Originally created 06/27/04

Companies that refurbish golf cars see lots of green



Being home to Club Car and E-Z-Go, the Augusta area has come to be known as the golf-car capital of the world.

That reputation also is earned on the backs of two of the nation's largest used golf car distributors, however.

Mr. Golf Carts in Waynesboro, Ga., and Transportation Solutions of Augusta, based in Evans, refurbish and sell a combined 15,000 used golf cars each year, a hefty portion of the golf car market.

"We don't have but one problem in our business - we can't get them ready fast enough," said James Eastmead, the owner of Mr. Golf Carts, the nation's largest used golf car distributor.

Demand for used golf cars has grown with an ever-increasing number of nongolf uses for the vehicles, such as transporting customers through a parking lot or hauling parts across a factory.

Additonally, more golf courses and businesses are trying to cash in on the price savings of a reconditioned car, which costs about $1,800, compared with $3,500 for a new one.

"There's a pretty active market for used golf cars," said Mike Read, a Club Car spokesman.

Golf car manufacturers, including Club Car Inc., E-Z-Go and Yamaha - which has a production facility in Newnan, Ga. - typically lease or sell vehicles to golf course owners for about three years.

"At posh country clubs, image is important. They're going to want new products," said John Boone, co-owner of TSA in Evans.

TSA and Mr. Golf Carts buy the returned vehicles from the manufacturers and their distributors. The two companies then recondition and resell the vehicles to wholesalers and independent dealers.

Reconditioning includes replacing the tires and batteries, fixing holes in the seats, repairing chips in the body and general cleaning.

Many of the cars ultimately find new life in farms, factories, gated communities, small golf courses, hunting cabins and any other place where small vehicles are needed.

But TSA and Mr. Golf Carts are finding much of their businesses growth in selling customized cars.

Both companies will strip a vehicle to its frame and rebuild or re-configure it with a variety of accessories, such as a second or third row of seats, lights, tow hitches, equipment racks and even heaters.

Mr. Boone said his company can do just about anything to customize a car, including as putting a mock Rolls-Royce body on it, adding hubcaps featuring a college mascot or installing a fancy stereo.

"No one has asked for a DVD player yet, but it can be done," Mr. Boone said. "It's all a matter of how much you want to spend."

Golf cars designed for hunting, for example, get a lift kit, large off-road tires, camouflage and gun racks.

Passenger cars are stretched to carry six or eight people.

For folks in communities that rely on golf cars as a main means of transportation, such as in Peachtree City, Ga., turn signals, seat belts and windshields with wipers are installed.

And Mr. Eastmead's company often applies decals to the cars to mimic the look of NASCAR race cars. Although the customized cars are the prominent part of their business, the standard golf car is their staple.

Between 80 and 90 percent of all used golf cars that pass through Mr. Golf Carts and TSA end up for sale at small, independent distributors around the country, places such as J&M Golf Carts on Industrial Park Drive in Evans.

Jack Storey, the owner of J&M, said he buys the cars, then sells them to individuals, small golf courses and other golf car dealers. Small golf courses prefer used vehicles because of the cost savings.

"A small golf course is going to get as much use out of a 3- to 4-year-old golf car as a new one," Mr. Eastmead said.

Although the small independents such as J&M try to compete with TSA and Mr. Golf Carts by making sales to other dealers and small golf courses, TSA and Mr. Golf Carts set themselves apart with their volume, their close ties to the manufacturer and their ability to refurbish and customize.

Mr. Golf Carts, founded in 1988, is the nation's largest buyer of E-Z-Go and Yamaha golf cars and is an authorized new-car dealer for both brands. The company's 60-plus employees refurbish about half of the almost 1,000 cars it sells each month.

The company, which started out as a two-person shop in a little garage, now stocks between 2,500 and 3,000 cars on its 20-acre lot.

Mr. Golf Carts' ability to deal in large numbers of vehicles draws customers from all over the country.

"He's got the biggest selection and the best prices," said customer Danny Sasser, the owner of Sasser Golf Cars Inc. in Goldsboro, N.C.

TSA, which is the area's only authorized new Club Car dealer, is headed by two former Club Car employees. Mr. Boone and his partner, Tripp Kuhlke, handled Club Car's aftermarket sales division before leaving to open TSA about five years ago.

Though Club Car and E-Z-GO have their own reconditioning facilities, it is often easier and more cost-effective for them to pass on the used cars to companies such as TSA and Mr. Golf Carts.

"Our strength is in manufacturing new cars," said Ron Skenes, an E-Z-Go spokesman. "It's more efficient for us to sell the bulk of these cars through the dealer network,"

Reach James Gallagher at (706) 823-3227 or james.gallagher@augustachronicle.com.