The golf cart has permeated culture far more than the links. From gated retirement communities to private security to the eponymous golf courses that bare its name, golf carts make getting around just a bit more fun. But while you’re drinking a beer and thinking about your next shot will win you the lion’s share of the loot in a golf betting game, you’re probably not thinking about the history of the golf cart.
However, answering “when were golf carts invented” can yield a few interesting and surprising results. Whether you’re a history buff or just want a bit of trivia and banter for your next golf outing, here’s what you need to know about when golf carts were invented.
The first golf carts were invented around 1932. However, the original inventor of the golf cart is the source of some debate, but it’s almost entirely due to semantics. According to historians of the golf cart, the ride was invented by one of two people:
Despite the ingenuity of these two types of golf carts, subsequent prototypes weren’t readily accepted. To this degree, they were essentially used only for those with physical disabilities or handicaps—but not a golf handicap. Being bad at golf wasn’t an acceptable reason for golf cart usage.
Early iterations of the golf cart set the bar for future innovation, but it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the golf cart gained commercial success.
Using his knowledge of electric car production due to gas shortages in World War II, amateur inventor Merle Williams started the Marketeer Company in Redlands, California, in 1951.
A three-wheel motorized tricycle with handlebars rather than a steering wheel, the first Marketeer—officially known as the Marketeer Caddie Car Model 419—had room for golf bags and golf clubs in the rear and seating for two in the front—much like golf carts today. Today, these are collector’s items, as Williams sold the company to multinational conglomerate Westinghouse in 1965.
In the mid-1950s, R.J. Jackson—a wealthy oil tycoon from Texas—patented the design for the first gasoline golf cart, giving consumers the option of both electric and gas-powered variants.
Following the success of the first commercial golf cart, several other companies began full-scale production of golf carts in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including E-Z-Go, Club Car, Harley-Davidson, Yamaha, Melex, and Cushman.
Although golf cart is the preferred and most common nomenclature, a golf car is actually the correct term. According to the American National Standards Institute, a golf car is a motorized vehicle that’s self-propelled, just like any other type of car.
A cart, on the other hand, is not self-propelled and moves by other means, such as an animal or another person. In this sense, golf cart is the improper usage of the word, although it’s still favored and widely used at country clubs and golf courses throughout North America, Europe, and Oceania.
Golfers on the PGA Tour aren’t necessarily prohibited from using a golf cart during a round of golf, but getting an exemption to use one is difficult. Golfers have to exhibit some sort of medical condition to garner consideration and acceptance for golf cart usage.
While the use of golf carts is commonplace during a game of golf for you and your buddies, it was a hard no from PGA Tour organizers until 2001. Prior to 2001, no golfer on the PGA Tour was allowed to use a golf cart for any reason whatsoever, but that changed with a lawsuit from golfer Casey Martin.
In 2001, Casey Martin successfully sued the PGA Tour to use a golf cart due to a medical condition known as Klippel–Trénaunay syndrome. This congenital disorder causes blood vessels to restrict blood flow, which can make walking difficult.
After litigation that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Martin won the right to use a golf cart on the tour. Since that time, only one other golfer has needed a golf cart to go around the links—John Daly in 2022.
However, some believed that Tiger Woods would use one in 2022 after rehabbing from a car accident, but Woods declined to do so.
In answering when were golf carts invented, your mind might wander to one of the most common distinctions between commercially made golf carts: electric vs. gas.
Electric golf carts were the OG when golf carts hit the market in 1951, and continue to have a majority of market share. Of all the models produced annually, 80.34% of golf carts are electric, offering a number of benefits over gas-powered options, including:
While electric golf carts certainly have their advantages, gas-powered variants are still popular—especially in neighborhoods or residential areas where permitted by law. The major advantage of gas golf carts over electric is that they can typically run longer on a tank of gas than an electric cart can go on a single charge.
Other perks of a gas cart over an electric one include:
Interestingly, both gas and electric golf carts offer four-wheel drive, which can be useful in certain conditions on the course, as well as in other adventures like hunting, exploring, or just carting around for fun.
Ever since the full-scale adoption of golf carts in the 1950s, dozens of companies have entered the commercial segment. Many of the original companies are still in operation, but others went by the wayside or moved into different markets. When you’re asking, “when were golf cars invented,” the answer still revolves around 1932, but with advancements in technology, added features, and fully customizable options, the golf cart is still being tinkered with and built upon to this day.
The largest manufacturers of golf carts around the world include:
The other companies that round out the top 10 are almost exclusively in China, demonstrating the emerging market for golfing accessories—especially amid its status of having the most expensive golf course in the world.
The popularity of the golf cart across the globe is undeniable, even at exclusive country clubs and par-three golf courses. However, the old-school approach of walking is still preferred by purists and fitness-forward golfers.
So which one is the better choice? It’s all a matter of how much time you have and a given scenario. One’s not necessarily better than the other; you just need to weigh both the pros and cons when you’re ready to schedule your tee time.
Even after weighing the pros and cons of using a golf cart, the choice is entirely a preference. A bit of exercise never hurt anyone, but if fresh legs will get you a win in Wolf, the best round you’ve ever shot, or just an extra chance to smash a beer or a cigar, more power to you.
So then the question becomes "why were golf carts invented" and not just "when were golf carts invented." The answer is to make sure that your lazy ass gets the job done right on the course. Don't disappoint.