The Electric Trolley Revolution is happening in North America. Slowly, yes, but it’s most definitely happening.
What started as an oddity a little over a year ago evolved to a rarity this spring. And, as we approach the end of Daylight Savings Time, it’s not all that unusual to see at least one or two during a normal round.
That may not sound like much of a revolution to you. But the people who make and sell these things will tell you it’s a certifiable big deal.
“When I first came here, it was a product for the elderly, to put it gently,” says Roger Teat, who started Motocaddy’s U.S. operation last September. “But now it’s amazing how many people in their mid-30s are using electric walking carts.”
You can call them electric pushcarts, electric caddies or electric trolleys, which is the term we’ll use here. Heck, you can even call them silly toys for rich golfers. But one thing you can’t call them is a passing fad.
You Say You Want an Electric Trolley Revolution
Revolution is probably too strong a word but something is happening here. Let’s call it a transmutation of perception.
A year ago, when people would see my electric trolley rolling up to the first tee, reactions ranged from, “What the hell is that?” to “WOW! What the hell is that!” And whatever secular or non-secular deity you recognize as my witness, one guy asked me: “Are you from the future?”
He was kidding. I think.
“When we first started last fall, we’d get a lot of ‘what is this?’ type of questions,” says Teat. “Not even brand or product but ‘what is this?’”
“Eighteen months ago, there was very little knowledge or understanding of our product category in the U.S.,” says Oliver Churcher, Motocaddy’s Marketing Director in the UK. “I remember being in an elevator while attending the PGA Show and the two people I was with asked what I did. I told them I sold electric trolleys. They gave me a completely blank look until I said it’s a pushcart with a motor. They’d never heard of the concept before.”
We All Want To Change The World
Electric trolleys aren’t new but do you know how far back they go?
Try at least 40 years.
“The first electric trolleys prioritized function over style,” says Churcher. “They came from the engineering side to solve a problem: transporting your clubs around a golf course without having to carry your bag or to push or pull a hand cart.”
Those first versions were power-assisted versions of the old two-wheeled carts. Eventually, three-wheeled models similar to what we have today made their way to market. Early models looked like they were cobbled together in a workshop using an erector set. And they were powered by very heavy and not terribly reliable 12-volt lead-acid batteries.
“The biggest advance in the past 20 years has been in battery technology,” says Churcher. “Lighter, more compact lithium batteries have impacted design and styling. What you see now wouldn’t have been possible with older battery technology.”
And what we’re seeing now is a change in electric trolley discussion. Instead of “What the hell is that?,” the questions today are much more feature and value-focused. More often than not, the first question is, “How long does the battery last?” or “Is that the model with the remote control?”
“Battery life is the most common question I get,” adds Teat. “Then, it’s what’s the difference between yours and competitors’ and what’s the advantage of this over pushing—which is pretty obvious.
“But battery life tends to be the biggest. And since we have the best battery life on the market, it’s a good story to tell.”
Volunteers of America
Motocaddy set up shop in the U.S. last year but it was hardly the first. A quick internet check will show no fewer than nine other electric caddie suppliers including the Long Island-based BatCaddy, MGI from Australia and Motocaddy’s British counterparts, Stewart and Powacaddy.
MyGolfSpy has been testing electric caddies since 2018. That first test included only two models plus the Alphard eWheels pushcart conversion kit. This past year, the test included 10 models including five with remote-control capabilities.
“That’s the sign of a growing market,” says Teat. “If people aren’t following or chasing in that same space, there’s probably not much of a market. To see all the competition is ultimately a good thing.”
Several companies offer fleet options to private clubs and resort courses through either a lease program or a per-use fee. The goal, obviously, is to get more units in the field with the belief that once a golfer tries one, they’ll want to own one.
“What has amazed me the most is the number of club pros who are housing 130-plus pushcarts for their members,” says Teat. “It shows the number of walkers out there and those are an easier sell for electric trolleys as demos or rentals.
“There’s one club in San Francisco where over 100 members own an electric trolley, which is insane. That speaks volumes to the category and the growth.”
Got a Revolution, Got to Revolution
In just over a year, we’ve seen a market appear and grow right before our eyes. And nothing speaks to an emerging market more than competitors joining the fray. Just 12 months ago, you might have found one or two electric trolleys on a website such as Rockbottomgolf.com. Today, the product category has its own webpage with more than 30 products to choose from.
“Step One is building the market,” says Churcher. “Once you get that momentum and get more trolleys out on the golf course, it can quickly snowball. Then the questions change from what does is this thing to what does this thing do compared to others.”
If you check the websites of all the major players, each will list a litany of innovations. Motocaddy claims to be the first with a digital LED screen in 2008, the first to offer a five-year warranty on its lithium batteries and the first to add a built-in GPS to a compact folding trolley.
In 2020, Motocaddy introduced the first touchscreen GPS in the M5 along with smartphone connectivity. This year, Motocaddy is adding cellular connectivity to the M5.
“It will give you real-time data access on the trolley,” says Churcher. “It will give you full hole mapping and it will give you automatic software updates. These are things we couldn’t have even dreamed of three to five years ago as being available in a trolley.”
And therein lies the future of the electric trolley category. Once the concept of a self-powered cart to make transporting your clubs from the first tee to the 18th green takes hold, it’s all about what makes the journey easier and more fun.
It’s all about the feature set—and that’s all about the software.
One Generation Got Old
In any business, increased competition can do two things. First, it can force a pricing dynamic. This usually means lower prices for basic models. But the race to the bottom almost always leads to diminishing margins which can lead to questionable quality and limited feature sets. Yes, you’ll be able to buy an entry-level item for less but it almost always becomes a case of buyer beware.
Competition also sparks creativity and innovation as the leaders in a particular arena push to differentiate their products. It’s why today’s cars have Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Play, heated seats and keyless entry.
In the case of cellular connectivity and a full-color touch screen, it means your new electric trolley won’t be obsolete.
“As soon as you have data connectivity, it opens up a whole world of possibilities,” says Churcher. “The biggest factor is what do golfers want? What else do they want the product to do to help them enjoy their game more?”
For some golfers, that might be not a damned thing—just haul my clubs around the course for me and I’ll be fine. For others, it could be features like a built-in stat-tracking function along with the GPS. Or it could be a TV screen to watch the game.
“I brought that up maybe my second week on the job,” says Teat. “How do we link up DirectTV so I can watch football on a Sunday? But the thing is how big and how high def do you make the screen? That’s the bigger constraint than actually providing the service.”
One Generation Got Soul
So, what of this Electric Trolley Revolution? Cellular connectivity new software updates and features can be added at any time, just as with operating system updates with your smartphone.
After that? The sky’s the limit.
“How do we make this the fun experience you can have on a course?” says Teat. “Speakers? Maybe a cooler or enhanced GPS? We already have a USB plug for a portable fan when it’s silly hot.”
“We can make the screen as big as golfers want us to make the screen,” adds Churcher. “But it’s the connectivity that opens up so many possibilities.”
With software-based functionality, you essentially have a product that won’t be made obsolete when the next model comes out. New features, such as gamification, connectivity with other users, shot and data tracking or even Sunday football can be added through a simple software update.
“We can give the golfer more options, more features and more control over how the product works for them,” says Churcher. “That whole personalization and customization. I’ll be amazed if you don’t see that happen as we go forward.”
It goes without saying that there will be advances in size, weight, materials and power source technology. But the real playground will be in the software and operating system. The Holy Grail is for you, the golfer, to customize your feature set to whatever you want. The technology is there to watch the big game, keep some beverages cool, collect data on your game and text your buddies—all using your electric trolley. If you’re a music lover, you could even activate speakers and groove to the Jefferson Airplane, Beatles or Buffalo Springfield.
If not, you can delete the function forever and enjoy your game in silence.
The Electric Trolley Revolution: What’s Next?
OK so maybe calling it the Electric Trolley Revolution is a bit over the top but there is something happening here. And what it is, in fact, is very clear. The category has transformed from oddity to curiosity to a purchase possibility in less than a year.
Electric trolleys are already available at price points ranging from around $500 to more than $5,500. You get what you pay for but the sweet spot in the market right now appears to be in the $1,000 to $1,500 range for GPS and/or remote-control models with lithium batteries.
And therein lies the final piece of anecdotal evidence of this revolution. Yeah, electric trolleys aren’t cheap but no one is taking away the standard pushcart as a budget solution. But every round, my playing partners will ask the $64,000 question: How much?
A year ago when I’d tell them, they’d say something clever like, “Wow, guess I’m playing with a Rockefeller (or a Bezos, for you youngsters).” Today, it’s more of a semi-affirmative monosyllabic grunt followed by a little mental math as they try to figure out how to slide this purchase past the household’s Ways and Means Committee.
But the potential for limitless software upgrades and new functionality are a category-defining game-changer. Video, shot tracking, gamification, battery-powered accessories—all and more are on the table. It all depends on what golfers want.
That means you, dear reader. What functions do you think would be cool, useful or just plain fun to have on your electric trolley? It is, after all, your Electric Trolley Revolution. Let us know what functionality you’d like to see in an electric trolley.
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