Golf helps Augusta’s economy more than just during the first week in April.
Golf industry global leaders Club Car and E-Z-Go/Textron both have their headquarters in Augusta, employing thousands of people as the struggling economy presents challenges.
“We’re no longer just a golf car company,” E-Z-Go/Textron CEO Kevin Holleran said.
Textron acquired Bad Boy Buggies in 2010 as a way to reach out to the hunting and outdoors communities and has manufactured Cushman commercial and utility vehicles since the late 1990s. Those lines provide diversity and stability to the Textron family, something Holleran said was much appreciated in the past few years, when more golf courses have closed than opened.
“Some of the industry dynamics and the struggles have really caused us to look at other opportunities where we can grow, serve our shareholders and increase sales,” he said. “While we continue to innovate and to improve our offerings to the golf business, we have really made significant investments to become more than just a golf car company.”
Club Car has been doing much the same under one brand name. CEO Marc Dufour said he wants to see his electric vehicles in densely populated Asian markets where the average resident might not be able to afford a car.
“The ability to move people around is the core of what we do,” Dufour said. “As we look to the future, that’s where I think we have to focus.”
Visage, Club Car’s GPS and golf information system, has steadily grown in popularity since its release in 2010. Visage communicates to the pro shop, the golfer and to Club Car with data on just about everything that happens on the golf course. Customers can order food and drinks, the pro shop can remotely shut down a golf car that is in an illegal area, and Club Car now has access to information about every golf car it sells with that technology.
“It’s a tool for the golfer, it’s a tool for the pro and it’s a tool for us,” Dufour said. “We believe technology will be critically important to the golf and electric vehicle industry. Now, we’re just working on how to build off of this platform.”
Diversifying their offerings is one way to grow, but both companies are also involved in promoting and expanding the game of golf. Holleran said the publicity that the 2016 Olympics will give to the sport should spike interest, in addition to the increasingly global representation on a professional level. Golf will be an official sport in the Olympics in 2016 after the International Olympic Committee voted in 2009 to reinstate it.
“I think that it’s going to become an even more global game. I know that from a manufacturer’s standpoint, we’re working to promote that,” he said.
Both E-Z-Go and Club Car are heavily involved in recruiting more women and minorities to the game and in reviving lapsed golfers’ interest in the game. Organizations such as The First Tee are critically important to sharing the joy of the game with new golfers, Holleran said.
“It can be an intimidating sport to pick up: There’s so much etiquette to it, so much tradition,” Holleran said.
As the industry evolves, both companies are prepared to adapt to market needs, building on their histories of service and quality.
“I think that what makes us a successful golf car manufacturer can be parlayed into success in other electric transportation markets,” Holleran said. “It’s not that far off the reservation – we burn, we bend, we assemble in that factory. We’re looking to capitalize on the expertise we have.”
Although golf is the companies’ lineage, expansion into new territory is more than just a good idea, their leaders say.
“If you’re not adapting to change, you won’t survive,” Dufour said. “We feel really good about where we’re at.”