Your grandma may be tooling around her retirement community in a hot golf cart from Minnesota.
Cart theft is surging in the Twin Cities area, cart dealers and golf course managers say. And they’re not talking about kids going for joy rides.
This summer, 10 carts were stolen from Dwan Golf Club in Bloomington in a single night. Phalen Park Golf Course in St. Paul had five carts stolen in one night. Across the metro, the best estimate from industry sources is that several hundred carts a year are stolen, and the number is rising.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Bill MacDonald, general manager of Yamaha Golf Cars & Utility of Burnsville, which leases and sells golf carts in a four-state area. “There’s more and more and more of this.”
What’s behind the thievery? There’s the rising popularity of golf carts as all-around utility vehicles. Resorts, businesses, and cabin owners use them. Many Minnesota cities, including New Prague, Albany and Prior Lake, now allow golf carts on city streets.
Golf carts are lightweight, valuable — and anonymous. A cart that sells new for $5,000 can easily fetch half that in a cash sale. And in Minnesota, there’s no requirement to license or register golf carts.
“This is liquid cash,” MacDonald said. “It’s a commodity that’s easily disposed of. They put six of them on a trailer and head down to Missouri or Arkansas. They get paid in cash — thank you very much, and away they go.”
Rick Sitek, golf pro and general manager at Dwan, said the June theft was the first such incident he’s seen in more than 45 years in the golf business.
“A kid taking a joy ride, that’s common,” he said. “But the outright theft of golf carts — that’s the first time in my golf life.”
The size and sophistication of the theft points to professionals, Sitek said. “I can’t imagine anyone would steal that many without already having a buyer,” he said. “It’s not something you’re going to put on Craigslist or eBay.”
Many golf courses are in secluded locations, and the golf carts are often stored out of sight, making it easier for thieves to work undiscovered. Even when the carts are stored in a fenced, locked area — as many are — thieves have cut through wires and even winched fenceposts loose.
“We have some war veterans at our club who want to electrify the fence. That’s taking it a little bit too far,” said Tim Kuebelbeck, general manager of Prom Management Group, which manages the Phalen course. The five stolen carts were insured, he said, but Prom will have to pay a deductible when it files a claim.
“There’s a real cost to it,” Kuebelbeck said. “For a private operator like us, it comes right out of the bottom line.”
That’s true for publicly owned courses, too. Dwan in Bloomington leases carts, but will have to pay its distributor for the 10 stolen carts at the fleet rate of about $4,000 per cart.
The city is self-insured, but the golf course will have to repay the city insurance fund over the next five to 10 years, Sitek said.
Minneapolis, which owns seven public courses with hundreds of golf carts, hasn’t been hit hard. So far this year, six carts have been stolen from the city’s courses; last year, eight were stolen, said Robin Smothers, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.
Several courses said they’re looking at installing security cameras and heavier-duty locks.
But perhaps the best defense is an early rising neighbor. A month after the Dwan theft, Sitek said, thieves hit the course again.
They had six carts out of the corral and ready to load on a truck when a woman in an adjoining house heard the noise about 5 a.m. She came out of her house and shouted at the thieves, who scattered.
“I wish she had just called the police,” Sitek said. “But I give her credit. To have the nerve to come out there and holler at them — that’s pretty good.”