Editor’s note: This story on metro Augusta, Georgia, golf car makers, which originally ran on April 6, 2022, is the third in a series of special GGP/Biz pieces during the week of the PGA Show in Orlando, Florida.
detroit became the automotive capital of North America when the Big Three automakers – Ford, General Motors and Chrysler – settled in the industrial heartland to create the Motor City.
Augusta, Georgia, had its own Big Three cement its global reputation as a golf town, but the Masters city is also the “Motown” of the golf car industry with EZ-Go and Club Car calling the metro Augusta area home.
EZ-Go and Club Car – only 14 miles apart in neighboring counties – manufacture more than 80 percent of golf cars in the world, while the Yamaha plant not far down the road in Newnan, Georgia, takes up most of the remaining percentage.
Just how the home of the Masters tournament became the hub of motorized golf conveyance is a story all its own. It starts with two names – Dolan and Stevens.
Beverly Dolan and his older brother, Billy, created EZ-Go – the industry’s oldest golf car brand – after they saw Bobby Jones driving around Augusta National Golf Club in a three-wheeled “Autoette” during the 1954 Masters. Jones used his little golf cart to get around as the effects of his syringomyelia left him unable to walk the course.
“The true answer is that nobody really foresaw what the golf car would grow into. We were neophytes in a neophyte business.” – Bev Dolan
The Dolan brothers began building their vehicles by hand in a one-room machine shop on Greene Street in east Augusta. They used surplus electric B17 bomber wing-flap motors in their 24-volt three-wheelers. The first one sold in 1954 to Valdosta Country Club.
As the business expanded, they moved to a larger facility in nearby Grovetown before eventually settling in south Augusta near the airport on Marvin Griffin Road, where EZ-Go’s main manufacturing facility and corporate offices are still located. In 1960, the brothers sold the company to Rhode Island-based Textron, but Bev kept running the operation in Georgia and eventually became Textron president and CEO before retiring as chairman in 1991.
They weren’t the first to make golf carts, but EZ-Go was the first to gain large-scale production traction. Bev Dolan, who died in 2018, had no idea their novelty item would become standard golf course equipment across the world.
“The true answer is that nobody really foresaw what the golf car would grow into,” Dolan told The Augusta Chronicle in 2002. “We were neophytes in a neophyte business.”
They weren’t alone in Augusta, however, in thinking this golf car seemed like a good idea. Across town at Stevens Appliance Truck Co., the senior and junior William Stevens decided there was room for two golf car companies in town. Bill Sr. bought Texas-based Landreath Machine in 1962 and moved it to Augusta, renaming it Club Car.
To let the world know who they were, Bill Jr. spent six days driving 450 miles down the back roads from downtown Augusta to Dunedin, Florida, in their new 36-volt, three-wheel Club Car to show it off at the 1962 PGA Show and let EZ-Go know it had competition.
“We got a lot of strange looks from people,” Bill Jr., who died in 2017, told The Augusta Chronicle of the publicity stunt, also noting that a Florida state trooper pulled him over for driving too slowly. “He let us go after we explained what we were doing. But he told us not to tell anybody he stopped us.”
The Stevens family brought innovations such as the first steering wheel to its Club Cars in the 1960s instead of the rudder-like bar that turned the front wheel. After moving the company to Augusta and getting it going, Bill Jr. sold out to building-parts company Johns Manville in 1973 after Bill Sr. died: “It was probably a really good idea at the time,” Bill Jr. told The Chronicle.
The crosstown rivalry of the two golf-car makers officially became a thing in 1978 when a group of eight EZ-Go executives, including Billy Dolan, left the company and purchased Club Car to compete head-to-head with their former outfit.
The “Original Eight” – or the “Infamous Eight,” depending on which side of the golf cart you’re on – brought in a new designer named Dom Saporito, who developed the more powerful DS model that launched in 1982 and became Club Car’s staple for decades and helped its sales inch past EZ-Go in the 1990s to become the top seller of electric golf carts in the world. It was acquired by Ingersoll Rand in 1995.