses.

    It is a matter of scale, the space reguired to park and drive the vehicle and the disaggregation of trip origins and destinations make a huge difference.

    It turns out that the cart paths in Peachtree City saved the developer money because it lowered to vehicle count on roadway and many of the pathways were needed anyway.

    cod, thank you for the update, I have not been to Peachtree City in years. I have been to The Woodlands were a similar proposal was not completely implemented but is heavily used. That in spite of the fact that Chevy Suburbans are the state car of Texas.

    The same savings were achieved in Burke Centre where we designed a comprehensive pedestrian system. We tried to make the trip shorter on foot or bike than by autonomobile to most cluster,neighborhood and village scale destinations including schools and METRO bus stops.

    The Burke Centre system is not perfect but it is heavily used and saved money in some street standards and sidewalks because there are only on one side where there is a pathway alternative.


  6. Gee Larry, you have not been listening at all, I guess you are too busy defending your position.

    I have advocated, and practiced, the use of the smallest practical vehicle for the job at hand. It is one reason I own and continuously recycle (repair) six of them.

    I have advocated more and smaller roads because they can support more throughput at a lower speed than the major highways can at high speeds. Those high speeds turn out to be zero speed just at the places we need more and smaller roads the most.

    BUT, lower speed also means you cannot go fifty miles and you may have to settle for 25 miles, which means you need more places. We would need to disaggregate the grotesque work sites we have created in favor of something much more sensible, attractive, and environmentally friendly.

    Such a plan would mean you can get away with much smaller and more efficient vehicles for MOST trips. For long distance high speed trips we could use the highway equivalent of zip cars: time shared heavy vehicles for the few times you really need them.

    I don’t know all the ramifications, but I’d suggest you could take a a four lane (eight both ways) road and turn it into five lanes. One normal lane for trucks, buses, and highway cars (tolled, naturally) and four much smaller lanes for mini vehicles travelling at modest speeds, like 45 max.

    Let’s be realistic about it though. I don’t mind taking route 50 through Middleburg and Aldie. There is no possibility of passing, so you get in line, stay back, and relax. It is a whole different experience from travelling route 66 in Centreville where the road is six lans wide and you are subject to attack from at least three directions: behind and forty-five to 90 degrees on either side of behind.

    But, most people are not yet psychologically conditioned to travelling as route 50 requires. I’m used to it, from driving on Martha’s Vineyard where being neurotic about your driving gets you exactly nowhere, or at least only to the same places you just came from.

    Yes, I think we need a lot more places, a lot smaller places, and a lot saner places, and I’d be perfectly happy with a 45 HP electric car. I still tink a hybrid is better, bet we can miniaturize the technology.

    Lower speed would mean you would need less power, and less armour, which means still less power. You might not need explosive airbags to achive a similar degree of safety.

    Eventually we will be able to gang the cars, like they do with the freight or luggage dollys at the airport. When someone is tailgating you, you can invite him in. He would “dock” in the attachment at the rear of your car, and after handshaking the computers would match up to share the load.

    In effect you would have spontaneous trains in which people could attach and detach at will. This is not to different from EMR’s PRT concept, except it uses already existing roads, and it depends on freedom of association (chaos if you will) rather than an enforced, big brother, centrally controlled technology, that we don’t have yet, and will never be able to afford.

    See, Jim, I’m capable of pie in the sky thinking, too.

    But here is the difference. I suggest we keep Metro where it is and densify it. Eventually what is around it will densify as well, but it might take thirty years, as it did in Ballston. For the outlying places that we haven’t totally screwed up yet, here is a chance to let them develop sensibly so that we do not have to repeat the Metro disaster in still more places.

  7. Anonymous Avatar


    I read the article in the post and some the commits, here and there.
    I agree with parts and disagree with others. I also sent an e-mail to Mr. Morse.

    I am sales person at Minter’s Golf Cart Sales, which has been in business for over 25yrs. in Va. We sale over 600 golf carts a year from Balitmore to Va Beach.

    Starting in mid-Dec 2006, we will be the first in Va. to offer an electric EVA DOT approved street legal cart (yes, title, tags, DMV ready). So, no one is limited to just golf cart neighborhoods anymore. It travels up to 30mph and goes over 40 miles on one charge. Plus, it cost about the same as a new golf cart. We are very excited about it. It is sure to solve several issues in the article and within the comments. But, still not everyone will be happy. We are trying to offer something a little bit better for everyone. If you have any questions call me at 800-805-9510.


  8. Anonymous Avatar

    This is the type of golf cart I’m after: http://rhoadescar.com/
    It runs on people power and goes up to 35mph. Costs less than a golf cart too.

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