Legendary golf writer and broadcaster Henry Longhurst once said: “A good caddie is more than a mere assistant. He is a guide, philosopher, and friend.” But if you ask Greenville’s Tim Doane and Ted Nicola, a good caddie doesn’t necessarily need to be human to get the job done.
Doane and Nicola are the inventors of Rover, an autonomous robot that’s not only capable of following golfers around the course but also carrying their clubs.
The 95-pound, three-wheeled, waterproof unit uses wireless sensor technology to shadow golfers’ footsteps as they walk across the course, according to Doane.
Golfers using Rover just have to clip a small transmitter to their belts and flip a tiny switch for the autonomous caddie to follow them, he said.
Once a connection is established between the transmitter and Rover, the autonomous caddie will follow the golfer all around the course, at the same speed and always 4 feet behind.
In addition to carrying a golfer’s bags in an upright position, Rover includes a personal cooler, cup holder, divot repair, sand bottle, charging ports for mobile phones, and a tablet that transmits course data and keeps score — via GPS.
“We took all the amenities you have on a golf cart and incorporated them into the Rover unit,” Doane said.
Rover is capable of following a golfer for more than 36 holes on a single charge thanks to its lithium-ion battery, according to Doane.
Constructed with a durable aluminum frame, the autonomous caddie also features wide turf tires, which allow it to roll smoothly across the fairway or putting green during rainy weather without causing damage to the course.
It has been extensively tested on courses and can easily navigate a wide range of environments, including steep hills, tall grasses, and rough terrain, according to Doane.
Doane said Rover ultimately promotes a healthier lifestyle and increases the pace of play by providing golfers with an alternative way to walk the course without having to push or carry their clubs.
“It won’t hit the shot for you,” he said. “But if you want to walk the course without carrying your bag, then this is the product for you.”
Rover also provides an additional revenue stream for golf courses with no risk or investment, according to Doane.
Instead of selling Rover to the public, Doane and Nicola loan their autonomous caddie to golf courses for free and allow members to rent it.
Once a partnership is established with a golf course, the duo provide up to four Rover units, along with the proper training. They also handle the daily maintenance and warranty costs.
Doane and Nicola said they work with golf courses to set a rental rate for Rover. Fees will vary by course, but golfers can likely expect to pay between $20 and $40 to rent one for 18 holes.
The proceeds are split evenly between the course and Rover team, with $1 dollar from every rental going to either The First Tee, a youth development organization “introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people,” or the LPGA Girls Golf program, which “specializes in providing girl-friendly environments for juniors to learn the game of golf.”
Doane noted that golf cart rentals remain an important revenue stream at the courses that offer them. But courses can gain up to $10,000 in incremental income annually by marketing the Rover to members who usually walk. The autonomous caddie can also supplement caddies when they’re not available.
Rover is currently available at more than a dozen courses nationwide, including The Cliffs at Mountain Park in Greenville and Torrey Pines Golf Club in southern California.
Doane and Nicola have also partnered with Club Car, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electric and gas-powered golf carts and utility vehicles, to expand their marketing efforts.
Under the partnership, each Rover unit is branded with a Club Car insignia and marketed to golf courses under the brand name “Tempo Walk.”
“Tempo Walk is the perfect blend of tradition and technology, bringing a new golf experience to the course; one that will excite golfers and provide a fun, healthy experience for 18 holes,” said Mark Wagner, president of Club Car. “The Tempo Walk further underscores our commitment to move the game of golf forward, particularly for the thousands of golf courses that attract a significant number of health-conscious walkers and are looking to generate a new revenue stream for their operation.”
Where is Rover?
Click on the pins below to see which golf courses are using the autonomous caddie.
Doane and Nicola are producing about 50 to 100 Rover units a week from a manufacturing facility in Cincinnati. They hope to expand their presence internationally and eventually outfit their autonomous caddie with additional features, including a range of technologies that are capable of providing health and performance diagnostics for each user.
Doane said Rover may also find its way onto a manufacturing floor sometime in the future if companies express enough interest.
“This thing has thousands of applications beyond the golf course,” he said. “Think of it as an autonomous sherpa.”
For more information, visit www.followrover.com.