Chambers Bay is an unlikely place to bag a maiden GolfBoard ride. The municipal links, built in 2007 on a former industrial gravel pit along the Puget Sound, doesn't allow golf carts. Players must take a caddie, a pushcart or carry their own bag. Only with a medical note may one ride in a cart, and the enforcement of this policy is as strict as the rental fleet is small. So ripping around on another motorized vehicle, albeit a quite smaller one at 100 pounds, was a big ask.
But since the U.S. Open is coming here in 2015 and golf fans are eager to see what the youngest course to land the national championship looks like, the good folk at Chambers Bay slackened their retro-purist principles for a morning and let us film a ride.
It was my first time on a GolfBoard. Brock Sabo, the GolfBoard sales rep who met me in the parking lot, didn't need my help unloading the unit from his car. After a tentative introductory minute, I was comfortable to set sail on the course at full speed, or 11 mph. The motion is similar to any type of board riding -- I'm fairly experienced with the snow and skate variety -- but getting wholly accustomed to the throttle, a Bluetooth-enabled device held like a water pistol, took a few holes (Then again, I've never been outside the bell curve for rubbing my belly and patting my stomach simultaneously). The vertical handlebar mount, which can aid steering but is mostly there for security, was the design addition "that convinced insurance companies it would be safe for the public to rent without helmets," says Sabo. Which was an important development, because hitting quality golf shots is hard enough without a helmet.
Is it fun to ride? Does Ricky Barnes wear a funny hat?
Riding a GolfBoard is a more physically involved act than driving a cart. By no means a workout, but the more you throw your weight around, the more you are rewarded with deeper, more thrilling carves. Like walking, the tendency is to become more attentive and engaged with the topography of the golf course. Also like walking, the fun's in the fairway. Traipsing through the rough at low speed looking for a lost ball isn't fun in any mode of ambulation. My theory is far from being proven, but I think the GolfBoard might actually help one stay in the fairway. The rhythmic weight shift of the carving motion bleeds nicely into a pre-shot routine.
A major reason Chambers Bay shuns golf carts is to protect its 100-percent fescue turf. A GolfBoard is five- to six-times lighter than a typical golf cart and has smaller wheels, so it at least partially assuages that concern. However, the kneejerk fear of most courses considering the GolfBoard will be safety. How many golfers will ride recklessly and get hurt? Who knows, perhaps an even higher rate than already do with golf carts. Like a golf cart, you won't get hurt on a GolfBoard unless you purposefully push the boundaries.
Laird Hamilton, the legendary pro surfer and design consultant of the GolfBoard, has his own handle-less model that allegedly goes 60 mph.
Maybe Oakmont Country Club will let us film in advance of the 2016 U.S. Open. Laird, you available?