By Brian O’Hare
IT can be a little disconcerting when you realise one of your golfing partners is falling in love with your golf buggy.
As the object of the golfer in question’s affection was the Concourse Smart Wheels, set up with the company’s dedicated Vogue buggy, the attraction was very understandable, but no less troubling.
It began innocently enough with some furtive glances shortly after teeing off in a comp round fourball one Saturday morning.
You get those curious looks from many golfers who see the Smart Wheels in operation for the first time. There are puzzled expressions as they realise there is a fully remote controlled electric golf buggy buzzing around the fairway in front of them – but it doesn’t appear to have any visible battery or motor.
My sometime golfing partner’s initial coy peeks had become more brazen as the round progressed and by the 12th hole had become full on leering.
He had asked some polite sounding questions about the Smart Wheels’ design and operation, but I think it was just the overall look of the thing – the sheer engineering accomplishment – that was obviously getting his blood racing.
More and more he looked like he wanted to drag the Concourse into the nearest bushes and give it a full internal probing. I just had to step in.
“Show some bloody respect for god’s sake,” I said to the golfer mid fairway. “You’ve only just blood met!”
For is there is one thing the Concourse Smart Wheels deserves: it is respect.
Concourse founder and prime mover David MacKay has achieved something that in this case is not just a throw-away line – he’s actually reinvented the wheel.
A Concourse Smart Wheels golf buggy doesn’t have a visible motor or battery because each wheel individually houses its own independent motor, long lasting lithium battery, technologically advanced sensors, processors and gyroscopes.
Neither are the two wheels physically connected to each other – they communicate with each other (and with the small Concourse remote control unit) purely by Bluetooth.
It has taken MacKay – and teams of engineers, designers and software developers – thousands of hours to get the Smart Wheels concept up and running and ready for market.
Electric golf buggies are a bit of a strange product because however much time, energy and resources are put into developing a design what you want in the end is a product that is going to stay pretty much unobtrusively in the background. You want a golf buggy that is simple and intuitive to operate, be practical, compact, and have lots of capability and power when needed. You just basically want the buggy to do its job seamlessly while you concentrate on enjoying your round of golf.
MacKay, from Sydney, left a 20 career in financial services to start Concourse in 2010 but his connection with golf and golfing equipment goes back to childhood where he maybe not always so fondly recalls weekend golfing trips with his father and two brothers and the difficulty they always had fitting all their gear in one car.
“I was the mug sitting in the back seat nursing bags and buggies,” MacKay says.
The experience spurred an interest in coming up with a better equipment solution and that led to the development of his first innovative golfing product, the Concourse CBM3.
Instead of a traditional fold-down push buggy, the “Compact, Clever, Quick” CBM3 consists of a main “spine” that straps to your golf bag and stays there. When you arrive at a course it quickly unfolds and two independent wheels click on small axles – and you’re off in minutes.
MacKay got to wondering … what if he could replace those two lightweight click on wheels with two independent, self-powered remote controlled wheels? Not only could they turn the CBM3 into a fully remote controlled buggy, they could basically do the same for any existing push buggy.
The thousands of hours of design and development – and clearly lots and lots of frustration – followed.
“The easiest thing in the world would have been to run a cable between the two wheels,” MacKay says. “But that’s not what we wanted.”
Now that the Smart Wheels have been released and are being seen on golf courses around the world, Mackay can sit back and enjoy as the plaudits and designs awards flow in.
But MacKay isn’t quite finished.
SMART WHEELS IN THE FIELD
We tested the Concourse Smart Wheels set up with the Vogue Buggy, which was specifically designed by the company to partner the wheels.
The big attraction with the Smart Wheels of course is that you can also use them on most of the existing push buggies around today. If you have one of the popular brands such as Clicgear, Bag Boy, or Walkinshaw, slipping the Smart Wheels on is relatively simple, mostly just requiring a small clip in axle adapter. Many other brands may have been already added or are in the pipline.
Our Concourse package arrived with the two rechargeable Smart Wheels, two clip on axle adapters for the Vogue, the two pronged charger power cable and adapter, and the remote control unit with USB charging cable.
There was also an optional Smart Wheels Carry Case. The case is very convenient because you can leave the wheels in the case to carry back and forth to your car and you can also leave the wheels inside while they are charging.
A full charge takes around four hours and it is recommended they are kept fully charged at all times.
The charge is guaranteed to last 18 plus of the most rigorous holes – they’re not saying 36 holes – but the reality is the Smart Wheels charge will nudge that limit. We did all we could to exhaust the charge a few times – playing some long rounds on a long, demanding course, sending the buggy off on some otherwise pointless trips across country mid round, leaving the wheels turned on outside the clubhouse while we had a long lunch, stuffed around some more – and never had the wheels present anything other than the reassuring strong green “full battery” LED.
(If the battery/batteries do fail for some reason it is easy to slip the wheels back a notch on the axles and freewheel.)
The ultra lightweight Vogue Buggy was designed to be a perfect match for the Smart Wheels.
There’s a Smart Wheels remote control mount attached (the mount also clips on to existing push buggies), a full seat for those tiring older golfers, a front wheel with 360 degree rotation and an all important Anti-Tip fourth wheel that clips on the back. The Vogue folds out and folds down easily thanks to some cleverly designed large clips and golf bags attach quickly and sit securely.
With the widest wheel base around the Vogue has great stability and maneuverability even on those demanding, severely undulating courses.
Another thing the Smart Wheels come with is an instruction manual. It’s not that voluminous (and it has pretty pictures) and it is a very good idea to actually read it – especially when it comes to things like operating the remote control. The remote control is quite easy and elegant to operate but the old male practice of just pushing all the buttons till it does what you want it to just doesn’t work. It’s smart! It will just shut down and suggest you come back in three seconds when you know what you are doing.
Another great thing about the Concourse remote control:
Most traditional golf buggy remote controls have protruding control buttons. Because of some unbreakable universal law what happens with them is – somewhere during your round you will park your buggy, put the remote control in your pocket, play a shot, then turn around to see the buggy disappearing into the nearest dam/creek/river.
The Concourse remote has level control pads rather than protruding buttons – you can actually safely put it in your pocket and your buggy won’t suddenly take off on its own as soon as your back is turned. I had to overcome years of experiential training to actually try this – but it does work.
Smart Wheels first outing
Since you have already fully read the manual and practiced setting up everything at home your first outing with the Smart Wheels is going to be a breeze. You will have followed the instructions on how to attach the two small clip on axles to the Vogue frame so now the Smart Wheels themselves will slip on to the axles with just a push of the central wheel button. The two wheels are labelled “Left” and “Right” so you will have to get your head around that technicality. (Do they mean left and right looking from the front or back?)
Whilst you are dealing with such complexities, the two wheels are already switched on and are communicating wirelessly with each other more than 50 times a second. The gyroscopes and other sensors are ready to detect the slightest changes in elevation and to feed the data to the processors for appropriate response.
We’re teeing off this first Smart Wheels outing at The Links Shell Cove, a very good links course that doesn’t have unduly long steep hills but it does have lots of undulations with some severe swathes going every which way. A great test of an electric golf buggy and its stability.
We’ve tried the remote control and buggy out at home so we know just how zippy and responsive it is. Out on the course now we are very impressed by all the power coming from those two wheels.
Halfway up the first fairway and we’ve got a short incline and we power up … only for the Vogue buggy to tip backwards and fall flat on its back. “Oh!” the apparently least smart member of the outfit thinks to himself, “You left the Anti-Tip fourth wheel in the back of the car.”
We have to nurse the buggy for the next eight, undulating holes, keeping a hand under the back handle whenever there is an incline to ensure it doesn’t tip, again – and embarrass the shit out of us, again.
After eight holes we’re back close to the carpark and race up to get that strangely named Anti-Tip fourth wheel.
For the next 10 holes we’re in golfing heaven. With the fourth wheel in place the Vogue/Smart Wheels combo attacks the steepest inclines – up, down, across – with great stability and power. Through that and subsequent rounds we learned to trust that wide wheel base – and that fourth Anti-Tip wheel – with almost anything courses throw at us.
Over a number of subsequent rounds and as we became more proficient with the Smart Wheels and operation we were increasingly impressed with its performance, ease of use, and how the programming responded to different situations.
We were having one issue though, particularly on courses with some long, narrow, pathways between holes.
Most of the time, particularly on fairways, I’d just have the remote control in one hand and have the buggy zipping along in front – no problem. In restricted areas you can also have the remote in one hand and keep one hand on the buggy handle to assist with steering. It was also suggested that in tight areas – such as negotiating a thin little pathway over a creek, or through lots of pedestrian traffic near a clubhouse – you could also clip the remote back on its buggy cradle and steer fully manually.
That last scenario was the issue as oftentimes when I was trying to steer manually left or right the Smart Wheels guidance system was reacting as if the buggy was going off course and was automatically trying to straighten the trajectory – so I was trying to turn and the buggy was fighting to straighten back up.
It was an issue known to MacKay and his crew, one they were working on, and also an issue that demonstrates one of the big advantages of the Smart Wheels system.
The system is run by software and as we all know these days software systems are always being improved, updated, and new features added.
Toward the end of my first testing period there was a big software update and my Smart Wheels came back with a number of improved functions. One of the main ones was the improvement of the manual steering system when the remote control was docked – it no longer wanted to go its own way but reacted immediately to just a light touch.
And that’s what MacKay is aiming for – a very complicated piece of machinery that will react simply and intuitively to any maybe-not-so-well-prepared (or able) person who walks up to it and just starts pushing buttons.
Another big innovation now in play is that the Smart Wheels operating software can now be updated online over any internet connection. New and exciting innovations are sure to follow.
David MacKay, I know there has been so much work, money and often frustrating development time put into this project, but if you are not already there now – you’re pretty damn well close.