Somewhere between a powered golf trolley and a skateboard, GolfBoard has already made waves in the States. But what impact will this pioneering product have on the conservative UK market? Sole UK distributor Justin Fraser Jones spoke to Duncan Lennard
Some clever person with too much time on his hands once worked out that in a four-and-a-half hour round of golf, we spend just 40 minutes actually planning and executing golf shots. Ideas to grow the game have typically focused on that 15%; GolfBoard, however, very definitely targets the other 85%.
Essentially a four-wheel-drive skateboard with a space to stow your bag, GolfBoard effectively allows its mount to surf down the fairway. And whether you find that notion appealing or appalling, it is certainly, in the words of sole UK distributor Justin Fraser Jones, a “culture shock”.
“Golf has the reputation for being a staid, traditional game, and that can be a barrier to people thinking of taking it up,” he argues. “I firmly believe GolfBoard will massively appeal to a new and younger generation of would-be golfers, and encourage them to participate in a sport that many still see as an old man’s game.
“I only signed the deal early this year, but already I have had great feedback from many who have never played golf before, but warm to the idea on the GolfBoard. There is a huge skateboard movement in this country and at lot of them will see this as an excuse to come and ride on a golf course. I’m convinced GolfBoard will bring new people into golf.”
GolfBoard can be used with a front stabilising bar (recommended) or without, your golf bag over your shoulder (you’d better know what you’re doing). The rider steers and banks it through body weight, like a skateboard. “That might sound tricky,” adds Fraser Jones,” but believe me, with the stabilsing bar, which doubles as a stand for your bag, it’s very easy.”
There are two speed limiter settings – up to 6mph or up to 12mph – and you control pace through a handheld Bluetooth trigger. The electric motor is quiet, and its impressive levels of torque can whisk you up steep slopes. Testing has shown it to be kind on the turf too, and Fraser Jones believes it would be permitted even when carts are banned.
Developed by Oregon-based company SolBoards, GolfBoard is already showing signs of becoming a hit on the other side of the Pond. It won Best New Product at the 2014 PGA Merchandise show, and SolBoards anticipate 6000 some operational boards by the end of the summer. “I visited a local elementary school with GolfBoard and got a golf club in 200 kids’ hands in half a day, and 80% of them had never played golf before,” says Ted Mattila, head pro at Calfornia’s Buckingham Golf & Country Club. “To get kids into golf, you have to look outside the box.”
America’s culture is of course rather more eager to embrace the radical and progressive than the UK’s, and whether GolfBoard would thrive in Cambridgeshire as well as in California remains to be seen. Fraser Jones is undaunted. “I appreciate the market is different, but I equate it to putting a sail on a surfboard. It was simply a move that enhanced an existing sport. You are still playing the same game, and all the benefits of golf are still there… but we are simply adding some genuine fun for that time between the shots.”
GolfBoard has been made with bespoke, military-grade materials and that is reflected in its price: it retails for £2,829 plus VAT. While Fraser Jones believes the Board will attract purchases some deep-pocketed private buyers, he anticipates the bulk of his business coming from commercial use.
“GolfBoard is robust, and built to be used every day as a rental fleet,” he suggests. “Its lithium-ion battery is the same one used in the Tesla electric car; and it takes only two hours to charge and one to recharge. You can get two 18-hole rounds out of one charge. What clubs choose to charge for a GolfBoard rental is of course their business, but I would suggest a fee of around £15-25.”
The first GolfBoards will arrive in the UK around the end of May. And while they will be available to purchase with a one-year warranty and discounts ranging from 4 to 12% depending on order size, Fraser Jones is also offering a leasing option. “A leased GolfBoard would come with a three-year warranty, and I would guarantee that in the event of any problems, a club would not be without one for more than 48 hours – it would either be fixed or swapped in that time. Basically, there would be no additional cost.
“However, GolfBoard is by no means mechanically complicated. It operates on a plug-and-play principle, so if there are any issues with the battery or motor, we will just replace them with a new one. But I do not see reliability as an issue; GolfBoard has a military-grade build, and is put together in a military contract manufacturing facility.”
Whether or not you can see golfers skateboarding up the 18th at your course, most will accept that a product as left-field as GolfBoard’s at least has the potential for broadening the game’s appeal. “I see GolfBoard as a great way forward for the many clubs out there looking to do something different to attract members,” Jones argues. “They attract a new demographic into the game, they won’t damage the course, and they even speed up play; in fact there are courses in the States now that have twilight times dedicated to GolfBoard only, so you can get more holes in.
“Yes, it’s introducing something different and youthful into a traditional game. But as I have said, it is not changing the game itself; it’s simply an enhancement of existing sport.
“I even believe its impact could be strong enough to help some courses to survive. That’s how excited I am about it.”