Published Feb. 21, 2023
Jane Beene was walking her dog, Bojangles, when a neighbor cruising by in a golf cart with her children stopped her. “Can we pet your dog?” the neighbor asked.
Bojangles loved when kids came up for a pet. So as he basked in canine bliss, Beene and her neighbor chatted.
“I love your golf cart,” said Beene. She’d just moved here from Florida, to be closer to her daughter and 12-year-old grandson. And in her new neighborhood, Woodforest — a sprawling master-planned community adding thousands of residents to Montgomery County every year — she’d quickly learned the importance of a good golf cart. “I really need to buy one,” she said.
“My mom and dad are selling theirs,” the neighbor offered. So Beene popped by their house and bought it.
Over the past several years, golf carts have exploded in popularity. According to Global Market Insights, the industry exceeded $1.5 billion for the first time in 2022 and is expected to double to $3 billion within the next decade.
And golf has next to nothing to do with it.
I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Houston’s golf cart neighborhoods since 2015, when my dog and I spent our evenings walking through the Briargrove neighborhood near the apartment I lived in on Fountain View. Nearly every evening, I’d watch as young Briargrove moms and dads loaded their 2.2 children, doodle-mix dog and a cocktail tumbler into their golf cart to putter a few houses down to hang out with neighbors.
The carts felt delightfully out of context in the neighborhood. There’s no golf course in — or even near — Briargrove. And it’s not exactly The Villages in Florida, where retirees flock for their resort-like golden years.
I moved out of that apartment more than five years ago, but I think back to those walks with my dog and wonder, “What was the deal with those golf carts?” Now, as Houston Landing’s columnist, it’s my job to dig into the little things about Houston that keep us wondering. (I have a very long list, of course, but would love to hear yours.)
Carts can cost up to $27K
I started sleuthing at Golf Carts of Texas in Bacliff where dozens of carts are parked in front of a small, spare shop with pegboard walls full of rearview mirrors, cupholders, headlights and other various whatchamacallits.
“The golf cart industry has been big for a long time. It’s just that now it’s more consumer friendly,” shopowner Dave Beacher told me. “There are new ones hitting the market, like the Tomberlins, which are geared specifically for people who want to go cruise the neighborhood, take it to the beach, take the kids for a ride. There’s no golf. Zero. They don’t even allow these lifted ones on the golf courses.”
Those Tomberlins are among the most expensive at Beacher’s dealership, where carts retail from about $11,000 to upwards of $27,000, according to his wife, Rachael. You want alligator seats? Sure, they’ve got it. Custom Astros paint job? No problem.
“They’re status symbols,” says Rachael. “Like, ‘The neighbors got one, so now I have to get one.’”
She points across Highway 146, where homes are being built at what feels like a daily pace in the new Coastal Point master-planned community. “This neighborhood just popped up overnight, and people are walking across to buy golf carts,” she says.
“You really want to see a lot of golf carts?” Rachael asks me. “Go to Clear Lake Shores.”
So I do. The small waterfront village is just a few miles drive from the Beachers’ shop. After less than five minutes, I catch Scott Shea’s eye as he loads his dachshund, Molly, onto his golf cart to chauffeur her to a nearby park for a bathroom break.
The next thing I know, I’m in the passenger seat, Molly at my feet, as Shea starts the engine and my hair — and Molly’s ears — begin dancing in the breeze. This is Shea’s seventh or eighth golf cart since he moved to Clear Lake Shores nearly 35 years ago, he tells me as we wend through the streets. At first, there weren’t too many carts; now they’re everywhere. These days, there’s an annual golf cart parade around the winter holidays. In a town of about 1,200 people, Shea has been Golf Cart No. 106 or 107 in the lineup.
My eyes bulge. “The ratio!” I exclaim, as Molly heeds nature’s call on the grass nearby. Shea smiles and calls Molly back aboard. Then he shrugs. “They’re just a part of life here,” he says.
And newer neighborhoods, like Coastal Point and Woodforest, where Beene lives, are joining the club. At Woodforest, the community’s homepage even boasts “frequent social events and community amenities just a quick golf cart ride away.” Speed limits are kept to 35 mph, keeping them friendly for carts, which Texas laws permit on roads with a 35 mph speed limit or lower; the law allows carts to cross streets with a higher speed limits — like Fish Creek Thoroughfare, which bisects Woodforest.
Texas laws also forbid young kids from operating carts: After years of confusion, Attorney General Ken Paxton took up the golf cart issue in April 2021 at the request of Montgomery County officials. His opinion found the state transportation code prohibits people from operating carts “on a publicly maintained way any part of which is open to the public for vehicular travel unless the person holds a driver’s license.”
Fielding complaints about golf carts
Still, plenty of parents have confessed to me that their children think of the family golf carts as their “own personal car.” League City Police Department spokesman John Griffith says he gets “a lot of complaints” about golf carts — and “90 percent of them are that children are driving golf carts through the neighborhoods, unsafe, overloaded and not obeying traffic laws.” It can have serious consequences. He cited an incident two years ago in which “a little boy’s leg was fractured, with the bone sticking out” after an accident caused by an underage driver.
That same year, a 12-year-old in Magnolia died in a cart crash. In August, four people were killed in Galveston when a drunk driver hit their golf cart. In the following weeks, residents and City Council raised concerns about golf cart safety, pitching plans to revisit regulations. But no changes have been made.
The golf cart trend shows no signs of slowing — especially in neighborhoods like Woodforest, where the share of families with young children is 43 percent higher than the national average. There, Mauricio Gallego told me that “probably 80 percent of our neighbors have golf carts,” as he idled on the side of the road in his E-Z-GO, bypassing the nearly hour-long car pickup line outside Stewart Elementary School.
They are such an integral part of the lifestyle in communities like Woodforest that at Golf Cars of Houston Superstore, salesman Abel Barrera says he’s had customers walk in with golf cart vouchers given to them as incentives from builders who constructed their communities. “Buy a house, get a golf cart” is a running joke for him now.
Then came the pandemic, and “a big boom” for Golf Cars of Houston Superstore, which brands itself as the largest golf cart showroom in America (“that’s the claim,” says Barrera, who admits he has not traveled the nation to verify this superlative).
This is where the questions those Briargrove golf carts raised in my mind all those years ago feel like they’re being answered: As so many Americans experienced varying degrees of loneliness during those shuttered-up years from 2020 to 2022, it makes sense that we would gravitate toward something, anything that could help us feel connected.
“You can ride around and enjoy all the parks and the pools, the pretty houses,” Jane Beene tells me. “You can go have dinner at all these different places, or even go to the grocery store.”
Her favorite outings are with her grandson.
“He likes to go ride in the golf cart, and I like to ride around with him, so it’s something we can do together,” she says.
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