Originally created 03/10/01

Car marks company's success



In his 31 years at Club Car Inc., Lewis Odum has driven countless golf carts off the assembly line, but none as special as the one completed at 10:15 a.m. Friday.

The production supervisor steered the cart, Club Car's millionth unit, through a paper banner and a cascade of black and gold balloons at an adrenaline-fueled ceremony marking the event.

Club Car's day-shift workers, nearly 1,000 of them, cheered so loudly they drowned out Kool and the Gang's Celebration, which had been blaring through the factory's loudspeakers.

"If you cut one of our employees, they bleed black and gold," said marketing manager Gary Stough.

Community leaders, retired company executives and elected officials turned out to honor the company - one of the largest golf vehicle manufacturers in the world - that has spent 39 of its 42 years based in Augusta.

The millionth unit, a beige DS Electric model, was parked next to a yellow, three-wheel Stevens Club Car model the company produced nearly four decades ago.

The old display model, which still runs, was the first unit assembled after the company's manufacturing operations were relocated to Augusta on the back of a semi-truck. The driver of that truck, George Pennington, still works for Club Car and has driven 8 million accident-free miles to date.

The contrast between vehicle No. 1 and vehicle No. 1,000,000 perfectly illustrates how the company has transformed from a privately-held start-up to an established subsidiary of Ingersoll-Rand Co., a $9 billion global conglomerate.

Club Car, along with cross-town competitor E-Z-Go and Newnan, Ga.-based Yamaha Motor Corp., control 90 percent of the golf car market. E-Z-Go built its millionth golf car more than four years ago.

Sales figures among the "Big Three" companies are closely guarded secrets, but by most accounts, Club Car's piece of the pie has grown the most in recent years.

In fact, half of the company's 1 million golf carts, referred to as "golf cars" in the industry, were produced in the past five years.

"We're still going strong, bigger than ever, better than ever," said A. Montague "Mont" Miller, the company's president and chief executive officer, pumping up the crowd.

Club Car was established in Houston in 1958. But the company that it is today began more than 20 years ago when a group of eight dissident E-Z-Go executives purchased Club Car from Johns Manville Corp., a Denver-based building materials manufacturer.

Some of the original executives, or the "excellent eight," as they are known within the company, are still there, including sales executive Randy Strozier.

"He's probably sold more golf cars than anyone else in the world," Mr. Miller said.

With Mr. Miller as their legal counsel and a third mortgage on their homes for start-up financing, the eight moved into the former Johns Manville plant off Washington Road in Evans and cranked out their first vehicles March 1, 1978.

The company employed 76 people then. Today it employs nearly 1,400, with 1,300 in the Augusta area, drawing $50 million a year in payroll, making it Columbia County's largest private employer.

The company controls more than 400,000 square feet of manufacturing, warehouse and office space in four Columbia County locations.

"You're a great corporate neighbor of Columbia County, and we do appreciate that," said Barry Fleming, county commission chairman, who along with Mayor Bob Young presented Club Car with proclamations honoring their contributions to the local economy throughout the years.

CLUB CAR HIGHLIGHTS

1958: Company founded in Houston

1962: Local businessman Bill Stevens Jr. purchases the company and moves its operations to Augusta

1973: Stevens family sells Club Car to Denver-based Johns Manville Corp.

1978: Eight executives from Augusta-based golf cart maker E-Z-GO purchase Club Car from Johns Manville Corp.

1993: Club Car becomes a publicly traded company on the Nasdaq exchange

1995: Company is acquired by South Bend, Ind.-based Clark Equipment Co. Several months later Clark Equipment is bought by global machinery manufacturer Ingersoll-Rand Co. of Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

2001: Club Car produces millionth golf cart

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Club Car Inc.

Parent: Ingersoll-Rand Co.

Founded: 1958

Employees: 1,400; 1,300 locally

Product: Electric and gas-powered golf and utility vehicles

Sales: Undisclosed

Production: 650 vehicles daily

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.