As a reasonably athletic person, I still looked at the GolfBoard in front of me and wondered if it was safe, if I could strap my clubs to the front and ride this skateboard-like machine around a hilly 18-hole course.
Then the general manager of this Hudson Valley semi-private club, The Links at Union Vale, assailed my fears by pointing over to the putting green.
“Look there,” Rob Caeners said to me, “that’s John. He’s 77, and he rides the thing every day, Monday through Friday.”
Then John Haines hopped on the board and tore up a sideways hill, coming right up to the first tee to greet me.
“I think these are just the coolest,” Haines said. “It’s going to be the biggest change in the game of golf since the sand wedge.”
Haines was next in a long line of people who had been pumping this promotional hyperbole since I first saw the intriguing video of these GolfBoards and began to inquire. Of course, that hyperbole has been matched with an equal amount of reflexive rebuttal from the traditional golf establishment, expressed in the most effective way possible — by not even thinking about getting them.
Haines, for one, used to be a member at an old-school private club upstate, and when he first suggested getting GolfBoards, they scoffed. Then they had a season with cart paths only, he quit the club and became a weekday member at The Links at Union Vale, a beautiful and straightforward golf course built around an old farm silo with breathtaking views of the Catskill Mountains.
“It’s like skiing and playing golf at the same time,” Haines said, “but without the snow.”
A quick tutorial shows the board is controlled by one lever near the handlebar as the accelerator, and when you let go, the board comes to stop almost immediately. Turning is done by leaning on either side of the board, but just as Caeners had told me, by the third hole, you have the thing under control and you’re ready to rip around corners.
Because it’s just more than 100 pounds, you also can drive it right on to the tee box, right up to your ball — wherever it is — and onto the collars of the greens.
“It speeds up play dramatically,” Caeners said.
Safety has to be an issue, but as GolfBoards sales rep Mike Cochrane said, “There has not been one reported injury in over a million rounds played.”
It makes sense, because whenever I got into a sticky situation, thinking I was going to fall off, I just hopped the six inches off the board and it came to a stop. As far as tipping the thing over, Caeners said, “I’m 260 pounds, and I’ve never come close.”
Caeners first saw GolfBoards at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, where it won the prestigious “Best New Product Award.” It’s a company started by Don Wildman — one of the original owner of Bally’s Total Fitness — along with world-famous surfer and innovator Laird Hamilton, who was involved from the beginning.
Caeners got four trial boards to start this season in the spring, and before the two-month trail was over, he ordered to lease a fleet of 12. He charges $6 more for the boards than a regular cart, and he has to keep a book behind the counter in the pro shop for reservations. On most days, the eight he has now — he is waiting on four more to come — are sent out twice a day, the max they can do. He said 48 percent of the new golfers coming to his course this season are because they want to try the boards.
“The feedback is so positive, it’s not even funny,” Caeners said. “That’s why I say I know it’s here to stay. This is going to be a big part of golf. You’re going to have golf courses that have all GolfBoard fleets — or at least half.”
The boards are covered under the same umbrella insurance policy that covers Caeners’ golf carts, and it is the carts that show to be a bigger liability in terms of injuries. They have made their way onto more than 200 courses around the country, mostly in the northwest near the company’s home base in Bend, Ore., and down into California. There are some strongholds in the flatter courses in Florida, as well, but breaking into the Northeast, which is hillier — and more traditional (see: snobbish) — hasn’t been easy.
“We are seeing some traction,” said Cochrane, whose closest courses to the city are up at Union Vale, out at a place called The Vineyards in Riverhead, on Long Island, and at the Country Club of Darien, in Connecticut. “Most courses that do have them are doing really well and expanding, going from four to eight boards, and some back in Oregon with over 20.”
By the time I finished my round, I could see why. The third member of group was a man named Chuck Clifton, a 73-year-old with Parkinson’s disease who rides the board almost every weekday with his buddy John. This day, he was feeling a bit shaky, so he stayed in a regular cart, but he loved the board as much as Haines.
“I think you just have to get on one to try it,” Clifton said, “and then you’ll know how cool they are.”
If Clifton can do it, then it’s hard to think who can’t. Which makes it clear that GolfBoards are a trend, and the only question left is will they stick around. You might just have to get on one to try it and make that determination yourself.