One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.
By Gary Van Sickle
WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Rocky rolled the scooter off its kickstand so that I didn’t have to. No rider should admit such an uncool fact, but I’m not proud.
He held the bike up while I mounted it. “Here’s the throttle; here’s the brakes, just like on any bike,” Rocky assured me.
Safely aboard, I twisted the throttle open with my right hand and roared off on the Phat Golf scooter in what was my highlight Tuesday at the PGA Merchandise Show’s Demo Day at Orange County National. Roared may be too strong a word for how it looked to others. But in my head, the iconic Steppenwolf song started playing the moment the scooter started moving.
“Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way …
Born to be wild …”
I felt like I just stepped into the 1969 counterculture classic film “Easy Rider,” about a couple of drug dealers who set out on a mind-bending, anti-establishment trek from California to New Orleans. I’m just not sure if I was Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper or Jack Nicholson, but holding the handlebars of the Phat Golf scooter as I steered down a cart path and then made a slow, looping turn on a grassy bank had the same powerful allure of hanging on to a snarling Harley.
I could almost hear Nicholson’s character telling Hopper’s character after a scuffle with some townies, “They’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to ’em.”
“All we represent to them, man,” Hopper told him, “is somebody who needs a haircut.”
“Oh, no,” Nicholson said, delivering the movie’s quintessential line. “What you represent to them is freedom. . . . But talkin’ about it and bein’ it, that’s two different things.”
My short spin ended uneventfully, and I pulled up next to Rocky Rafkin, Phat Golf’s vice president of sales and development. I knocked the kickstand down all by myself, dawg, and totally stuck the landing.
“You did something nobody else has done on that,” Rafkin chided me.
“What?” I asked nervously. “You went slow,” he answered. “C’mon!”
Well, it wasn’t my scooter, and that one, The Phatty, is the heavier industrial model designed to be purchased by golf courses and rented to customers. It sells for $2,500. A lighter, slightly smaller model for consumers, The Sport, goes for $1,699.
Golf would be more popular if it were more fun. Well, Phat Golf vehicles make golf more fun. Who doesn’t want to tool around on a motorcycle – I mean, electric scooter – and be seen doing it on a golf course?
“The guys at Phat Scooters were creating lots of products for consumers, and I said we should do one for golf,” Rafkin said. “They make recreational-lifestyle cruisers, and it evolved into a golf cart.”
The Phat scooter gets its name from the two tires, which are 9½ inches wide. What else can you call those things but fat? It also has a canopy attachment option, and the white one I saw a gave me a Star Wars storm-trooper vibe.
In addition to the fun factor, your superintendent will thank you for golfing from a scooter instead of a traditional four-wheel cart. A foursome still will ride on eight wheels, like four players in two carts, but that’s where the similarity ends. Four players riding by themselves are able to play noticeably faster.
“The four wheels aren’t the same, either,” Rafkin said. “The way you measure pounds per square inch is the total weight divided by four and by the inches. If you’ve got a 200-pound golfer in a Phat Scooter, it’s 350 pounds. A golf cart is 2,000 pounds, so four players in scooters less than half as much pressure. They are much easier on the grass.”
The newly released scooters are available to rent at four Phoenix-area courses – Stonecreek, Raven, Kokopelli and Continental – and several courses in Texas. Most of the courses charge about $10 more for a scooter rental than a cart rental, Rafkin said.
“I’ve got one at home,” he said, “and I’ll buzz out and play six holes on the course in 35 or 40 minutes.”
The scooters have a top speed of 20 mph. They are not street legal, but you don’t need a license to drive them. Just obey the same laws as for bicycles. Because they’re so low to the ground (with a seat height of only 28 inches), they’re extremely safe. The company had three goals in making scooters for golf: they had to be inexpensive, easy to ride and not break. Rafkin is satisfied that they succeeded.
PGA Tour player Pat Perez is a fan who owns one. He told Rafkin that riding it is “like riding a couch.”
In a video testimonial at www.PhatGolf.com, Perez added, “I like to ride the scooter, anyway, and I like to golf, so now I can do both. You can kinda be yourself more. You ride by yourself and listen to music if you want. And it’s faster than a golf cart. If each guy in a foursome has one, you can do your own deal and meet at the green.
“It’s very easy to ride in grass or on a cart path. I feel safe on it. I don’t feel like I’m gonna crash and die going down a hill like I do on some other things.”
Six hours later, I was still fondly reliving my Phat Golf ride and my flashback moment. That ride was all about freedom, man, and I want one of these things so I can stick it to The Man, fight the establishment and be a damn rebel. While, you know, riding a scooter.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle