By Rich Pollack
Dave Spitzer knew the time had come to start car shopping.
The owner of Old Vines Wine & Spirits in Delray Beach, Dave and his wife had two old cars, both beyond their prime.
But when he started thinking about it, Spitzer decided that instead of plunking down $20,000 or more for a new sedan, he would spend a third of that on a golf cart.
Not an ordinary golf cart, mind you, but one that was modified to be street legal — or what is classified officially by the state as a “low-speed vehicle or mini-truck.”
“I had seen some around town and though it was a good idea,” Spitzer said. “Before we had the cart, one of the cars was just sitting in the garage all the time.”
Throughout out Palm Beach County, including several coastal communities, more and more people are thinking a street-legal and battery-powered modified golf cart — with a maximum speed of 35 mph — is a good idea.
For some, like Noreen Papatheodorou and her husband, Christos, the Club Car enhanced golf cart they received as a gift from their son a few years ago is perfect for getting around their Point Manalapan neighborhood or for going for a ride to the nearby Plaza Del Mar shopping center with their bichon, Beau.
For others, like Benita and Jordon Goldstein, owners of the historic Hartman House bed and breakfast in Delray Beach, having a zero-emissions vehicle is good for business, especially when it comes to taking guests to the beach or dropping them off at a downtown restaurant.
And while avoiding high gas prices is another reason to put the cart before the horsepower, most of those who drive an electric golf cart of one kind or another will tell you there’s a single attribute that trumps all others.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Noreen Papatheodorou, adding that the cart — which she calls “one of the jazziest around” — is a conversation piece, often sparking chats with neighbors.
In Delray, along Atlantic Avenue and in the Pineapple Grove Arts District, the low-speed vehicles are also gaining traction among those who just want to visit a neighborhood store or get a cup of coffee at one of the outdoor cafes.
“It’s a very friendly way of traveling,” says Marjorie Ferrer, executive director of the city’s Downtown Development Authority. “It just fits well with Delray Beach because we’re a very sociable city.”
So much so, in fact, that Delray Beach may be on the cutting edge, with the Pineapple Grove Arts board teaming up with the owner of Delray Camera shop to create the area’s first golf-cart-only parking spot.
“Pineapple Grove attracts golf carts because it’s a neighborhood-type destination with neighborhood stores,” says Gene Fisher, president of the arts board.
The area, along with downtown Delray Beach, is also attracting golf carts because, for the most part, traffic moves a little more slowly there than it does in other places in the city.
Under Florida law, the low-speed vehicles are not permitted on roads with speed limits above 35 and must have everything from a windshield to headlights and taillights. Seat belts, a rearview mirror and a parking brake are also mandatory.
By law, the carts you see on the road, complete with license plates, go far beyond the typical carts you would find at the neighborhood golf course.
The electric vehicle that the Goldsteins of the Hartman House drive, for example, is called a GEM and it is a four-seater, with the unique attribute of having all four seats facing forward.
The GEM, which sells for about $11,000 new and about half of that used, also has a storage compartment perfect for hauling groceries.
Spitzer has found that his cart is also good for making deliveries in the area and for going out for a Sunday drive.
“I love it,” he says. “It’s so much fun that I make excuses to drive it to work.” Ú