A golf cart is an electric or gas-powered vehicle used to transport golfers and their equipment around the course during play. Designed to meet golfers' needs, the carts offer a number of specialized safety and comfort features. For example, the fact that they are built low to the ground gives them a low center of gravity, preventing spills when they are driven over uneven terrain. Many electric carts also come with portable battery chargers. Often, the center of the steering wheel (where the horn would be in a normal automobile) features a metal clipboard to which players can attach their score cards. The vehicles can be ordered with ball and cup holders, plastic enclosures to zip up in case of rain, sun canopies, and racks to hold bags, sweaters, and sand trap rakes. AM/FM radios and cassette players can be built into the dashboard, as can ashtrays and cigarette lighters.
A number of country clubs began to develop private courses during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, and the United States Golf Association (USGA) was founded in 1894. However, those American golfers who did not belong to clubs often played the game without designated courses until after World War II, using such sites as open fields, orchards, and cow pastures. The war's end freed up earth-moving equipment for recreational use, and, as many more private and public courses were constructed, record numbers of Americans took up the game. The self-propelled golf cart as we know it today came into use in the early 1950s. In 1953 only a few of the most exclusive golf clubs owned motor driven carts, but by 1959 the little motor-driven carts could be seen just about everywhere. While caddies are still available at private clubs, and costor health-conscious players on public courses often prefer to carry their bags or rent hand-drawn carts, the power-driven cart has superceded both of these options.
The frames of golf carts are usually made out of steel plates, rods, and tubing. The bodies may be made of sheet aluminum, fiber glass, or sheet steel. Other components, usually plastic or metal, are generally purchased from outside suppliers and assembled to the vehicle. These include components such as tires, which are made out of rubber; seat cushions, which typically consist of foam cushion covered by vinyl; steering mechanisms, made of metal; and motors, brakes, batteries, transaxles, suspensions, drive trains, and electrical cables.
There is no standard design for a golf cart. Many choices must be made before the designer draws the first line. Should the body be made from steel, aluminum, fiber glass, or wood? Should it seat two, four, or six passengers? Is it to have an electric or a gasoline engine? Must the cart have a powerful engine and strong brakes to navigate hills, or a small engine to insure efficient operation? Once the capabilities, materials, and appearance are decided upon, a designer uses an integrated CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing) system to draw the cart and all its components on the computer screen. Next, the shop makes a prototype cart that will be used to
Quality control starts at the design development stage. Structural and fatigue tests are applied to the major components to assure that they will not break or wear out during normal usage. Once a prototype golf cart has been built, it is run on a mechanized track where it is subjected to shocks and severe vibration. Next, it is driven on a test track for hundreds of miles to test its endurance. Finally, the golf cart is placed in an environmental test chamber that is used to simulate actual weather conditions.
Before manufacturing begins, quality assurance personnel visit suppliers to assure that their procedures will enable them to continue supplying high quality parts. Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts are kept and used to show that the processes are under control. These visits have eliminated the need to inspect parts as they are received at the plant.
After the chassis is welded together, it is placed on a special fixture, where it is measured with gauges to assure that it is not warped and checked to verify that all the parts are located properly. The paint on the body panels is checked for coating thickness using a contact gauge that will not damage the finished surface. The paint is also optically compared with a standard chip to assure that the color is consistent. The transaxles are placed on a test stand, filled with oil, and run to check for leaks and noise level. After they are assembled, electrical cables are attached to Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) to check for shorts, resistance, and continuity. The battery chargers are checked for output and current draw. Additionally, the battery chargers must go through periodic checks to maintain their Underwriters Laboratory (UL) certification. Each gasoline engine is put on a dynamometer and run to check power output, operating temperature, and leakage. Fuel tanks are pressurized and placed under water to check for leaks. Every finished vehicle is tested for acceleration and breaking.
The manufacture of golf carts creates four major types of waste products: metal chips and contaminated coolant from the machining operations, cardboard shipping materials, and paint overspray. Although difficult to collect and sort, metal chips can often be sold to recyclers. Contaminated coolant is just the opposite. It is easy to gather and difficult to dispose of. As the coolant is used it is contaminated with tramp oil, lubricant that leaks out of machines. The coolant also supports bacterial growth. Some companies use holding ponds to break down this bacteria in sunlight; they then recycle the coolant once the tramp oil has been filtered out. Most companies, however, just pay to have the oil hauled away by a waste disposal company.
Cardboard shipping materials are taken to the local landfill, where the landfill operator is paid to bury or burn them. Some companies use recyclable containers made of steel or fiber glass to reduce the amount of cardboard waste, but these become a very expensive alternative when the return shipping costs are taken into account. Paint overspray and paint with an expired shelf life are considered toxic in many cases. To dispose of these materials the golf cart manufacturer must often pay many times the original cost of the paint to have it removed.
One technical innovation that may become available within the next ten years is a battery that charges in minutes and works for many hours. Manufacturers may also begin producing carts with video games built into their dashboards, to help players pass time while waiting at the tee. Similarly, video screens featuring a computer-generated layout of each hole with the location of the balls in play are also being examined.
Peper, George. Golf in America: The First One Hundred Years. Harry N. Abrahms, 1988.
Rivele, Richard J. Chilton's Total Car Care. Chilton Book Company, 1992.
Shacket, Sheldon R. The Complete Book of Electric Vehicles. Domus Books, 1979.
Traister, Robert J. All About Electric and Hybrid. TAB Books, 1982.
"Golf Cars." Golf Magazine. March, 1989, p. 212.
"Got Anything in a Beemer?" Los Angeles Magazine. October, 1988, p. 156.
"Luxury on the Links." Time. March 10, 1986, p. 65.
— Jim Wawrzyniak