Joaquin Matilda asks, ‘Does anyone walk golf courses anymore?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Not many. In most cases, walking occurs only at the lowest-cost courses, where cost is an issue, and high-end clubs, where tradition reigns. Overall, in America, 55 percent of golfers use carts; and some courses, responding to climate, topography, and (mostly) revenue needs, require cart use at all times. Few Americans have the energy to argue these policies, much less actually walk if allowed! So, cart paths will be with us until hovercraft technology is perfected for golf.

Whenever we omit full cart paths originally, we find that they are installed within a year. And, they are often installed poorly. They are so important that it's much better to design a well-planned full cart-path system immediately.

On some courses, cart paths drive – or at least influence – the entire design. That's because the merits of greens, tees and bunkers can be, and are, debated endlessly, but the fact that golfers travel the straightest, flattest line between two points cannot.

Standard cart-path systems now require:

• 8-foot-wide paths;

• 10-foot minimum paths at tees and greens, with 12 feet preferred;

• curbing to control traffic at all tees and greens, most par-3 fairways, and selected wet or environmentally sensitive areas;

• no shared paths, usually for convenience and safety reasons;

• extensive drainage, including basins and in pavement track drains, to minimize problems on what is now the most highly traveled route on the golf course; and

• efforts to hide the path from primary viewpoints, like tees.

Construction standards continue to rise, and using proper base course, pavement thickness (including deeper edge thickness), expansion and contraction joints, and reinforcement all contribute to durability, which is the cheapest in the long run. Concrete may be more expensive than asphalt, but lasts much longer and requires less ongoing maintenance.

Wet areas near the path cause turf damage, which immediately detracts from aesthetics. Many paths block existing drainage patterns, but proper planning can avoid this.

Paths can be drainage ways, but wet pavement isn't as safe and drainage accelerates on pavement, causing erosion where it exits. More and more, paths are like engineered roads, with swales and drainage inlets on either side. Where drainage must run in the path, catch basins in the pavement are now common. It is especially important to handle drainage well away from high-traffic areas like greens and tees.

Paths can actually help turf growth in cases where:

• running on the south and/or east side of fairways, tees and greens in wooded areas, they allow morning sunlight and air into the site; or

• acting as wind slots, they provide air circulation to greens and tees.

The irrigation system should favor the cart-path side of the fairway. Insufficient irrigation, combined with the stress of additional cart traffic, kills turf quickly.