Saturday, January 04, 2014

Golf Carts vs. Walking - The Modern Golf Debate

The turning of a new year is an interesting time for people. In the course of universal history, there is nothing more or less significant about January 1st from any other day of the year, but for many people, it seems as though the turning of the page to a newly minted calendar marks a new beginning of sorts. One area of people's lives often focused on by many in the New Year is their own health and fitness. It is a time for making resolutions to eat healthier, get in shape, and lose that beer belly, spare tire, muffin top, and/or second chin. As golfers, we are always searching for an edge, and a popular area of focus in recent years has been on golf fitness. Toning our bodies specifically with the game of golf in mind will surely lead to lower scores and a greater enjoyment of the game, will it not?

On my daily meander through the world of Facebook this afternoon, I stumbled across an article from that had been shared by our friend at as well as another golfing friend of mine. The article, Fitness Friday: Resolutions you can actually keep written by Ron Kaspriske, the fitness editor of Golf Digest, offers 10 concise resolutions for the New Year that are specific and realistic, and meant to help you get and stay in good shape for the coming season and beyond. In my opinion, these are pretty basic suggestions with nothing groundbreaking whatsoever, serving more as New Year filler for Golf Digest than anything else. What struck me, as well as my friends who shared this on Facebook, however, was not the content of the article, but the content of the comments.

(This is where you now click to view the article and peruse the comments for yourself. I'll be here when you get back)

Yes, it should be apparent by now that reading comments to articles posted online is a known entry into a world of piss and vinegar, angry vitriol being spewed forth regarding any and every topic about which a short blog post or article can be written. All too often, whether out of morbid curiosity, and just to get my own dander up, I scroll down to check them out. In the case of the Golf Digest article in question, it was one of the ten suggestions that infuriated the Golf Digest trolls more than any other.

Suggestion Number Eight - "Walk whenever you can".
I like to carry my golf bag, too, but push/pullcarts are fine. Unless you're physically disabled, there's no reason to ride in a golf cart. And if a course tells you that they have a "no-walking" policy, ask the director of golf for special permission. If he or she says no, then say you have a policy of playing golf courses that allow walking and politely leave.
If, by now, you have taken a moment to read the comments in question, you noticed the anger, sarcasm, excuse-making, and unsupported claims that led me to write about it. You will likely fall into one camp or the other, and perhaps react with vigor from the completely opposite side of my leaning, but I'd like to attempt to make a couple of points.

First, the article is very clearly about staying fit. There is no argument that anyone can make that riding in a golf cart is exercise, and anywhere close to the fitness aid that walking a golf course is. If you attempt to argue the opposite, you are wrong, and if you chose to react to this particular article by coming up with all sorts of reasons why riding is better than walking, you have completely missed the point of the article itself.

Second, and more to make the argument for walking in general, I defy the claim that courses utilize carts to improve the pace of play, and more debatable, that carts actually do increase the pace of play. 

I will not oppose the claim that a cart will get from point A to point B in a direct path more quickly than a person walking with a bag of clubs either on their back or on a push cart. A motorized vehicle simply has a higher top speed than a walker (12-15 mph vs. 2.5-3.5 mph to be more precise). The problem with the argument, however, is that the cart is rarely driven directly from point A to point B, there are generally two separate golfers in a single cart, and aside of moving from point to point, the game of golf is played outside of the cart.

If one rides a cart for all of the, let's say 6,300 yards of a course, at a golf cart low end average speed of  12 mph, then the total driving time for one 18 hole round would be only about 18 minutes! Yet it takes four golfers in a cart on most courses I have played at least 4.5 hours to complete their round. A person walking at an average pace of 3.5 mph would cover that same distance in about 1 hour 12 minutes, almost a full hour longer than the cart-goers, yet they also generally manage to complete their round in about 4.5 hours. So, what are the cart golfers doing with the additional 50+ minutes? They are doing all the little things that are the real reason for slow play that is deemed so troublesome at golf courses everywhere.

We all know what the suggested best practices are for speeding up pace of play, yet the vast majority of golfers fail to execute those best practices, whether riding in a cart or walking the course. Fast players play fast when they walk a course, and those same fast players generally play faster when riding in a cart. Slow players, on the other hand, seem to be able to stretch a round of golf to 5+ hours whether walking or riding, making the cart, for those players, of no benefit whatsoever.

Now, I will admit that there are courses, most of which are no more than 20 years old, that make walking extremely difficult, to the point of absurdity. Of the courses I have played, Royal New Kent near Williamsburg, VA comes to mind. I am not one who will necessarily walk away from such courses, but I will seriously think twice about playing that course a second time. There are also climates in which certain times of the day make walking much more difficult (Miami in August anyone?), but perhaps those aren't the best times or places to be playing golf.

We all have our reasons for playing golf, and our own preferences about how we play the game. Carts are a sign of the times, and a way for the golf course to increase their take on each round played. There are times when a cart can enhance the enjoyment of the game. A local Chicagoland course on which I play in regular scrambles, for example, keeps track of, and displays a real time scoreboard on the cart's GPS screen.

Save the argument, however, that a slow pace of play is a result of folks walking as opposed to riding, unless you can produce some sort of proven evidence of it. You would also have to explain to me why I have walked courses such as Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, Bethpage Black, Whistling Straits, and Pinehurst Nos. 2, 4, 7, and 8 among others, all in less than 4 hours, but can't get around my local 6,300 yard muni, packed with golf carts, in less than 5.

Above all, play golf in the fashion that provides you with the greatest sense of joy. If you don't want the exercise, get a rush from the drive, or truly have a an injury or disability that makes walking prohibitive, then drive on! If, like me, you enjoy the "good walk spoiled", then leave the keys in the clubhouse. At least if your round goes into the toilet, you have still gotten in a good day's exercise, and can rest your sweat stained cap on that.

Fairways and Greens!


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