A local golf cart specialist is planning a ribbon cutting and open house to celebrate becoming an authorized dealer for a leading manufacturer.
Golf Cart Outlet of Mount Airy will hold the ribbon cutting April 22, marking its start as a dealer for Club Car, the world’s largest manufacturer of small-wheel zero-emission electric vehicles. The business is located at 272 Hickory St., Suite 800, on the east side of U.S. 52 across from Pro Health.
The next day, April 23, the business will hold an open house, starting at 10 a.m. with food and activities, including a chance to test-drive some of the golf cart models on hand.
Club Car, a business unit of Ingersoll Rand, makes both electric and gas-powered golf carts as well as lines of personal transportation and utility vehicles.
The recognized term is golf cart, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in how the vehicles are used.
Most golf courses lease their carts from manufacturers, so a dealer like Golf Cart Outlet really doesn’t do a lot of business with golfers, noted owner Trey Leonard.
The biggest client base for his business are travelers who frequent campgrounds.
Pretty much anyone who gets a camper or RV wants a golf cart to get around once they are set up at a campsite, said Leonard.
Campgrounds have grown in acreage and now offer amenities such as pools and recreational activities, so campers want to be able to get to these locations. Because the carts have become so common, some campgrounds even hold golf cart parades so folks can show them off.
The next-biggest client base is personal home use, he said.
People with big yards or farms want a way to get around their property without needing to crank a truck. Leonard said he recently sold four carts to a chicken farmer who wanted a way for him and his workers to move between chicken houses.
If the buyer isn’t using the cart for golf, then the space where the golf bags would go can be used for passenger seating, or a utility bed can be installed to haul around fertilizer or tools, according to Helen Leonard. Trey’s mother, who has retired after three decades as a math teacher, helps out in the business.
Helen Leonard said some retired folks have trouble getting around, and these carts have restored a sense of freedom to them.
A recent customer said he had undergone double knee replacement and no longer could climb aboard his ATV, but a cart would work, she said.
Yes, people can choose a personal scooter to ambulate, but those have limitations.
One, the small wheels and lower power can lead to getting stuck in rough or uneven terrain. Two, the low speed means it can take a while to cover great distances. Three, the scooters don’t have storage space.
A lot of cities are becoming more cart-friendly, said Trey Leonard.
A year ago, city Commissioner Jon Cawley proposed an ordinance to allow golf carts on downtown streets. He noted that many tourists have carts, and since Mount Airy considers itself a tourist destination, allowing carts downtown would give the city more appeal.
That measure was eventually voted down 3-2 last May.
There are ways to make a golf cart safer, noted Leonard, such as attaching headlights, brake lights, side mirrors and blinkers. Many buyers already want these add-ons anyway.
After-market products are a big part of the golf cart industry, he pointed out. Lights are the chief concern, but people have added seatbelts, windshield wipers, radio sound systems, USB ports to charge electronic devices.
They choose wheels and tires based on whether they need knobby tread for better traction or a smoother ride on paved or concrete pathways.
Club Car even offers a consumer utility line called XRT that is more rugged and powerful, with four-wheel drive and a trailer hitch.
If one asks how many people work at Golf Cart Outlet, the answer is: that depends on the day.
Some days there’s quite a crowd in the garage, said Helen Leonard.
That’s because the men who started the business are all firefighters.
Trey is a city captain, and so is Danny Vipperman, noted Helen. Travis Golding is a part-time fireman.
Travis Grey has worked as a fireman, but now he’s the one fellow who is in the business every day.
The firemen work swing shifts so they are on duty one day and off for two, explained Helen. That gives them some free time, and the guys use it to run the business.
That’s how Firehouse Subs began for brothers Chris and Robin Sorensen, and now the siblings have more than 900 locations.
Trey believes firmly in separation of church and state. When he’s filling his captain’s role, the fire department is the only thing on his mind. And when he’s off the clock, Trey is fully vested in golf carts.
Firefighting is a brotherhood, so it’s no surprise that when other firemen, rescue squad members and police officers have some time off, too, the fellows like to hang out with friends. And if their friends are in the garage, Leonard and Grey might put them to work.
“They’ll pitch in from time to time,” said Helen.
So why golf carts?
Trey Leonard said his parents joined Mount Airy Country Club and bought their own golf cart when he was only 10 months old. He has grown up around the game and the carts and used the vehicles for more than just sports.
His good friend Travis Grey has been working on golf carts for a decade, Trey said. Grey set up a permanent campsite at Homeplace Recreational Park so that campers could bring their carts to him for repairs.
After a few years, Grey could see the business was going strong and began to consider a real garage.
About July 2014, Trey and Travis began working toward setting up a business and office, said Helen. On the Fourth of July last year, the location opened on Hickory Street, an area known to locals as Cat Holler.
Having plenty of workspace led to a surprise request from one customer.
The gentleman said he wouldn’t be around over the winter and wanted someone to take care of his cart, said Helen. Not just keep it stored, but make sure the expensive electric batteries on board were maintained well.
That was fairy easy to do, and if space allows, some others might take advantage of that, she said.
Trey opened up one cart to show that it has six batteries inside, and neglect could cause all six to go dead in a single winter.
“We call this time of year Battery Season,” said Trey, because of all the replacements needed.
As for the open house, Trey said that the guys enjoy good fellowship at the business, and he hopes that folks will come out April 23 to meet everyone and be a part of the extended family.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.