Golf carts better than cars for island life, residents say

Tara McClellan of Folly Beach was using her golf cart to go to the library. She said it beats driving a car and it is the best investment she ever made.

FOLLY BEACH — Tara McClellan sees her golf cart as the best investment she ever made.

“It's better than driving a car. You just hop in it and go,” she said.

The electric cart moves at a turtle's pace with a top speed of 15 mph. But it gets her where she needs to go in fine fashion and runs for days on a single charge.

City Council recently revised its golf cart ordinance to bring it into line with state regulations. They include restricting travel to four miles from the residence where the cart is registered and driving only on secondary neighborhood roads during the daytime. On Folly, golf carts can cross Center Street but are banned on the island's downtown avenue.

“A lot of people have them. They're easy to park,” said Mayor Tim Goodwin, who owns a golf cart.

The island has nearly 600 golf carts registered with City Hall. They include residents and rentals.

Dan Rogers drives his golf cart for errands around town. He stopped at the post office before heading to lunch at Loggerhead's Beach Grill.

“On the island, I never use my car except after dark,” Rogers said.

South Carolina has 101,149 golf carts permitted by the state Department of Motor Vehicles for travel on neighborhood roads, according to 2013 figures, the latest available. That year, the DMV issued 7,692 new golf cart permits.

Horry County has the most DMV-permitted golf carts at 31,740 followed by Beaufort County with 6,305, Locally, Charleston County has 4,707 golf carts, Berkeley County has 2,282 and Dorchester County has 1,595, the DMV said.

The DMV figures do not include golf carts used at golf courses or driven only on private land, officials said.

Statewide information on whether the number of golf cart permits has grown over time is not readily available and requires payment of an hourly research fee, said Beth Parks, DMV spokeswoman.

Like Folly, Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island said their rules governing golf carts mirror South Carolina law which includes requirements that those at the wheel have a driver's license and be at least 16 years old. State registration and proof of liability insurance is required.

Isle of Palms Mayor Dick Cronin, who drives a golf cart, said the island has hundreds of them.

“Just a convenient way to see your neighbor. Most of the people I know have golf carts,” he said.

Islanders who have golf carts tend to buy them reconditioned from a golf course. Using a cart reduces car traffic on the island, he said.

Exact numbers for golf carts on IOP and Sullivan's were not available because those islands do not require a City Hall-issued golf cart permit. But golf carts are plentiful in both places.

“It's golf cart city,” Sullivan's Town Councilman and Mayor-Elect Pat O'Neil said.

Sullivan's had a Fourth of July parade that included more than 100 golf carts and a prize for the one with the best decorations, he said.

However, O'Neil is not a golf cart aficionado.

“I have a quite rusty bike that is probably 25 years old,” he said.

Folly, as part of its golf cart ordinance revision passed Jan. 13, distinguishes between the typical golf cart and “low-speed vehicles” which look like golf carts but have a different frame with seat belts, lights and other features that make them more roadworthy, Goodwin said.

Some Little Oak Island residents wanted to know if they could drive their low-speed vehicle on Folly Road and Center Street so City Council tweaked the golf cart ordinance to make that legal, he said.

Most islanders, though, are content to move at a slower pace on back roads in their traditional golf cart.

“It's just so much more convenient. Easier to park, cheaper,” Rogers said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711