A local golf course’s latest attempt to stand out in a crowded field arrived earlier this summer on two wheels.
Independence Golf Club, a daily fee course that straddles the Chesterfield-Powhatan county line, recently purchased a batch of Golf Bikes – two-wheeled alternatives to golf carts that course owner Giff Breed hopes will attract players interested in increasing the pace of play and getting more exercise than the typical round.
Made by Tallahassee, Florida-based Higher Ground Golf, the Golf Bike features a built-in club bag, wide tires designed to do minimal damage to the turf around the course and space for a cooler.
The bikes are part of a trend across the golf industry that has course owners getting creative to attract more players, particularly millennials. The game has suffered as people have turned away from the time and cost associated with an 18-hole outing.
Breed said the goal is to find alternatives that are cheaper, faster and more fun.
“The golf bikes touch all of those,” Breed said. “The sport has to change. We’ve got to be doing different things to appeal to that next generation of golfers. They want to play quickly. They’re interested in having a great experience.”
Independence has purchased four of the bikes initially to gauge interest, making it the first course in Virginia to try them out.
The move continues a streak of experimentation that Breed and his brother Alan have been on since buying the course for $3 million in 2014.
They’ve introduced foot golf, in which players kick a soccer ball across the course into large holes, and racquet golf, which uses a modified tennis racquet to hit and putt a ball around the course. Breed has also added amenities to bring people to the club for more than just golf. Independence has struck deals with local businesses for a coffee stand, a music and art academy, and a dual membership program with a regional gym chain.
“We’re going to keep trying different stuff to see what resonates,” Breed said. “We’re going to create a kind of laboratory out here.”
Breed said he stumbled upon Golf Bikes when doing an Internet search for different ways to get around a golf course.
“I found these guys in Florida and we were kindred spirits,” Breed said. “I said ‘you get exactly what we’re trying to do.’”
Todd May is the owner of Higher Ground Golf and inventor of the Golf Bike. He’s a furniture maker and bike shop owner who said he’s been working on the idea and prototypes for Golf Bikes for six or seven years as a way to combine his two favorite pastimes – golf and cycling.
“My number one pet peeve with the game is the pace of play,” May said. “That is a general problem, but besides that, golf has been hurting and it’s taken people like Giff to be creative and bring new ideas.
“It just seemed like it was good timing for us. Younger people have not been participating in golf like they have in the past.”
May said he initially had the bikes made in the U.S. and sold them retail for $1,700. To bring the price down, he sent manufacturing overseas and was able to cut the retail to $795.
The bikes have been on the market for about two years, May said. About 50 courses around the U.S. have them and about a dozen in Canada, with a few sprinkled around Argentina and Germany.
May said he has seen some resistance from golf traditionalists who may balk at the idea of riding a bike around a course. The bikes also have to break through the barrier of habit of only keeping golf carts on designated areas of the course, typically on cart paths and parts of the fairways.
Breed said Independence wants to let players ride the bikes around the whole course, with the exception of on the greens, to truly increase the pace and calorie burn.
“Our superintendent thinks the bikes have less impact on the grass,” Breed said. “So why wouldn’t we be receptive to let people figure out how to play.”
May agrees, though he added that his company doesn’t push courses too hard about breaking down too many barriers too quickly.
“We’ve got to be creative,” May said. “We’ve got to encourage people, not put up more barriers to play.”