Hansen: In Laguna, golf carts are the way to go

Few people have time to golf, but you wouldn't know it based on the number of golf carts zipping around Laguna Beach.

We know it's not about the golf. It's about getting airborne on the Third Street hill.

No, the real reason is that some Lagunans are just smart. It's easier to use golf carts around town. They are efficient, practical and environmental.

"It's much easier to do errands in the cart," said Jeff King, a longtime cart traveler with his wife and two co-pilots, Yorkshire terriers Maggie and Molly. "It's much faster. It makes Laguna seem much more fun than it already is. And the dogs love it."

The dogs have their own custom-made seats that accommodate seat belts and dog harnesses.

Customization is the keyword when talking about carts, which range from about $5,000 to more than $15,000.

There are lift kits, booming stereos, storage boxes and as many knockoff body styles as you can imagine: Hummers, roadsters, Rolls Royce and little Ferraris.

Kevin Smith has a lifted E-Z-GO 2Five, which is a popular brand, and has added various options that raised the price to about $13,000. He has had the machine for just over six months and loves it.

"I definitely think they're a great option for Laguna," he said. "They're just a lot more fun to drive. If I could drive it to work, I would."

There are rules of the road for the carts, of course. The state has defined them as "low-speed vehicles," which are subject to regular licensing, registration and basic vehicle requirements: lights, turn signals, wipers, etc. But the biggest rule is that drivers can't go on roads where the speed limit is greater than 35 miles per hour.

And that's not a problem in Laguna or similarly small areas or retirement communities. Plus, the carts are designed to hit a top speed of 25 miles per hour.

For King and his dogs, that's fine too. Speed is not the point, although King admits that he enjoys the occasional Laguna hill — he said the Third Street hill is a blast.

"I go down that and might hit 36 or 37, and I go whoopee," he said.

Most cart owners will admit that they don't feel completely safe for obvious reasons. Most models don't have doors. The frames are not built to withstand a full-blown collision. And, by definition, they are glorified golf carts!

"I don't think it would be a real good situation if you got hit," Smith said.

"Oh no, I think they're dangerous," said Danielle Purcell, who has owned a cart for 15 years. As a realtor, Purcell uses her distinctive pink cart with leopard skin seats for business.

Purcell said that over the years she has lost her brakes, had significant battery problems and had to deal with angry drivers and cranky police. But would she ever give up the cart?

"Absolutely not. Mine is the best in town," she said.

Once owners get a cart, they don't seem to ever go back. Plus, a cart provides access to the club. Cart owners wave to each other. They generally know the other owners in town. And, yes, they do talk a little smack about who has what.

With only a few manufacturers to choose from, selection quickly boils down to the bling.

"I think there is probably some cart envy, but it's by others," said Smith, proud of his lifted, good-ol' boy black cart.

Smith received a warning from the police about keeping his stereo down, so he remains considerate of others.

There is no doubt that golf carts are a model for what is possible in a small village like Laguna. And the environmental benefits are unbeaten.

Zero emissions.

A cart has a range of about 30 miles, which, given the size of Laguna, is more than 10 trips to the store and back before the owner would have to plug it in like a cell phone overnight.

The fun factor is undeniable. And the loyalty base is any car manufacturer's dream.

Several cities around the world have closed their streets to gas cars. Perhaps there is something to be learned here, where it's debatable whether you even need a full-sized car.

At the very least, cart races are much more fun on hills.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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