SoloRider: Specially designed cart allows golfers with ailments,
disabilities to enjoy the game

Colby Frazier, News-Press Staff Writer - September 5, 2006

Roger Pretekin, president of SoloRider
Management, demonstrates how a golfer can
get into position from the SoloRider.
Afael Maldonado/News-Press Photos

The problem that we're seeing in golf today is
that we're losing our best customers.
Roger Pretekin,
president of SoloRider Management

The Ferrari of golf carts has officially arrived at the Santa Barbara Golf Club.

The single-seat vehicle handles like an all-wheel-drive rally car, but instead of a steering wheel, it sports a handlebar setup similar to that of a motorcycle and hugs the ground with an independent four-wheel suspension with 7 inches of ground clearance.

But these features are trumped by the car's true purpose: to allow golfers with limited and serious disabilities to enjoy the game.

"The problem that we're seeing in golf today is that we're losing our best customers," said Roger Pretekin, president of SoloRider Management, the company that designed the car. "We're losing the seniors, the people who play three to four days a week."

According to Mr. Pretekin, the game of golf has experienced little growth in the past 10 years, mostly as a result of older players quitting because of ailing knees and hips.

The SoloRider, he told a crowd at the golf course last week, serves severely disabled golfers as well, such as amputees, paraplegics and those who have suffered strokes.

Steve Spinrad, who uses the SoloRider, has been a fixture of the Santa Barbara golf scene for more than 40 years and was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease six years ago.

"It's going to enable me to play golf where I would not be able to," Mr. Spinrad said. "To me, it's kind of important to play because part of my identity comes from golf."

One of the cart's most distinguishing features is a seat that can swivel 360 degrees. Once a golfer is facing the correct direction and is buckled in at the waist and chest, the rider simply flips a switch that raises and pivots the seat. This allows the golfer to swing from an upright position.

In this manner, the golfer is able to take a normal swing without the use of legs.

The SoloRider is not a new addition to the Santa Barbara Golf Club. For the past four years, an earlier model has been used at the course, but golf club manager Scott Jorgensen said the new model is much easier to operate.

The SoloRider answers difficult questions for public access golf courses around the country wrestling with how to provide disabled patrons with easy access, as required by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Beyond making architectural accommodations, such as accessible restrooms, courses have constructed new pathways for wheelchairs and even reduced the grades on steep slopes, but Mr. Pretekin believes SoloRider provides the best answer.

"This bridges the gap," Mr. Pretekin said. "You don't have to change your paths, you don't have to lower your mounds, you don't have to do anything to your golf course other than put somebody in this cart and let them go take it on."

Of the 18,000 golf courses around the country, Mr. Pretekin said only 2 percent use the SoloRider, but half of his customers are nongolfers who use the cart for various outdoor activities.

Mr. Pretekin said that when people begin using the SoloRider, they may encounter some stigma, though he emphasizes that it's designed to be used as a golf cart, not a fancy wheelchair.

"It is a golf cart, and that's the way the cart should be presented -- not as a handicapped cart, but as a single-rider cart that accommodates people with disabilities as an added function, not as a primary function," he said.

Severely disabled golfers who cannot stand or walk are allowed to drive the cart onto the greens to do their putting -- an act normally forbidden by golf courses.

Realizing that the sight of a golf cart on a green would cause controversy, Mr. Pretekin and his engineers designed the SoloRider to exert 81/2 pounds of pressure per tire for a car carrying a 250-pound person loaded with clubs.

He said an average person standing still applies double that amount of pressure on each foot.

Mr. Pretekin said the throttle is restricted to prevent the tires from spinning, which helps protect the fairways and greens, and that the cart's top speed is 14 mph, just like a traditional golf cart.

Although the United States Golf Association has invested millions of dollars on programs to spur interest in golfing among the young and those with limited means, Mr. Pretekin said the industry also needs to focus on keeping its current customers around a little longer.

"We're not growing this game as we should, and it's not because we're not getting new players in; it's because we're losing our best players out of the backside," he said. "And the courses like Santa Barbara, who have taken the steps to create accessibility not just for people with disabilities, but for everybody, are going to find that people are going to start coming in and, because of this cart, will be able to play golf and spend their money here and be able to enjoy this part of their life."

The two new SoloRider golf carts were purchased by Santa Barbara's Parks & Recreation Department and will be available to all golfers for the same price as a normal single cart rental.

"This is the way it is now," Mr. Jorgensen said. "This is the future."