With golfers walking more, the robotic bag cart provides a simplistic approach to carrying clubs — minus the cost of hiring a caddie
ORLANDO, Fla. — Ted Nicola still shakes his head that 20 years of technology and design by a small circle of relatives has turned into Club Car’s hottest product — the robotic Tempo Walk.
Released by the golf cart giant in 2018, the relationship with Nicola’s Lemmings Technologies LLC and Club Car was actually hatched by happenstance.
“They saw us at one of our demo courses trying to perfect the product and asked about it,” Nicola said on a chilly and rainy PGA Show Demo Day on Tuesday, surrounded by a fleet of Tempo Walks.
Suddenly the fortunes of a small Greenville, S.C.,-based company were about to change. All the failed technologies, all the time spent toiling on a golf product year-after-year that had yet to hit the market was now in the rear mirror for Nicola and his team.
“We’re a small family company so we knew that eventually we would probably get approached by one of the major players if it was a legitimate product and we found out real quickly that it was a very legitimate product,” Nicola said. “It was a good fit for Club Car too because it could get them into the fitness market.”
And into the future of golf, which since the COVID-19 pandemic has produced a higher volume of players, younger players, and a large group of health-conscious golfers.
While one of its rivals had a fleet of its latest and greatest conventional golf carts on display at Demo Day, Club Car choose to feature only various versions of its Tempo Walk. The latest model is cool, with a Bose speaker system to play your favorite tunes on the links.
The operation of a Tempo Walk is fairly simple, with golfers attaching a transponder to the back of their belt with an on-and-off switch. While on, the Tempo Walk follows the pace of a golfer as he walks in front of the three-wheel cart. Once the off switch is engaged the brakes lock and the Tempo Walk stops.
“If there is any disconnection or problems the unit automatically locks its breaks — it’s all for safety,” Nicola said. “We also have ultra sonic sensors on the front — they are just like the back-up beepers on cars — if it senses something it instantly locks its brakes.
“When golfers and PGA pros saw it they all wanted to know what it could do. It was like the NFL combine, but they haven’t run sprints in 20 years — it was time to see what this could do. They also asked ‘Will it hit me going downhill because you get nervous with it following you?’ One of the first versions was actually in front of you but we felt that took away from the golf course, which are some of the most beautiful places on earth. It was kind of in your sight.”
Just up the hill from Club Car’s Demo Day space and its Tempo Walk product was an area to ride golf scooters and various other motorized vehicles. Nicola doesn’t see those options as competition.
“The scooters and surfboards are fun products, and I think they are innovative, but I see that more as a competition for a riding cart because in their business model they are moving the golfer. Our goal is to get the golfer moving,” Nicola said. “I look at our competition honestly as a pull cart. I think a caddie is its own thing because we’re not going to be able to replace a caddie experience. If you have a good caddie it’s the best round of golf your will ever play in your life. But what we do is take the weight of the club off you and it gives you a little bit more freedom by walking without your bag on your shoulder or pulling it with a pull cart. We like to joke that we’re the second best way to play golf.”
Nicola’s father-in-law and his brothers launched Lemmings after growing up in Cincinnati and caddying as youngsters. Nicola and co-investor Shea Doane, his brother-in-law, took over the technology stages about eight years ago.
Nicola admits it was a grind.
“If a golf course was like a parking lot this product would have been done 12 years ago,” Nicola said. “But as a golfer you know there are uphills, downhills, sidehills, turns, bridges, water hazards, sand, so we had to try to make it as easy as possible for the user. Now, basically there is one button, on to follow you and off to stop. If you make it as simple for the user then you are on to something.”
Nicola said another early technical glitch was the Tempo Walk wouldn’t follow the golfer perfectly.
“We’re not quite Edison with all the light bulbs he went through, but we tried different technologies and each one kind of had a fail point. So we layered our technology and we have a proprietary blend of technologies on it.
“There is a GPS system and GPS is great but it has a 3-to-5-foot problem of error and on a golf course that could become a major issue,” he added. “It was literally years of tinkering. It was brutal. My father-in-law and his brothers were great mentors for us, kept us on track because Shea and I are younger guys and we get frustrated easily, so they kind of steered us back and said ‘guys, we’ve got to keep working at it, keep working at it.’”
Chris Shaul, Club Car’s territory manager from Sarasota to Naples, has approximately 150 of the units placed throughout Southwest Florida.
“It’s like you have a caddie without pushing, pulling or carrying,” Shaul said.
The learning curve to operate a Tempo Walk is less than five minutes.
“I tell all my clients once somebody has played two holes with it it almost becomes second nature – it’s there, they trust it and off they go on the golf course,” Shaul said.
“We were just saying how weird it was, even from 2020, when we did that demo day people were saying it was the craziest thing we’ve ever seen, we need these at our course, to this year everybody that has come by said ‘oh we use those, we have four of those at our course, we have eight of those at our course and so on,”’ Nicola said.