News & Opinion

A faster, more fun round of golf? Hop on

ORLANDO, Fla. – I had multiple thoughts after I climbed aboard FinnCycle, a single-rider golf cart that looks enticingly like an honest-to-gosh motorcycle, and listened to a solid six seconds of driving instruction.

Thought 1: Don’t fall off. Everyone’s looking. Plus, you’re breakable.

Thought 2: Isn’t this what those bad guys rode when they chased Indiana Jones and it never ended well for them? At least there’s no sidecar.

Thought 3: This thing is cool! I probably look just like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape,” when he guns a German motorcycle and tries to jump the fence at the end of the movie.

Thought 4: Also … don’t fall off!

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The single-rider FinnCycle gives golf another gear with a fast, fun cart alternative.

COURTESY OF SUN MOUNTAIN MOTOR SPORTS
The single-rider FinnCycle gives golf another gear with a fast, fun cart alternative.

With that in mind, I pushed the throttle down with my right thumb and began a test drive by roaring off across the practice range at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, both hands poised to squeeze the handbrakes if I got too close to breaking the sound barrier. The machine beneath my legs responded with a powerful, steady hum.

I swerved left; I swerved right. One of those maneuvers, I’m proud to say, was intentional.

The wind blew through my hair, rustling it like amber waves of grain. (I’ll concede this is wishful thinking, but it’s what would have happened 40 years ago, when I had almost as much hair as Lassie.)

I buzzed to the range’s far end, smartly executed a wide turn, cruised down a small slope like a pro, raced back up the same slope and approached my starting point to conclude the ride. This is where I forgot about Thoughts 1 and 4.

Heading back toward some onlookers who included several media colleagues awaiting their turns, I decided it would make a grand finale if I half-stood and pulled on the handlebars as if I were going to pop a wheelie, as we used to say in the fifth grade. As if I could.

My McQueen moment was weak stuff. All I did was lose my balance briefly, causing me to make an unusually jaunty turn into the finish area, where I smartly braked to a stop and hoped nobody noticed.

“Hey,” said some guy whom I didn’t recognize as I dismounted, “you looked just like Evel Knievel.”

Well, I do have the limp of the late daredevil, so … thanks!

Here’s a spoiler alert for the annual PGA Merchandise Show, always one of January’s few highlights for me, a frost-back Midwesterner who hibernates in Pittsburgh. The PGA Show concludes today. I haven’t seen everything yet – not even half of everything, honestly – but I can confidently hand out the award for Coolest New Golf Gear. The FinnCycle by Sun Mountain Motor Sports is the Meryl Streep of this awards show.

The name is one vowel from perfection. The FinnCycle is the FunnCycle.

Finn, as close friends call it, is not the first electric vehicle to challenge the traditional two-person golf cart, but it’s the most promising. I won’t name the product I gushed about at last year’s PGA Merchandise Show that turned grown men into grade-schoolers when they drove it. That was a single-rider motor-scooter with fat balloon tires and a golf-bag holder in back attached like an unwanted hitchhiker. It was fun, it was different and it wasn’t a cart.

But Finn is fun, different and cool. It resembles a motorcycle, not a motor scooter. Big difference. The tires are normal-sized. Best of all, the golf bag lies at an upward angle, almost blending in with the frame of the bike. The open end where the clubs are pulled out rests between the handlebars, and the bottom of the bag fits beneath the seat. Finn’s driver actually sits astride his or her golf bag, an ingenious design that gives Finn its cool factor. Finn’s lithium batteries, similar to those used in Tesla cars, make the carts good for 36 holes on a single charge.

Finn is not just funn and games. It has the potential to be a game-changer for golf. Consider this: What are two of golf’s biggest problems? Slow play and the failure to attract younger players to the game. Finn could solve both.

You’d have to make an extreme effort to play slowly on a Finn, even in a foursome. Its top speed is 16 mph. Sun Mountain founder Rick Reimers went out for his initial test with the Finn at Missoula (Mont.) Country Club. When he finished nine holes, he checked his watch. He remembers thinking, Did I just play nine holes in 30 minutes? That can’t be right.

So, he went out for another nine. He finished 30 minutes later. Reimers knew then that this product had the chance to be special.

The story about golf missing a whole generation of young players isn’t done being written yet. What better way to improve golf’s cool factor, which clearly has been lacking, than by introducing a fun new way to get around the course?

Reimers is sneaking up on that time in life known as retirement, and his resume at Sun Mountain is impressive. He deserves credit for three game-changing equipment innovations: the three-wheeled push cart (Speed Cart, introduced in 1999); the superlight carry bag; and a carry bag with built-in stand legs.

All three innovations quickly became new industry standards.

Those were three pretty big changes in golf.

“I’d like to change it one more time,” Reimers said.

Toward that end, Sun Mountain has created a unique plan to entice golf courses to provide Finns as cart-rental options. It’s a revenue-sharing plan that makes Finns more affordable for cash-strapped clubs. A course puts down $600 to get a Finn, then splits rental revenue with Sun Mountain.

Finns will be available for individual ownership, too. Reimers said the official sales price hasn’t been decided yet but estimates it will be about $3,000.

There’s one other benefit to speeding up play besides making all of us happier. At any course, especially a high-end daily-fee course or swank resort, sending out the first few groups on Finns to play speed golf should allow the golf shop to squeeze in at least one additional tee-time slot. One extra tee time a day adds up to real revenue. Imagine Pebble Beach scoring four additional peak-season $525 green fees per day. That’s $2,100. Now imagine Pebble Beach getting enough players to rent Finns that the course’s notoriously slow pace of play improves enough that it opens up two or three more tee times per day. It turns into a win-win-win. Faster play, more happy customers and more revenue.

That’s the business end. Finn’s real story is much simpler. It’s the fun factor that comes with the product. Anyone who sees Finn and doesn’t smile is a hopeless grump (not that I’d know anything about that).

Reimers already has run into a few such – call them traditionalists – at courses upon which he has called. “Some course owners are like, What the hell is that? Or, I’m never going to allow that on my course!” Reimers said. “I tell our sales reps when they get those kinds of questions not to answer, just put them on a Finn and let them try it. When they come in, they usually say, ‘OK, I’ll take six.’ ”

Finns are fun. Even the unusual name is fun.

“Ask me why it’s called Finn,” the usually low-key Reimers told a roomful of golf-equipment media.

“Why is it called Finn?” they obliged in chaotic non-unison.

“Well,” Reimers said, “it’s fun! We thought about GolfCycle as the name, but we needed a four-letter word for the app that goes with it. So, we wanted a word that said fun. Our dog, Finn, was the most fun thing I could think of.”

“What kind of dog is Finn?” Reimers was asked. He smiled. “He’s a Maltipoo,” he said. A Maltipoo is a cross between a Maltese and a toy or miniature poodle.

I had to look that up. I initially thought Reimers said “multi-poo.” Which didn’t sound fun at all.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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