Hovercraft golf carts put local course in national spotlight

The idea to buy two hovercraft golf carts for Windy Knoll Golf Club has brought immeasurable national publicity to the public course that was built in 2000.

“I don’t think you can ever really imagine the magnitude of the attention until it starts happening,” said Duffey, who serves as the course’s managing director. “We’ve been pleasantly overwhelmed and surprised.”

Windy Knoll’s decision to be the first course to offer such a thrill ride for 18 holes has made international headlines since the announcement earlier this month. The course has set up links on its Website to stories by media outlets such as USAToday, Golfweek, Golf.com, ABC News, CBSSports.com, the Daily Mail in the U.K., golf bloggers and trade publications. The Associated Press wrote a story that is sure to have been published in many newspapers and on many other Websites.

To kick off the arrival of WK2 this week to join WK1 in the Windy Knoll stable, the course is hosting the Hover Bash on Saturday. The event will include a golf clinic, an 18-hole scramble, steak dinner and fireworks.

The Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” show, which airs daily from 7 to 10 a.m., will be on site to chronicle the unveiling. Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, LPGA golfer Paige Mackenzie and golf insider Tim Rosaforte will be part of the festivities.

“That’s kind of the cherry on top the way I see it,” Duffey said. “To have them want to come out and shoot live is just amazing.”

Duffey said the notoriety the course has received after its $100,000-plus investment is worth much more than a similar amount would have accomplished through advertising.

“If we would have spent $100,000 just on advertising about the golf course itself, you really wouldn’t care to call me, the Golf Channel wouldn’t care to come, the Associated Press wouldn’t be interviewing me, we wouldn’t be tweeted by golf writers on Twitter because we’re just another golf course at that point,” Duffey said. “It took the hovercraft to take us to the level that we’re presently at.”

Duffey might be able to come back down to earth next week, but not yet. He took Thursday and Friday off from his full-time banking job to invest extra time into what has become his second full-time job. Normally he helps out on evenings, weekends and lunch hours. And as managing director, he reports on the state of the business to his cousin Nick Tiller, who lives in Connecticut. He’s supposed to be part time.

“This has been my life except for eight hours a day down at the bank for weeks now,” Duffey said.

Tiller, who is from Springfield, bought the course out of receivership 13 months ago. Duffey said the condition of the course has come back almost to its former peak condition of five or six years ago. So why invest money into hovercrafts?

“Anything that’s never been done before kind of sounds crazy at first,” Duffey said. “But as you put more time and effort into it we see it as a very exciting opportunity to expand the popularity and knowledge of Windy Knoll. That’s exactly what it’s doing right now.”

Duffey said the course has seen in increase in business and new faces over the past two weeks since news of the hovercraft broke. Reservation requests to use WK1 and WK2 are already coming in, including from out of state.

The cost to be a hover golfer is $175 a round per person. Golfers, however, won’t be piloting the hovercrafts, which can travel as fast as 50 mph. It’s a simple liability issue, Duffey said. Some employees will be trained as pilots and will chauffer and caddy golfers around the course. Duffey said the pilots will have a strong knowledge of the course for the purpose of giving advice to golfers who might not have previously played Windy Knoll.

What isn’t obvious in the online viral video of PGA golfer Bubba Watson promoting the hovercraft is that it’s too noisy to talk to the person next to you. Duffey said passengers will wear headsets similar to what airplane pilots wear with a microphone so they can clearly communicate with each other.

“The initial sound I’m really not worried about because this is such a groundbreaking offering on a golf course and something that’s never been used or seen,” Duffey said. “Everybody’s going to rubberneck it when it’s out on the golf course. Everybody’s going to get a kick out of it. As quick as it moves, the noise will be near you for a second, but then before you know it it will be 500 yards away. You’ll still hear it, but it’s not like it’s up on you.”

Duffey, of course, has gone for a spin in WK1.

“You feel like you’re floating on air,” he said, “because you are.”

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