SoloRider offered at RCSCW courses

By Cecilia Chan, Independent Newspapers

Monroe Berkman, who has polio, used to play golf by balancing himself on his one good leg as he took a swing.

The Tampa, Fla. resident, who took up the game at 7 years old, was diagnosed at 12 with polio, a viral disease that can damage the nervous system and cause paralysis generally in the legs.

“I would fall down at least a couple of times a round,” Mr. Berkman recalled. “Then I fell down and broke my decent leg.”

The 65-year-old said he saw his whole golf life go out the window at that point. But in 2000 at a PGA Merchandise Show he chanced upon SoloRider, a single-seat electric golf cart that enabled him to continue with his sport.

The vehicle comes equipped with hand controls and a patented 350-degree, hydraulic swivel seat that elevates a player to a standing position for game play.

Now golfers with infirmities such as a bad hip or bad knee have the opportunity use the carts at the Recreation Centers of Sun City West.

The Board of Directors approved in February a contract with SoloRider Management, LLC to rent out two of the specialized golf cars at the courses at no cost or liability to RCSCW.

The Colorado-based company will receive all the rental monies collected by RCSCW for the first 60 days of the agreement and for the next 10 months give RCSCW 20 percent of the collected rental monies for the cars. RCSCW’s only expense would be maintenance of the carts.

Golf Director Scott Simpson said the carts will be rented out for $10 and rotated among the seven golf courses.

“In my view it will allow lot of folks to keep playing,” Mr. Simpson said. “Folks can play golf without putting their full weight on their legs.”

With all things being equal, the cart allows a player the same kind of playing ability as a mobile golfer, he said.

“It allows me to get a full swing,” said Mr. Berkman, who was so impressed by the golf cart, he purchased the company in 2004.

Mr. Berkman, who shoots in the 80s and 90s, said he can hit a ball 200 yards using the cart. Before the cart, he was hitting the ball 140-150 yards.

“If I didn’t play golf, I would feel my age,” said Mr. Berkman, who gave a demonstration at the Pebblebrook Golf Course.

According to Mr. Simpson, RCSCW is entering a seventh year of declining rounds and revenues at the courses.

The carts are just the latest to help jump-start the game in a community with an aging senior population and competition from area courses. Mr. Simpson recently proposed an overhaul of the fee structure that included reduced rates.

“The more people out here, the better off the bottomline,” he said. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The carts are not only handicap friendly but turf friendly for those golfers fearful of damage to the greens and tee boxes.

The weight of the cart is 5 pounds per square inch, lighter than an average golfer standing on two feet. Also, the cart needs no lubricants so there is no messy drips on the courses.

The cost of a cart is about $8,000, depending on optional accessories.

Sun City Grand resident Art Jerard was eager to try out the SoloRider in Sun City West. The 56-year-old golfer, who is dependent on a wheelchair after an automobile accident three years ago, rigged up his cart to enable him to play.

“It enables me to stand and lean against it,” said Mr. Jerard, who has been playing golf since he was a teenager. “But I don’t have the opportunity to play a whole golf course. Because it’s a regular golf cart I can’t take it on the tees, I can’t take it on the greens. It’s too heavy.”

The SoloRider enables a player to access the entire golf course.

“There are a few other units out in the market but none meet the specifications the DOJ wants,” said Roger Pretekin, company founder and president. The SoloRider exceeds all American National Standards Institute safety standards, according to the company’s literature.

Mr. Pretekin said the U.S. Department of Justice has indicated it was looking at requiring golf courses that provide golf cars to have at least one and maybe two handicap-accessible carts available to comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. The law requires equal access to public places for people with disabilities.

Mr. Simpson said the ADA issue was not a big concern for RCSCW because many of its golfers own their own golf carts.

“We are doing everything we can to keep as many people who want to play, keep playing,” he said. “This is one way to do it.”