ORLANDO, Fla. - The contrast couldn't be more striking. Dubsdread Golf Course in Orlando, Fla., dates back to 1924. Its website says it's the "oldest public layout in the central Florida region." Ben Hogan won a Tour event here in 1945. Yet here we are, general manager Rodney Reifsnider and myself, sitting in an empty but soon-to-be-bustling dining room talking about something that's more "Back to the Future" than "Follow the Sun."
We're talking about Golfboards.
Basically, they're motorized skateboards with a handle to which you attach your golf bag. They debuted at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show, where they were named Best New Product. They're available as alternatives to traditional riding golf carts at more than 100 courses, including Dubsdread, which has had its fleet since late 2014.
Dubsdread is managed by Billy Casper Golf, which has a partnership with Sol Boards, manufacturer of Golfboards. Late last year, Billy Casper Golf regional managers had a chance to try out Golfboards at Dubsdread.
Reifsnider, 41, admits he was skeptical: "I had zero interest in it, honestly, at the time."
But the Golfboards came, and Reifsnider's preconceived notions about them went.
"It's funny, we really thought this was going to be geared strictly toward the younger demographic," Reifsnider said. And a lot of young players - male and female - do give the Golfboards a try. But the average age of the golfer who returns to use the Golfboard more than once "is definitely over 50.
"A lot of them, they grew up walking, they miss being able to walk but the body just won't let them do it anymore. The Golfboard allows them to stand up, get around quicker than on a golf cart because you can go to your ball; you don't have to go watch Bob hit his shot."
Groups of seniors play at Dubsdread on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Reifsnider said, "and every Tuesday and Thursday, all the boards are gone." Among women players, there is one group where "the average age is definitely in the 60s, we've got a couple of those ladies who like them." Another women's group has an average age in the 40s, Reifsnider said, "and they absolutely love them."
Golfboards are the brainchild of Don Wildman, a West Coast-based entrepreneur and fitness fanatic. An avid surfer and golfer with homes in Hawaii and Malibu, Wildman sought to bring the feel of riding a surfboard to a golf course. He persuaded a buddy, legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, to get involved with the project. They experimented with electric skateboards, eventually coming up with the Golfboard. Early designs did not have a handle - Golfboard calls it a stability bar - to hold on to; riders simply slung their golf bags over their shoulder.
Golfboard president Jeff Dowell's first experience with the product was with the early, handle-less model. "I fell off more than once," he said. "I had a pretty steep learning curve. But I stuck with it and learned to ride well enough not to embarrass myself."
The addition of the stability bar gave more balance-challenged riders something to hold on to and a place to secure the golf bag. It was a game-changer.
"We've had phenomenal success this year," said Dowell, 56, a former assistant pro at famed Oak Hill. "We're in over 100 courses now, throughout the world, mostly in the U.S. but also in the U.K. and Australia and Switzerland. We have over 1,000 boards installed and up and running at courses."
At Dubsdread, the number of Golfboards is flexible and cost $5 above the walking fee. They started out with eight, cut back to four in the summer, when the demand drops off, but are considering going to 12 or 16 during the winter, when they frequently conduct tournaments. The staff would use the Golfboards to roam the course as needed, leaving more conventional carts for players.
And speaking of "roaming the course," Golfboards can operate in a lot of areas where carts can't (or aren't allowed to). "They have very low impact on the turf," Reifsnider said. "When we're moist and cart paths only, the boards usually can still go out in the fairways and even up fairly close to the greens because they don't do that much damage."
GolfChannel.com's Nick Menta (left) and Jason Crook give Golfboards a try.
What is it like to ride a Golfboard for the first time? "People say two things when they get off a Golfboard for the first time that they've ever ridden it," Dowell said. "'That's the most fun I've ever had on a golf course,' and 'That was a lot easier than I ever could have imagined it was going to be.'"
Three GolfChannel.com staffers gave the boards a try recently at Dubsdread. Jason Crook, 27, and Nick Menta, 26, rode them for most of the round, while the author, older than both of them put together, took turns on a couple of holes. The reviews:
• Dubsdread requires you to watch an instructional video and sign a waiver before taking a Golfboard. The video helped.
• We also were given a few minutes of personal instruction in the practice area before we set out onto the course. Also helpful.
• The author, who has leg and foot issues, was jealous of the Golfboards' ability to drive closer to tees and greens than even his handicapped-flag-equipped cart.
• Standing up through an entire round won't be a problem if you're used to walking 18 holes, but if you regularly ride in a cart, your legs are going to feel it. Reifsnider suggested bringing the kind of fold-out chair you often see spectators using at tournaments. Many models can hang off your golf bag.
• If we had taken three Golfboards and no cart, we wouldn't have had some accessories that cart-riders take for granted, like a small ice-filled cooler to hold drinks, or a sand bottle for divot repair. Reifsnider said those, plus an umbrella holder, are the three suggestions Golfboard renters mention most often. But, he added, "with most groups, there's someone who ends up taking a regular cart."
• Were they fun to ride? Our mutual conclusion was that they probably would be, but it would take a few rounds. Our 20-somethings felt that the concentration required to steer the Golfboard made it more difficult to fully concentrate on their golf games. The author, who has no experience with things like surfboards or skateboards or snowboards that you turn by leaning, was unable to shake a fear of falling flat on his face. In fairness, however, two points should be made: Any activity that involves a learning curve isn't likely to be fun in the beginning, but that doesn't mean it won't be eventually. And the more you do something, the less you have to concentrate on doing it.
So while Golfboards may not be for everyone, they definitely fill a niche. Those who feel comfortable riding them insist they're a blast. The author would like to get beyond the "clenched teeth" stage and prove that "surfing the turf" isn't just kid stuff.