The Australian Way
Continued (page 2 of 2)
In a practical sense, shifting from pull to push has greatly reduced the number of embarrassing flip-overs that tend to occur with pulling your clubs. Regardless of modus operandi, pushcarts get people walking. And here's your monster Golf Digest news flash:
Ask longtime Aussie golfers--few of whom appear even slightly overweight--how long pushcarts have been around, and they can't remember an era of Australian golf without them. Since Americans have started pushing instead of pulling, such carts seem to be growing in acceptability nationwide, especially now that manufacturers like Bag Boy, Sun Mountain and Cart-Tek have added amenities, new colors and, most of all, amped up the wheels to exude an element of sports-car cool. "For the life of me I can't figure out why there's always been a disdain for them," says the USGA's Davis. "Though if you go to the Pacific Northwest it seems like everyone uses them. It's a very geographically centric notion that [pushcarts] are acceptable."
DON'T PAMPER THE GREENS
Here's the best part: heftier-wheeled manual carts have been around Aussie links forever and are even considered part of the maintenance plan. At every elite club I pulled into, you're not met by a pretty-boy Disneyland greeter, but instead by a row of free buggies. Very few golfers Down Under carry their bag, and caddies appear almost nonexistent. (Motorized carts are discouraged, though sadly they're appearing at more and more courses.) Most of the standard buggies feature a small sand bucket dangling from the center rod for filling divot holes. And when golfers approach the greens, they're encouraged to push the unit right on across. That simple act--which never feels right to an American no matter how many times you do it--toughens and smooths the greens in the thinking of Australian superintendents. And in a practical sense, it saves an immense amount of pushcart time avoiding the annoying circumvention of what Americans coddle: the putting surface. With less of the chemical dependence that can lead to thatch build-up and the need for frequent aerification, it's no coincidence that Australians sport firmer, faster, smoother and more disease-resistant putting surfaces that are a fraction of the American price to build and maintain.
Then there's the overall lack of turfgrass wear and tear typically induced by motorized golf carts, a dreadful, understudied and not-fully understood agronomic side effect that Americans consider minor because cart revenue is believed to be essential to sunrises and sunsets.
"There's always been this sense that owners and operators liked motorized carts because of the revenue," Davis says, "but what they don't account for is how much extra wear and tear they put on the golf course, and how that increases the cost of maintaining a course."
Australia's austere-but-still-excellent maintenance approach means more attention can be focused on keeping fairways tightly mowed and green approaches maintained more lovingly than in America. The common-sense Australian way can be traced to one man and his simple axiom.
"You in America try to grow grass," Royal Melbourne superintendent Claude Crockford once told Ben Crenshaw. "We try to keep it from growing here."
"He was light-years ahead of most people in his field," says Crenshaw, a huge admirer of the Australian practices retained and spread by many of Crockford's descendants.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO BUNKERS
Perhaps no more magnificent contribution to the game was Crockford and friends' sensible approach to bunkers. Instead of trying to keep two to five inches of sand in the faces so that golfers will not be exposed to the horrible sight of contrasting soil colors, Aussies believe in firm faces with just a splattering of whitish granules. If a little of the bunker floor shows through, it's no big deal. The resulting firm faces regularly send incoming balls to the base, where Aussie maintenance crews rake and maintain these flatter bottom areas as needed, only touching up the faces sporadically. The effect is stunning.
For starters, the plugged lie--next to the root canal as one of life's least-enjoyable exercises--has almost no place in the Australian game. Incoming balls pinball around the firm bunkers before typically settling on the flat floor, offering a reasonable chance at recovery most of the time. To some, the word "reasonable" might be a stretch because the Australians embrace bunkers as authentic hazards where the firmness requires a precision of strike with which Americans are not familiar. Although the Aussies' virtual hardpan takes some getting used to, patience will be rewarded with big perks: no fried eggs, easier-to-hit bunker shots when you learn to let the sole of the club do the work, and very little effort expended raking your way in and out of the bunker.
Don't forget the relief this brings the bunker crew. Not only does Crockford's approach cut down on the unfathomable number of hours American crews spend primping our so-called hazards to perfection, the staff can devote time to things that matter: fairways and greens. And these days, the only things that matter are fresh ways to make golf cheaper, faster, more fun and more sensible. So look to the Aussies to show us the way. Just watch your socks.
Contributing Editor Geoff Shackelford, who has consulted on design and restoration of classic courses, visited Australia for the first time during the 2011 Presidents Cup.