Early Inventor of the Golf Cart

Another Thunderbird first was the development of the motorized golf cart, as familiar on golf courses today as golfers. Nowadays, it is hard to imagine the great history of the game of golf, without the introduction and impact of motorized carts. This early invention opened the game to individuals who would not play the game without the ability to cart across the golf course and like walkers, enjoy chasing that small white ball.

It is known that golf cart like vehicles were seen as early as the mid 1930’s primarily used as transports for those with trouble walking. It was not until the mid-1950’s until the golf cart had gained widespread acceptance with golfers. Robert Windler, author of From Desert to Oasis; Thunderbird Country Club’s 50th Anniversary History Book, investigated and established Thunderbird Country Club as the earliest originator of the golf cart.

In 1951, Eddie Susalla, Associate Golf Professional to Head Golf Professional Jimmy Hines at Thunderbird, at the age of 28, came up with the first golf cart anywhere. To put this in perspective The Marketeer Company began producing golf carts in late 1951. EZ-GO began producing golf carts in 1954, Cushman in 1955, Club Car in 1958, Taylor Dunn in 1961, Harley Davidson in 1963, Yamaha Golf Car in 1979 and CT&T in 2002. Thunderbird Country Club was producing golf carts for their members during the 1951 season which began on January 9, 1951.

Thunderbird Member and one of the Club’s earliest prime Investors, D.B. McDaniel had a bad leg and could not walk around the new golf course. Another Founding Member, Emil Sick, the owner of a Seattle Brewery, could manage to only play 4 or 5 holes a week. It was McDaniel and Sick who approached Frank Bogert (Club Manager), Hines and Susalla to see if they could come up with some sort of conveyance for propelling them around the golf course.

On a 1950 visit to Long Beach, California, Eddie had seen a handicapped man tooling around on the sidewalks in a gas powered cart. Susalla discovered that the cart, called an Autoette, had been manufactured in Long Beach by D.C. Blood. Eddie promptly purchased an Autoette and had it shipped back to Thunderbird.

“It was a one-seater and a three-wheeler with a hand steering control like a tiller.” Susalla recalled. “And it couldn’t go in reverse at all. You just had to keep driving forward. I put a rack on front to hold the clubs and it was on the course every day.” “After old D.B. and Emil got their cart, everybody wanted one.” Bogert recalled. Carts soon spread to Los Angeles Country Club due to overlapping membership.

Susalla’s first modifications were to reconfigure transport carts from Autoette to carry two passengers and to put club racks on the side like wings. But most of the new drivers “didn’t understand how to operate the wider carts at first,” Susalla said, “and they kept clipping the trees.” The problem was solved when Susalla moved the racks to hold bags to the back of the carts.”

“The earliest carts also had narrow little wheels that would scratch up the ground,” Bogert said, “and we finally started putting wider wheels on the things. Then we started to build cart trails, so that people would stay on the trails and not wander all over the countryside.” By 1952 the Club boasted a fleet of a dozen golf carts. Susalla was producing dozens of carts at a time and selling them out immediately. By 1953 Thunderbird and its members had over 100 golf carts.

In 1953, Susalla came up with a four-wheeled cart a much more solid and functional vehicle. And the rest is Thunderbird history as illustrated in a poem that appeared in an Autoette Advertisement in 1954:

Sand traps to the right of them, bunkers to the left of them, balls volleyed and THUNDERED! Down the fairway they came, playing the Thunderbird game….Some of the hundred!

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