Planet Golf

The Australian Way

Why dragging a pushcart over a green is a good thing (and other secrets to make golf more fun and affordable).

May 2012

When playing golf in Australia, understand that the "sockettes" we Americans have foisted upon the world and which leave the ankle horrifyingly exposed will get you booted out of most clubs. But taking a pushcart across the putting surface? That's strongly encouraged!

This latter bit of laxity--a shocking act of defiance for those of us reared to believe the putting surface holds eggshell status--speaks to a vital difference between golf Down Under and the game in the United States. We Americans have much to learn from golf in Australia, particularly as the game stagnates at the club level and the golf model is (thankfully) re-evaluated. Without question, the Australian way should provide inspiration--minus the dress-code peccadillos. Just ask the USGA executive director.


Kangaroos at Lake Karrinyup Country Club in Karrinyup.

"They're a little bit like golfers in the U.K. in the sense that they just don't overdo their maintenance, and the expectations of golfers aren't quite as high in terms of having perfect wall-to-wall conditions, which directly is reflected in the cost to play the game," Mike Davis said after making his first visit Down Under for last November's Presidents Cup. "Because their standards aren't as demanding for things like the rough, they don't over-irrigate or over-fertilize, and it's kind of how I remember golf being where I grew up. We've certainly gotten away from those values in this country."

Australian golf is amazingly affordable to those of us in a country where just about every basic purchase makes you feel like you're edging one step closer to bankruptcy. A few elite, big-city clubs in Australia top out at $20,000 (U.S.) for initiation fees, but most are much less, and annual dues are in the $3,500 range. Even at Tasmania's sparkling new Barnbougle Dunes resort, a Down Under Bandon Dunes where 36-holes of world-class links golf await, all-day unlimited golf will cost you $140. Then there's the Australian attitude. Think California cool. Without trying so hard.

The Aussies love their sports, they love their outdoors, and though some of them can be insufferably competitive at times, most have a better golf sense than any other nationality when deciding what's most vital. The resulting Australian version is a dream hybrid of the best links-golf attributes, but played at glorious inland settings with sensible values: pleasurable walking, a sense of fun, genuine affordability and even decent accessibility to the best courses, including some nifty reciprocal relationships between big-city clubs. All of these common-sense values are merged effortlessly with the elements Americans have come to desire in their golf: modernized facilities; quality course maintenance of greens, fairways and tees; and strong design aesthetics.


An example of a brochure that gives the do's and don'ts of Aussie golf attire. Photo: Geoff Shackelford

Initial impressions can be deadly, however, especially after the 15-hour flight from L.A. to Melbourne. If you arrive via the main entrance of just about any clubhouse on the continent (and there are some stunning architectural shrines), you'll be greeted with a pamphlet outlining club dress and etiquette. Some of the bizarre rules can be traced to Her Majesty's "Royal" clubs in the United Kingdom, but because of the Australians' kindness and sense of cool, the quibbling seems contradictory. Particularly when the rules are featured in a TSA-style brochure of do's and don'ts, replete with "acceptable" and "unacceptable" fashion photos.

For instance, boat shoes and no socks, the uniform for American men over 40 arriving for a summer round of golf? No way, Paul Hogan. Golf shoes that look suspiciously like tennis shoes? Those are OK. But actual tennis shoes not made specifically for golf? How dare you! The obsessiveness reaches its zenith with sock fetishes that allow for "anklets" slightly covering the ankles, but sockettes giving the impression of mere foot and shoe fall into the "unacceptable" category. And for those wearing utterly awkward long socks, there's the color issue (just white!), with only club logos allowed. And what about the corporate branding often found on today's socks or one of those subversive stripes displaying a hint of color? Head to the golf shop for replacements, mate.

The fashion histrionics leap out only when contrasted with the core strengths of Aussie golf: walking with pushcarts, and different maintenance priorities that combine to reduce the overall price dramatically.

Now, about the dreaded pushcart. Or the "three-wheel." Or the "micro-cart." Or the "golf-bag cart." Or the "one-click collapsible." Down Under, they are buggies. In the U.K., they're trolleys. Frankly, I say whatever name floats your boat will do.

Regardless of branding, Aussies express none of the inexplicable American vitriol still channeled toward those electing to get much-needed exercise while pushing or pulling their bag around a country-club course. (Because healthy and grown adults of means sputtering around in a motorized cart is so much sexier, healthier and agronomically sensible?)

The "pullcart" was an American invention, traceable to Bruce Williamson of Portland, Ore., in 1945. Desiring a way to walk while keeping his bag dry, Williamson devised his movable golf-bag-holder out of lawn-mower wheels mounted on a spring-suspension chassis. To make Williamson's American-dream story complete, he eventually partnered with E. Roy Jarman to create a successful pullcart-making company that refined their product line before a series of purchases and mergers over the decades left us with today's Bag Boy Company.

Yet it wasn't until 2002 that trolley designers broke the sound barrier of golf neuroses and shifted to new-look "push" vehicles. Pushing put us behind the wheel, dictating where we are headed and when we're getting there. Whereas the word "pull" too closely connotes an act of manual labor, as if we've been asked to drag a wheelbarrow full of horse manure for 20 cents an hour instead of our shiny clubs on a pristine ground designed for the Royal and Ancient game?

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