PHOTO: Nora Cobb Jewell stands in front of her family sport vehicle outside the Westhaven Resident Club, next to other resident’s carts, on July 21, 2018./Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
Driving through the Westhaven neighborhood on any given day, golf carts and utility vehicles are a familiar sight.
They are everywhere: parents picking up groceries from the Kroger. Families on their way to the pool or to Scout’s Pub for dinner. Parked in front of the liquor store, or by the lake.
And they’re not going away anytime soon.
From 2014 to 2017, the number of low and medium speed vehicle registrations in the county nearly tripled, from 58 to 147.
From 2014 to present, there were 558 registered low speed, medium speed, class I and class II vehicles, which include sport utility vehicles and golf carts.
Nora Cobb Jewell said she never thought she would live in a subdivision, let alone own a golf cart.
When she and her husband, Rob Jewell, married, they knew they wanted to live close to downtown Franklin; she lived in Nashville and he, in an apartment on a farm off Sneed Road.
Now, they have lived in Westhaven for six years, on the original farm road that went to the Jewell property.
Like many residents of the large planned community, Jewell, a registered nurse, said she fought, but eventually gave into the notion of buying a low-speed vehicle.
“I think the kicker was, it’s just so durn convenient,” she said.
With two teenage boys, the Jewells thought the carts would give them more freedom in the neighborhood.
She said her husband also justified the purchase of the $6,000 customized electric vehicle for use on their farm and hunting camp in West Tennessee.
They did use it this past hunting season, she said, “tooling around the farm,” but they had to put street tires back on it upon returning to Franklin.
Jewell guessed around 40 percent or more people in Westhaven have golf carts, though proximity to a course may dictate some of the use.
What kind of cart is that?
Golf carts fall into the low or medium speed category, depending on the top speed of the vehicle, said Katie Bryan Julian, a communications manager with the Tennessee Department of Revenue, which keeps the records.
By the numbers: low and medium speed vehicles registered in Williamson County
2014 – 58
2015 – 90
2016 – 141
2017 – 147
2018 – 122 (from January 1, 2018 – Aug. 3, 2018)
Class I and class II vehicles are off-road vehicles, like side-by-sides and sport utility vehicles.
Lieutenant Charles Warner, the Franklin Police Department’s public information officer, noted that the use of actual golf carts is illegal on all public roads.
So though many might refer to them as golf carts, most residents drive sport vehicles.
“A low speed vehicle that can be driven on a public way is very similar to a golf cart,” explained Warner. “They [low speed vehicles] also have to have things like seatbelts and horns and windshield wipers.”
Not for golf
Camille Legg, another Westhaven resident, said her family purchased their vehicle about a year ago.
“With kids, it’s so much easier,” she explained over the phone. “There’s something about just zipping around in a golf cart and just getting in and going.”
The Leggs got their cart through her husband’s uncle, who is a professional golfer, though they do not use it for golf.
A realtor, Legg said she used the cart to show houses in her neighborhood sometimes.
Does anyone in the neighborhood seem annoyed at the miniature vehicles puttering around? Not to her knowledge.
“Of course, everybody wants one,” she said.
Buying a cart
Jewell said some people will sell their carts on a community Buy, Sell, Trade page, but many of the residents purchase theirs from Tennessee Golf Cars, located on Century Court.
John Brient, a sales manager at the store, said he has seen an uptick in sales over the past few years, and noted Westhaven and other subdivision residents as common customers.
“As Williamson County grows, certain neighborhoods it seems to be more, somebody’s got one, somebody else wants one,” Brient said. “It’s kind of a cool thing to do.”
Based on their sales numbers, Brient said he believes there are over 200 street legal golf cars in Westhaven alone.
“I think it’s something that will continue to grow,” he added.
The rise of the sport utility vehicle
Cindy and Tim Massey, who live in the Berry Farms neighborhood, said they purchased their cart, a Polaris utility sport vehicle, simply “because I wanted to,” Tim said.
“She said, ‘We don’t need it, what are going to do with it?’” Tim said.
“I wanted a golf cart!” Cindy interjected.
“‘We’ll never use it, why are you going to spend that much money?’” Tim continued. Now, “Seventy-five percent of the hours on it are her driving, not me.”
“I was afraid it would be so loud that people would say, ‘Really? They’re 60 years old,’” she said. “I guess we’re used to the sound now.”
Uses are multipurpose, the Masseys said. Located on a slope, they use it to haul powerwashing equipment from their garage to the front of the house.
Others in the neighborhood have carts, too. Similar to Westhaven residents, they take them to the pool, which has limited parking, to the grocery story, or to the new Sonic Drive-In.
“Every time we go eat anywhere in Berry Farms, we take it,” Cindy explained. “Every time we go to Publix, we take it. Groceries go in the back.”
They purchased the vehicle from Polaris in Florence, Alabama, last year for $12,000.
As the Masseys point out, their vehicle is not a golf cart; they can drive on city streets with a speed limit up to 45 miles per hour, and he goes off-roading in it sometimes.
Franklin Police urge caution
Warner said the vehicles are “inherently great for neighborhoods,” but warned against allowing children without a driver’s license behind the wheel.
“You assume a lot of liability and responsibility if you let an unlicensed teen get behind the wheel of these things,” he said.
Several posts on the Franklin Police Department’s web page also warn against the same danger, and Warner says the police have made several trips out to neighborhoods on calls which typically increase over the summer.
Though there have only been two reported accidents from 2016 to present, in 2012, one teenager was killed and three were injured in an accident on a non-street legal golf cart in the Legends Ridge neighborhood.
“We really need parents to police this as well,” Warner said. “If you don’t have the skill on the moped or one of these other vehicles, you need to proceed with caution.”
With both utility vehicles and street legal golf cars, “I think that the key is really the right road and the right situation,” Warner said, suggesting the vehicles may be more suited to roads like Main Street than Lewisburg Pike.
“When in Rome”
Driving through the neighborhood, Tim Massey pointed out an empty plot of land closer to I-65.
“When it snowed, we drove through here and were doing donuts,” he chuckled.
They even drove it to Pilgrimage Festival last year, parking on Liberty Pike.
The Masseys agree that children and dogs, like their Jack Russell terrier, Elvis, seem to love the carts.
“We open the door and he goes running down the steps and gets up in the middle of the seat,” Cindy said, seeming to say, “‘Let’s go!’”
Jewell’s description of owning a golf cart is similar to the Masseys’. “The breeze, the open air, the kids love it,” she said.
“Once you get the golf cart, I get it,” Jewell said. “We resisted all this for years, but now we’re here, and it’s like, ‘When in Rome.’”