Getting to the Green: Improving Golf Cart Efficiency Part 1

One of golf’s least celebrated yet major environmental triumphs is the wide spread adoption of the golf cart. Developed primarily for our industry, these low-speed vehicles have now been adopted worldwide by private communities and urban centers as an alternative to conventional automobiles.

Future technologies that will power our automobiles in the future are often tested and showcased on the golf cart platform. A few of note are Yamaha’s methane-powered golf cart (yes, poo-powered), hydrogen (Toro Workman) and even algae and compressed air.

But let’s leave the future behind us for now and look at why golf courses are transitioning from gas to electric. Let’s also examine the pros and cons of each and review a few options to help improve your operational efficiency no matter what kind of cart you have.

Gasoline carts
Gas-powered carts are dependable, especially on those longer hillier hauls and in temperatures below freezing where battery capacity (how many amp-hours it can hold) is reduced as temperature goes down. The old 2-cycle gas engines were dirty and loud compared to the new 4-cycle engines, and they eliminate the need to mix your oil and gas. Gas carts are cheap to maintain, and it’s easier to refill them with gas than wait for an electric cart to be charged. Generally, gasoline models have a higher carrying capability than electric carts, making it better suited for utility use.

But gas engines are still noisy and produce emissions causing some municipalities to begin the process of banning them in private communities where they’re allowed on local roadways. Most maintenance equipment is gas powered and requires significant investment into the appropriate infrastructure to support gasoline delivery, storage, fill-up and used oil disposal. However, times are changing and an increase of electric maintenance equipment and people movers on the market will surely replace gas guzzlers eventually. So how much longer will your facility invest in a technology that is all ready being phased out? 

One of the easiest ways to reach or maintain peak performance of your gas engine is to service it regularly, neglecting this results in reduced HP, fuel efficiency and all around performance of the cart.

Electric drive
Besides being preferred by golfers for their quietness, smooth operation, and lack of exhaust fumes, electric carts have 85 percent lower fuel costs, generate one-fifth of the emissions and are three times more fuel efficient then gasoline-powered golf carts . The infrastructure to support charging and battery maintenance and disposal is a fraction of the gasoline costs, and comes with fewer points of environmental or health and safety risk. Newer carts have a little more guts and storage capacity then the earlier electric models, and some even come with regenerative breaking which captures (generates) energy while applying the break, returning up to 10 percent more power back into the batteries under “normal operating conditions” . Batteries must be recycled appropriately, and luckily most states and provinces require retailers selling lead-acid batteries to take in old ones for recycling.

Newer lithium-ion battery packs (like those from, visit their savings calculator) have many benefits over lead-acid, including no battery acid or corrosion, significantly more useful energy output, designed to last 3000 or more cycles, less sensitive to cold, greater vehicle range and a higher energy density.

Electric carts need regular maintenance attention, especially with batteries. Take care of corrosion by cleaning batteries with a baking soda solution monthly, and because charged lead-acid batteries do not have a memory, mechanics should “equalize” batteries monthly by running a second charge cycle and forcing a full charge on every cell. Try to use electric carts at least once per month. If you cannot take your golf cart out in the winter, force a charge cycle by unplugging the charger from the cart and plugging it back in. 

This post was originally published in the September 2011 issue of Golf Course Trades Magazine