In Florida, ‘now golf carts are cool’ — not just for retirees

DUNEDIN — Chris Kelly spent components of his boyhood summers within the village of Put-in-Bay, Ohio, on Lake Erie’s verdant South Bass Island. Because the island was accessible solely by boat or airplane, it had few vehicles; most individuals there drove golf carts. To younger Chris, this was undeniably superior.Decades later, Kelly had just turn out to be a dad and was trying for a brand new house. Dunedin matched the leisurely tempo he needed for his household. It additionally checked a vital field on his want record, one which roused his interior child: it’s a “golf cart neighborhood,” the place metropolis codes make it simpler for residents to drive carts on roads.And these aren’t the carts of his Put-in-Bay days — “previous, dusty, gas-guzzling, noisy, sluggish, squeaky issues,” mentioned Kelly, 45. “Now golf carts are cool.”Long a staple in its namesake sport and in retirement communities, the golf cart is now on the heart of a neighborhood growth in Tampa Bay, pushed by youthful lovers, insiders say.Pinellas County incorporates essentially the most registered street-legal golf carts in Florida, in keeping with state information, and Hillsborough ranks twelfth amongst counties.With so many on the highway, golf carts typically make the information, too: Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor resigned this month after she was caught on physique digicam video flashing her badge and speaking her approach out of a visitors cease over an unregistered cart close to her Oldsmar house.Related: Tampa police Chief Mary O’Connor resigns amid visitors cease controversyNearby Dunedin could be the native epicenter of golf cart tradition, a world of sound methods and on-board mini-fridges, of customized paint-jobs and tiki-bar-style roofs — a terminally chill echo of muscle-car exhibits or motorbike rallies. Kelly credit town’s golf-cart pleasant atmosphere to the lobbying of Dunedin Goes Carting, which started as a neighborhood weblog and reworked right into a unfastened group behind occasions resembling a well-liked Christmas golf-cart parade. A number of years in the past, its founder handed over the keys to a gaggle of residents, together with Kelly.The yr he moved right here, he mentioned, a number of dozen carts drove within the parade. When this yr’s incarnation rolls out on Dec. 17, he expects greater than 300.You can discover cart-heads within the communities of north Pinellas and the seashores; the sprawling suburbs of north Hillsborough and south Pasco; the mansion-lined streets of Davis Islands and the senior mecca of Sun City Center.This summer season, a golf-cart rental firm opened in downtown Tampa. In St. Petersburg, the carts have been as soon as principally confined to Snell Isle (house of the Vinoy Golf Club) however have began displaying up on and round Central Avenue, mentioned St. Petersburg police Sgt. Michael Schade. This yr, his company has handed out twice as many golf-cart citations because it did final yr — just a dozen, however nonetheless.Read inspiring tales about bizarre livesSubscribe to our free How They Lived publicationYou’ll get a remembrance of Tampa Bay residents we’ve misplaced, together with heartwarming and amusing particulars about their lives, each Tuesday.You’re all signed up!Want extra of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get began.Explore all of your optionsRoy Day, 42, and his fiancé, Trisha Smith, 42, each of Tarpon Springs, take a look at a 2022 EPIC E60L Street Legal Electric Golf Cart at Discovery Golf Cars on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Clearwater. Florida’s golf cart market has expanded inside the previous yr. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]It’s laborious to quantify just how many individuals cart right here. In Pinellas County, 1,900 street-legal golf carts are registered with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the company mentioned — some 756 greater than next-closest, Volusia County. But that quantity is incomplete as a result of locations like Dunedin require carters to solely register with town, not the state, and since some drivers flout the principles and drive with none sort of registration.Not everybody likes golf carts, Kelly conceded, particularly after they’re caught behind one crawling at 10 mph. And amid the growth in recognition, not everybody follows the legal guidelines.Statewide, meaning license, registration and insurance coverage, plus options together with turn-signals, a windshield and a parking brake; locations with native ordinances might require fewer bells and whistles and hoops, however don’t anticipate to get on any highway with a velocity restrict larger than 35 mph.Related: Do golf carts want tags? What to know after Tampa police chief’s cease.Some of the rule-breakers are newbies who don’t know the legal guidelines, Kelly mentioned, and a few just don’t care — he estimated it’s a 50-50 break up. Dunedin Goes Carting tries to teach cart house owners, on social media and in-person, however Kelly is fast to inform individuals: “We’re not the golf cart police.” This is a pastime the place, in spite of everything, being laid-back is paramount.“Sometimes,” he mentioned, “Dunedin is finest taken in doing 18 miles an hour on an open air golf cart.”⋅⋅⋅Golf is a famously previous sport, its origins so dated that historians have struggled to pin down a second of invention. (It was talked about in writing as early because the mid-Fifteenth century.) Golf’s favourite motorcar, alternatively, is youthful than basketball, the tv and the three-color visitors sign. A 1930 subject of Popular Mechanics featured a brief merchandise on an “electrical auto as caddy … to help a one-legged golf participant.”Within just a few a long time, the gadget was ensconced within the sport and spreading outward. An affiliation between golf carts and senior residents was born by the Nineteen Nineties, with communities from Florida’s The Villages to Palm Desert, California, adopting them as key strategies of transit.In sure locations, golf carts have lengthy been a given for individuals younger and previous. Take Put-in-Bay, or Peachtree City, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb the place golf carts, typically utilized by teenagers to get to highschool, have been avenue authorized because the Seventies. But the native explosion of golf cart tradition, pushed by youthful patrons, many with youngsters, has been newer, sellers say.Ethan Luster has owned Discovery Golf Cars in Clearwater for 16 years. He began noticing a pattern towards leisure use, street-legal golf carts round seven years in the past. The pandemic additionally elevated their recognition, with gross sales at his retailer growing by about 30% since 2020. So did the inflow of latest residents to Florida, drawn by a decrease value of dwelling and distant jobs.“Some of our out-of-state clients, they haven’t even been to their new home but they usually’ve bought a golf cart on their approach over,” Luster mentioned.Golf carts sit outdoors Discovery Golf Cars on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Clearwater. Florida’s golf cart market has expanded inside the previous yr. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]***When Peter Texiera, a co-owner of Bayside Custom Golf Carts Sales, Service and Repair in Tampa, acquired into the enterprise 5 years in the past, his buyer base was principally retirees. Now it’s households, they usually need options. They need stereos. They need lifts that make the carts appear like little monster vehicles. They need extra room.“Our primary promoting cart proper now could be a six seater,” Texiera mentioned.Kelly described himself because the median cart proprietor in the neighborhood centered on Dunedin: 40s, a few youngsters. The common age appears to have dropped even in his few years on the town. There are loads of retirees in his circles, he mentioned — however loads of individuals of their 20s and 30s, too. He sees dozens of them on any given night on the Dunedin Boat Club.They’re individuals with money and time to spend. Luster mentioned street-legal carts roll out the door at a median of $10,000 to $13,000, and typically as excessive as $20,000. At the Christmas parades, Kelly mentioned, “these aren’t golf carts with a pair strings of lights on them anymore. These are full-blown floats.”And they could be the longer term. Advocates level to the environmental advantages of carts, which are typically electrical. In 2015, the Harvard Business Review predicted that it might be “neighborhood electrical automobiles” like street-legal golf carts — not Teslas — that find yourself disrupting the auto trade due to their comparatively low value and ease to drive.Meanwhile, golf may have golf carts, but it surely not appears that golf carts want golf.Their growth has come at the same time as the game struggles, with one-tenth of U.S. programs closing since 2006, and extra shuttering than opening nationwide yearly in that interval. Earlier this yr, Peachtree City’s mayor instructed Slate that town eliminated the golf golf equipment that had been on its brand as a result of “we determined we’re extra of a golf-cart metropolis than a golf metropolis.”Kelly truly does play golf, not like many within the Dunedin scene.His cart has the unsuitable tires, although. So when he needs to play a spherical, he drives his cart to the Dunedin Golf Club, parks it outdoors and rents one for the day.

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