'Tricked Out' Golf Carts Popular at Campground

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September 15, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

The gleaming '57 Chevy looks a bit out of place among the dirt roadways and camping trailers, but no worry — it fits perfectly with the stretch limo and futuristic electric car.

The setting is the Plymouth Rock Camping Resort in Plymouth, Wis., where customized golf carts have become a mode of transportation for the approximately 1,000 people who call the seasonal campground home during the summer months. What began with a few custom paint jobs has grown in recent years as the proverbial "Joneses" are pouring four-figure sums into golf cart makeovers, according to the Sheboygan Press.

"The golf carts, basically it's a way of life, it's a culture," said Mike Kislewski, taking a break from construction of a wooden spoiler for his custom ride. "You see people washing their golf carts more than they wash their cars, or putting more money into their golf carts."

Plymouth Rock, located just a stone's throw from Little Elkhart Lake, has embraced the fad, organizing golf cart parades, races, obstacle courses and even a themed weekly design competition. Last weekend it was NASCAR, so Kislewski's carefully crafted golf cart took a turn toward the "redneck" side with Tony Stewart flags, the spoiler and a boombox duct-taped to the roof.

"I don't even like NASCAR," laughed Kislewski, 38, of Appleton.

Kislewski and Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan claim to be among the initiators of what has become a campwide arms race for golf cart originality. The carts are a near-mandatory means of transportation on the sprawling 180-acre campground, but function has taken a far backseat to form for most.

General Manager Lance Wagner estimates one-third of the residents have spent more than $1,000 on some kind of customization. Popular accessories include custom paint jobs, lift kits, chrome wheels and dashboards, and some carts have satellite radio and navigation systems.

Kislewski's ride features underbody lighting and a center console torn from a Ford Windstar minivan, complete with rearview mirror and coin holder. He's spent about $2,000 on the accessories – more than the purchase price but a fraction of what others have shelled out.

Jeff Winkel, 39, of Elkhart Lake, estimates his cost around $8,500 for the No. 40 Coors Light golf cart. A car builder and customizer by trade, Winkel created almost every piece of plastic on the cart, which has the trademark mountains covering the glossy exterior.

Even those who don't invest the time or money in permanent custom work enthusiastically jump into the weekly theme contests. Last weekend's winner was a standard cart decked out with hanging NASCAR lights, posters, a rug, sponsor logos cut out from cardboard and a giant trophy bungeed to the roof.

"We have a lot of fun with this stuff," Wagner said. "You'll see some of these carts, they're just ridiculous."

A handful of the carts are even street legal, equipped with seat belts, speedometers and the necessary headlights, taillights and turn signals. At least one can travel up to 45 mph.

Among the more unique vehicles around the grounds are Bill Stack's 1968 Harley-Davidson three-wheeler, which comes complete with a steering handle.

"There isn't another one like it out here," said Stack, 74, of Milwaukee.

That's what Bill Reifschneider was going for, too. He drives a 2002 GEM E825, a prototype electric car produced by Daimler-Chrysler that runs on six batteries, plugs in to recharge and fits four people in its oversized cab.

"I knew this was out there and I'd been looking for a long time," Reifschneider, 50, of New Berlin, who found the vehicle on eBay a few years ago.

Doug Knueppel's ride of choice is what appears to be a former plant maintenance vehicle. But it's dirty yellow finish and flashing light has given way to a glossy black paint job, new seats and, of course, fuzzy dice in the mirror.

"Although it seems to be a bit of a competition in tricking out the carts, they also seem to become a part of your identity in an environment like a campground, something people can associate you with," said Knueppel, 40, of Milwaukee.

Ryan — whose golf cart features a burled walnut dashboard, CD player, satellite radio, chrome wheels and painted flames — said he enjoys watching the carts get bigger and better but has long since stopped trying to compete. Kislewski agreed.

"When I got the cart, I was one of maybe three that had it tricked out," Kislewski said. "Since then, I've been blown away."

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