Cart Paths. Necessary? Evil?

Cart golf is rubbish! You can keep your GPS tracking, complimentary tees, iced water and towels. I prefer to walk. That is the pace at which the game is supposed to be played. You have time to appraise your next shot, take in the scenery and chat to your playing partners. Golf in a cart is an impersonal and hurried affair and heaven forbid you have to stick to the paths, requiring you to haul an armful of clubs on the inevitable trudge to the rough at the far side of the fairway, only to find when you get there that you don’t have the right one! Carts? Not if I can help it.

However, I have a guilty secret. I actually enjoy the design challenge of routing and specifying the cart roads. Does that make me a hypocrite? When I was a young kid I used to scribble down made up grand prix tracks on paper and repeatedly do laps with my stubby HB pencil until I had worn a hole in the paper. I guess laying out cart paths is my outlet for these juvenile doodles. Single or double track? Where should we put the kerbs and parking bays? How about a turning circle, or a nicely cambered corner? How are we going to snake down that steep hill? What should we make it with? Asphalt, concrete, block paving? All these decisions and more are part of the design process. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, carts are here to stay and its our responsibility as architects to make the cart tracks work as best as we can.

The reasons for having a formal path are numerous, but they will include several of the following. If the site topography is quite severe, a cart is going to be a big help in getting you up, down and around the inclines. There are now plenty of sites that have only been developed for golf because golf carts exist. Whether courses should be developed for that reason is a discussion for another time. Climate can play a big factor. Having worked on a course in Bahrain, it is very much the exception to see somebody walking. It is uncomfortably hot for golf and the cart minimises the physical strain. Resort and real estate courses can be quite strung out between holes and a cart undoubtedly speeds up the transit times between holes. Transit times are one of the main reasons why golf takes longer now. If you average only 3 minutes between putting out and teeing off, you add an hour to the round. Often, it is quite a bit longer than that. Finally, and most pertinently, is the commercial aspects of having carts. Operators will charge you for having a cart and it is a lucrative add-on for them. Taking the above factors into consideration, it is also clear that access to a cart extends the time span and the variety of courses that a golfer with restricted physical movement can play. For that, they are a good thing.

On both projects that I have completed for European Golf Design, we have built a partial cart track system. That is where the path alongside the fairways on par 4’s and 5’s is omitted, ostensibly because the carts will run down the fairways all the time, so there was little point in going to the extra expense of building the road. The first one, in the Czech Republic, was on a course with such limited play that turf wear was never going to be a problem, and the second, in Bahrain, was on a course where the carts were fitted with GPS systems, so they too would be on the grass generally.

Cart tracks never add positively to the landscape, so it is a matter of trying to minimise the detrimental aesthetic impact whilst maximising the functional demands. This isn’t so easy to achieve, as generally the path will be running directly in the line of sight from the tee, where it will be closest to the point of play. I try to route the path to the outside of a doglegged hole, even if this means that the path has to cross the line of play, as it is far easier to obscure and less of a factor in play on the far side of play. Clearly, on straight holes other factor come into play, such as the direction of slope and how the path links in from the previous and to the next holes.

The surface and width of the paths is very important. I used to prefer concrete to tarmac, but a well made tarmac path is usually more visually discrete, unless you’re tying the path into the desert. Our path in the Czech Republic was formed of block paving. It looks great, but having seen it recently, is very susceptible to weed infestation between the blocks. The path should be a minimum of 8-feet (2.4m wide). Less than this and cart drivers will tend to nip across the corners and wear the turf away. Passing bays and two-way traffic requires a 12-foot (3.65m wide path). Paths are also really useful for the maintenance crew, so a good, wide track will contain most, if not all of their vehicles. We’ll put kerbs in on the inside of some corners, or where we want to contain the carts on the path, such as besides tees. One has to be careful with kerbing, because they can easily act as dams if surface water is allowed to collect on the path. It doesn’t even have to be raining. Overspray from the irrigation system can quickly turn a path into a muddy mess if the drainage is wrong.

Golf is a walking game and so it must remain. Whilst I strive to accommodate cart traffic as best as possible, my focus will always be on trying to make the course as user-friendly as possible for the golfer prepared to sling a bag over their shoulder and burn some calories whilst they feel the design under their feet. That is how we want you to experience our work.

Brick paver cart path in construction at Casa Serena