Surfing the back 9: GolfBoards ride onto local fairways

Surfing the fairways on a GolfBoard

GolfBoard area sales representative Todd Barlow shows off the GolfBoard, a sort of motorized skateboard that's a new way to get around the links, at Pinecrest Golf Club on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015.
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GolfBoard area sales representative Todd Barlow shows off the GolfBoard, a sort of motorized skateboard that's a new way to get around the links, at Pinecrest Golf Club on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015.

The persimmon driver has given way to titanium. Steel shafts are now graphite. Golf balls have gone from a wound rubber core to solid synthetics. Apparel now holds body heat in or wicks moisture away.

Perhaps the only piece of golf equipment to remain largely unchanged in the past four decades: The motorized one that gets you around.

OK, windshields are now standard equipment on golf carts. Today's models have GPS that provides yardage from anywhere on the course. But the concept is the same: Two golfers zigzagging between each others' shots, much like when Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason made golf cool.

Surely today's younger generation can relate. Riiiiight.

A new mode, though, is starting to pop up on courses across the nation, including the Lowcountry. The GolfBoard takes players and their clubs around on a motorized skateboard that not only raises the cool factor but could help speed up rounds.

"First, there's a lot of fun to it," said Pinecrest head professional Ernie Hanewinckel, whose Bluffton course has four GolfBoards available for rent. "The second thing is that it's an individual board. You're not riding with a partner, so you get to do your own thing. It speeds up play."

Palmetto Dunes also is exploring the possibility of adding GolfBoards to its fleet.

"Younger players are often looking for something different," said director of golf Clark Sinclair. "And if you've come here for 10 years in a row, you might try something different."

The GolfBoard is the brainchild of Laird Hamilton -- yes, the big-wave surfer -- and an entrepreneur friend who sought a better non-walking option on the course. Not surprisingly, they turned to boards.

Last year, the GolfBoard was named "Best New Product" of the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Pinecrest is one of more than 100 courses to introduce the boards on its fairways, adding them to its fleet some three months ago.

"The more we show them to people, the more play we're getting with them," Hanewinckel said. "Once people get over a fear of the fact that it looks like a skateboard and they're going to fall, they're raring to try it and take it on the golf course."

The GolfBoard also addresses the slowdown that comes when two golfers share one mode of transport. Either carts crisscross the fairway to play both shots, or one player takes a handful of clubs to his ball while the other drives to his next shot.

"It'll pick things up probably an average of 15 minutes," Hanewinckel said. "For the most part, you go right to your golf ball. When someone else is hitting, you're getting ready to hit."

A test by the British publication Today's Golfer, in fact, found the GolfBoard to shave 31 minutes off a typical 18-hole round played by foursomes in carts.

The GolfBoard is powered by the same kind of lithium battery found in the latest electric cars. A "thumb throttle" on the handle controls acceleration, with a top speed of about 14 mph.

Users turn by tilting the handle and/or leaning into the turn as one would on a skateboard. Gear boxes on front and back provide power to all four wheels evenly, allowing the board to climb steep inclines, and state-of-the-art suspension technology provides stabilization.

"I actually tried to tip it over and couldn't do it," Sinclair said of his first experience testing a GolfBoard. "I was thinking of my son. If he got on one, he'd be all over it."

Indeed, younger golfers have been quicker to give the GolfBoard a test run. Slowly, though, Hanewinckel says the older generation is warming to the idea -- including his boss, Brown Golf Management chief executive John Brown.

"He's out there riding it around every day," Hanewinckel said. "The hard part is just getting (older golfers) to try it. Once they try it and realize they can manage, it's not going to be a problem."

Pinecrest, in fact, is planning a night of GolfBoard races next month as another way of introducing the boards. "Once they get on the boards and realize they can do this," Hanewinckel said, "they become more viable on the golf course."

First-time users are required to watch a six-minute training video before taking one out on the grounds.

Todd Barlow, GolfBoard's regional sales exec, compared the newcomer to the arrival of snowboards on ski slopes in the late 1970s and '80s. Many resort operators initially banned them from their slopes, afraid they'd drive away "serious" skiers.

These days, snowboarding is an Olympic sport.

"There's a reason snowboarding has grown," said Barlow, a former Canadian Tour pro. "This (golf) is another sport that's been so slow to adapt. Go out and have fun."