How Golf Carts Work


A golfer drives down a hill in a golf cart at Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa in Hoover, Ala., on June 10, 2008.
A golfer drives down a hill in a golf cart at Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa in Hoover, Ala., on June 10, 2008.
AP Photo/Jay Reeves

Mark Twain once said, "Golf is a good walk spoiled."

But if you really want to take the walking out of golf altogether, just use a golf cart. Golf is one of the few sports (outside of motorsports, of course) that allows participants use motorized transportation as part of the game. And if you're doing it right, you can properly and politely use a golf cart when you're out on the course.

So, first off -- what is a golf cart? Actually, golf carts aren't even technically carts. A cart is something that can't move under its own power. A golf cart, on the other hand, is a small mechanized vehicle powered either by an electric motor or a small gasoline engine. On the golf course, golf carts carry two players and their bags. However, golf carts have a lot of uses that reach beyond traversing the back nine. Institutions that have a lot of ground to cover, where cars would be impractical, use golf carts to carry people and supplies where they're needed. For example, think of the courtesy cars found at most airports -- they're based on golf carts. In some communities, golf carts are the main means of transportation.

While you're wondering how to hit the perfect drive, you may also be wondering how that little cart that's ferrying you around the course works. In this article, we'll look at how golf carts work, including the many different types of carts that are out there, accessories for golf carts and even how you can get a tax credit by buying a golf cart.

 

Types of Golf Carts

Veteran sportscaster Pat Summerall drives a golf cart before playing in the celebrity match that bears his name at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, Ark.
Veteran sportscaster Pat Summerall drives a golf cart before playing in the celebrity match that bears his name at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, Ark.
AP Photo/Danny Johnston

When you're out on the golf course, you don't necessarily have to use a cart. But, it'll be a lot easier to focus on your game if your back isn't aching from hauling a heavy bag around. Plus, your golf cart allows you to express yourself in a way that's rare in sports.

There are two main types of golf carts: gasoline and electric. Gasoline golf carts work just like little cars. A small engine, running on gasoline, powers the cart's wheels. However, one major difference between a typical car and a gasoline-powered golf cart is when the engine runs. In a car, the engine starts when you turn the key, and it keeps running until you switch the ignition off. In a gasoline-powered golf cart, the engine starts when you step on the gas pedal, and it shuts off when you take your foot off the gas. That feature helps save gas, cuts down on emissions and helps keep the course quiet, too. And it's nice that you won't have to be thinking about your next shot over the drone of an engine.

Electric golf carts use batteries to power an electric motor. The batteries are typically charged by plugging the cart into a wall outlet, just like the ones you have in your house. However, some golf carts are now being fitted with solar panels on their roofs to help charge the batteries.

Most golf carts that are used exclusively for golf play are relatively plain. They're just basic two seaters. However, you can also get modified golf carts that can carry more than two people and move supplies, like food or luggage, from place to place. Gasoline golf carts can also be fitted with more powerful motors, beefed-up suspensions and four-wheel drive, making them ideal for work in rugged areas. Plus, you can also get golf carts that have been modified to look like a Porsche, a Hummer or even a Bentley.

Of course, to really trick out your golf cart, you'll need the proper accessories. Keep reading to find out what kinds of accessories are available for golf carts.

Golf Cart Accessories

Lillie Lipscomb waves as she drives her golf cart, a fiberglass replica of a 1934 Ford, from her driveway in The Villages, Fla.
Lillie Lipscomb waves as she drives her golf cart, a fiberglass replica of a 1934 Ford, from her driveway in The Villages, Fla.
AP Photo/William Perry

Everyone knows the basics you need to hit the links: a collared shirt, spikes, clubs -- and sunscreen is always a good idea, too. But unlike other sports, golf lets you go beyond the basics by adding accessories to your golf cart. In fact, accessories can be a great way to personalize your golf cart to suit your needs.

Most golf carts come fairly sparsely equipped from the factory. Depending on your perspective, that's either a pain, since you may have to pay extra for even the most basic of accessories, like drink holders, or it could be a good thing, since it means you can option that golf cart out exactly as you want it.

In hot areas, fans and air conditioning systems are good options as golf cart accessories. In colder climates, heaters make sense. But no matter where you live, rain curtains are almost always a good idea -- especially since most golf carts have open cabins.

Portable battery chargers are a good option to select if you're planning to travel far from an electricity source. And if you're planning on going off-road -- really off-road -- in your golf cart, brush guards are available to keep the golf cart's body scratch- and dent-free. Having a radio on your golf cart can be a nice way to pass the time, too; just don't play loud music when you're on a golf course.

You can also get accessories, mainly for gasoline carts, to increase your cart's performance capabilities. For instance, you can lift the cart to give it more ground clearance, improve the suspension so you can cover uneven ground and even give the cart more power. Of course, if you're adding power to the cart's engine, you'll also want to upgrade the brakes and maybe even add safety features like seat belts.

Electric Golf Cart Tax Credit

Gary Knight, 48, sits in his golf cart with his mother, Joann Hall, at their home in Sweet Springs, Mo. For the last six years Knight, who has cerebral palsy, has used a golf cart as a way to get around in the small town.
Gary Knight, 48, sits in his golf cart with his mother, Joann Hall, at their home in Sweet Springs, Mo. For the last six years Knight, who has cerebral palsy, has used a golf cart as a way to get around in the small town.
AP Photo/Kelley McCall

By now you know that the usefulness of golf carts actually goes far beyond the golf course. They can be used almost anywhere a car can't -- and even in some places where cars can. Many communities have begun building golf-cart paths. These communities aren't just built around golf courses, either. Instead, golf cart paths are used to promote a car-free lifestyle for the residents. Instead of hopping in their cars to go wherever they need to go, residents in these areas jump into their own personal golf carts. When used this way, golf carts are called Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs).

Peachtree City, Ga., a community south of Atlanta, is one area that has encouraged NEV use among its residents. Peachtree City has more than 90 miles (144.8 kilometers) of golf cart paths, and residents use them to travel between the five villages in the community. Many high school students within the community take golf carts to school, and the golf cart usage has not only helped to lower traffic -- it's also helped Peachtree City make CNN/Money's list of the Best Places to Live [source: CNN/Money].

But, people in Peachtree City and other NEV-friendly communities may have another reason to get a golf cart: a new tax credit for NEVs. The Obama administration's economic stimulus bill provides a provision for a $2,500 tax credit for people who purchase a NEV in 2009. Of course, not all golf carts qualify for NEV status, but many do.

With all the available accessories for personalization, an increase in the number of communities embracing golf carts over cars and now a tax credit, maybe the better way of thinking about them isn't to wonder how they work, but instead to wonder at how they work so well in a variety of applications.

For more information about golf carts and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.

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Sources

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  • CNN/Money. "Best Places to Live 2009 - Peachtree City, GA." August 2009. (April 5, 2010) http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2009/snapshots/PL1359724.html
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  • GolfCarCatalog.com. (April 5, 2010) http://www.golfcarcatalog.com/
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