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Flying Golf Cart Lands in Ohio

The future has landed on Windy Knoll golf course in Springfield, Ohio where the first flying golf cart was officially launched this weekend. It hovers nine inches above the ground gliding of land and water alike.

It’s the brainchild of New York viral marketing firm Thinkmodo who asked 2012 Masters Champion Bubba Watson to become the face of the vehicle.

"I think it's gonna get more people involved," Watson says in the original Thinkmodo video. "They're just gonna want to drive the hovercraft and not play golf. But that's how I got started, driving the golf cart and then golf got in the way."

To make the idea a reality, Thinkmodo tapped a small Midwestern company called Neoteric. For more than 50 years the company has produced hovercrafts that have been used by the U.S. military, search and rescue units, and even Walt Disney World.

"Originally hovercraft were invented as a way of going fast over water," Neoteric's founder and President Chris Fitzgerald told Breakout. "The thing about boats is when they’re pushing their way over water they waste a huge amount of energy...that’s what hovercraft were invented for, to solve that problem. However, the thing that’s really come out is the hovercraft’s amphibious quality is more valuable than its energy efficiency."

It soars over grass, sand and water; all the terrains on your average golf course. Sounds like a perfect fit right? Not so fast says Fitzgerald.

"It’s not a device that’s going to replace the golf cart. It’s not something everyone can just get in and fly. You’ve got to have some technique and skill."

Breakout learned that first hand while taking it out for a spin on the Wabash river in Indiana. The crafts are loud and not easy to control without training. But they are a smooth, quick and fun way to get around.

Technology has come a long way since the first functional hovercraft crossed the English Channel in July of 1959.

The National Archives UK

The craft, called the SR-N1 was a seven ton behemoth, built by the British and based on technology developed during World War II. Modern hovercraft are lighter, smaller and more maneuverable.

"We used to spend a lot of time discussing whether this was really practical to make a small hovercraft," says Fitzgerald, "because at the time, everyone was saying hovercrafts had to be like airships. [Neoteric's] first craft was about six feet by five feet, had a lawn mower motor and a little fan and all it did was hover."

Even today, hovercrafts are a very niche market. Fitzgerald estimates that only about 300 are manufactured each year world-wide.

"It’s all about the awareness," he says. "There’s something like 300,000 fire stations in the U.S. If you go around and survey those and say 'hovercraft,' hardly any of those fire departments would know what you’re talking about. They’d think about an airboat maybe and so until they get the concept and think, 'Hey, this might solve the problem we have,' you won’t expand the market."

So it's no wonder that Neoteric thinks emergency responders hold the key to jump starting a wider adoption of their crafts.

"There’s no reason why the majority of fire departments and sheriff departments and emergency management people couldn’t have a hovercraft," Fitzgerald argues. "It’s about the same price as a police motorcycle so we’re going to see these vehicles all over the world in these rescue situations."

Still, with an average cost of $25,000 each it will be some time before you and your neighbor take one for a spin. But if awareness is key maybe Bubba Watson and the flying golf cart are on the right track.

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Breakout Profiles offers an in-depth look at some of America's most successful companies as well as start-ups hoping to be the next big thing. We'll take you inside the front office, talking directly to the company's CEO. These hard-hitting interviews focus on what you need to know as a potential investor and on just how, in these tough times, business leaders have found a way to succeed.


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