Sunnyvale Golf Course transitions from gas to electric golf cars

Transition results in economic and environmental benefits

Gary K. Carls, CGCS
Sunnyvale Golf Course, Sunnyvale, Calif.
Publication date: June 2006

Sunnyvale Golf CourseSunnyvale Golf Course opened in 1968. Since the beginning, golf car rentals has always been an important service. For more than 30 years, outside vendors owned and operated our fleet of golf cars on a contract basis. These gasoline-powered golf cars were housed in an outside storage area near the 14th tee. Vendors never provided a structure to house our golf cars. In the spring of 1999, the city took over the operation of golf services. The city council approved a lease agreement for 50 gas-powered golf cars. These cars were delivered in January 2000. While it was nice to have new golf carts, there was an important issue on the horizon that needed to be dealt with.

Focusing on the environment

The Clean Air Act of 1990 brought forth new legislation aimed at improving the environment. The legislation stated that as of June 2000, gasoline-powered golf cars would no longer be available for purchase or lease within specific areas in California. This included the San Francisco Bay region where Sunnyvale Golf Course is located. Specific regulations related to golf cars were covered under Title 13, Chapter 9, Article 3 of the State Clean Air Act. To meet this legislation’s requirements, our next fleet of cars would have to be electric. In addition to transitioning from gas to electric cars, we also needed a building to store and charge cars. It would take approximately three or four years to replace our current fleet of cars.

The Capital Project

Sunnyvale Golf CourseIn December 2000, I began working on a plan to construct a golf car storage facility. If a building was determined to be necessary, a lead time of 18-24 months would be needed to design and construct the building. The first step in this process was to prepare a preliminary report. After the report was reviewed, the project was then submitted to the Capital Project for review the following spring. During the review process, staff proposed the construction of a golf car storage building to house a fleet of 60 electric golf cars for fiscal year 2001-2002. The citywide Project Review Committee recommended that $10,000 be used in fiscal year 2001-2002 to complete a feasibility study. This study determined whether an electric golf car storage building was actually needed.

Feasibility studies

Many committee members deemed a new building as unnecessary, since the city already had several electric vehicles that were safely charged outside. The fleet division and parks division joined together in an effort to quickly gather information for the project review committee. This information helped the committee determine the best course of action. Rather than employ an outside consultant, we worked with our fleet services manager to complete a feasibility study. The new study provided additional information on topics already featured in both the preliminary and capital project report. Additional information was gathered from golf car manufacturers and several local and regional golf facilities. The two largest car manufacturers recommended that a golf car recharging facility be protected from the weather.

At the time, Sunnyvale did not have a storage or recharged facility for its electric golf cars. Indoor storage facilities provide a safe environment for the staff. Such a building would allow the city to maintain both electric cars and charging systems, in addition to enabling staff to safely and properly maintain its fleet. An indoor golf facility would also improve the fleet’s overall appearance and functionality.

Getting charged up

The fleet manager also checked into the possibility of using outdoor rated chargers. Rated chargers are used to recharge golf cars. With the appropriate connectors and cables, this type of charger could be suitable for use in wet conditions and outdoor locations. Some chargers are not suited for use with golf cars due to differences in battery types and capacities. Many systems are not compatible. Car manufacturers do not provide, nor are they aware of, outdoor-rated golf car chargers.

Safe practices

Safety is our No. 1 concern. In wet conditions, the staff could be exposed to electric shock. Golf cars are operated when dew and light rain are present and/or when it has rained the previous night. The amount of moisture could expose staff to unnecessary hazards. Appearance and the lifespan of a fleet pose additional concerns. Indoor storage protects the paint and plastic/fiberglass components of golf cars from oxidation and corrosion. It also provides a higher level of protection from theft and vandalism.

The need for a storage facilitySunnyvale Golf Course

Without a storage facility, the city could not continue to provide customers with rental golf cars. The absence of golf cars would impact both the number of rentals and rounds played at the course. Our core group of customers, seniors over 55, would be unable to play without the use of golf cars. In fiscal year 2000-2001, golf car revenue was almost $350,000. Eliminating golf cars would have a significant and negative impact on our overall revenue. Without that money, other programs for youth and senior services would be economically challenged.

It’s (almost) a go

The citywide Project Review Committee approved the $400,000 project as part of the budget package presented to city council in June 2001. Final plans for the building were approved in July 2003. Bids were due by late August. We soon hit our next stumbling block. Because the bids were not taken to the city council for approval within the specified timeline, the bidder withdrew his bid on the project. The next lowest bid was almost $70,000 over the budgeted amount.

The city council approved the additional funds and awarded the contract in December 2003. The pre-construction meeting took place in January 2004 and the Notice to Proceed was issued on February 2, 2004. This was more than three years after our preliminary report.

Building a golf car facilitySunnyvale Golf Course

Construction proceeded smoothly over the next several months. We trenched through the back of one of our tees and across a couple of pathways to connect to the power source. We crossed several irrigation lines without any major damage. There was only minimal disruption to our customers. Only one more glitch occurred. We shut down the power to our clubhouse to install a new transformer to feed the building. The contractor provided a generator to power the clubhouse while the switch was being made. The contractor failed to check the generator settings and put a higher than normal voltage surge through the clubhouse. That shorted out several computers as well as many of the smaller appliances in the restaurant. The mistake cost the contractor several thousand dollars to fix.


The building was finally completed and ready for use in August 2004. We got our first fleet of electric golf cars later that month. Since the upgrade, our golf car rentals have increased. Keeping the cars inside has allowed us to keep them looking much nicer on a daily basis. We also implemented a recycle wash system to clean our golf cars. In fiscal year 2003-2004, we operated 50 gasoline golf cars. At $1.40 per gallon, we spent $9,695 for the year. This averages to be $193.90 per car. In fiscal year 2004-2005, we operated 60 electric golf cars. Our total cost for electricity, the storage building, and lighting was $7,830. This averages out to $130.50 per car or a savings of more than 30% per car. Completion of this project would never have been possible without the assistance of several individuals. It is important to remember to utilize all of the resources and experts available to you. This project was undertaken because we needed to respond to an environmental regulation that impacted our operations. In the future there will be other projects that need to be undertaken for various environmental reasons. As superintendents, it is our job to educate those around us about what the best solutions are to protect our environment for future generations.

Learn more about Sunnyvale Golf Course.