Unhappy Trails: Do we really need cartpaths?

By Ron Whitten Photos by Dom Furore
December 04, 2015

Photographed by Dom Furore at Arcadia Bluffs in Michigan.

We all talk the talk, but most of us don't walk the walk. We use a golf cart, even if we're physically able to hoof 18 holes with ease. It's habit, custom and usually part of the golf fee. We don't really mind carts, but we really don't like cartpaths—especially paved ones. We don't want to see them, don't want to use them and absolutely hate it when we're required to stay on them. Worse still is when one of our majestic tee shots caroms off the pavement and ends up out-of-bounds. So we asked our panel of top-flight superintendents: Do we absolutely need these trails of tears? And if the answer is yes, why can't they be soft and out of sight?

Cartpaths are necessary at high-use public and resort courses, and even at some exclusive private courses. Without paths, turf gets stressed. There are materials other than asphalt or concrete that can be used, like crushed stone, blended sand, wood chips, etc. These materials might be unstable on hilly terrain and create maintenance headaches after heavy rains. They also require periodic grooming to smooth them out and keep them free of weeds.
Paul Dotti
Arcola Country Club, Paramus, N.J.

If you don't have cartpaths, you'll have dirt.
Steven M. Cook
Oakland Hills Country Club, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

I've played only a few courses where the soil drained so well after it rained that cartpaths were not needed. Many soils will not handle intense traffic when they're wet. Golf architects have worked hard to hide paths from the view of a tee shot or an approach shot into a green. But often you run out of real estate, or the golf hole is so flat you don't have the ability to hide them.
Rick Tegtmeier
Des Moines Golf And Country Club, West Des Moines, Iowa

Cartpaths allow architects to build courses in places that wouldn't be ideal for golf without them, like mountainous regions. Safety is another reason for cartpaths. Going down a slope on wet turf is a problem for carts.
Fred Gehrisch
Highlands Falls (N.C.) Country Club

If you must have cartpaths, the most practical method is to let the natural pattern of cart traffic dictate where to place them. This would no doubt result in cartpaths running down the center of fairways. If you move them far enough out of the way, no one will use them; if you try to hide them closer to the hole, they will look fabricated. It's really a question of what each club's constituency desires.
Russell C. Myers
Los Angeles Country Club

Besides using paths for golf carts, they're needed for maintenance equipment to travel around the course. Not many courses have the option, in property or funding, to have separate roads for equipment. It would be great if cartpaths could be hidden, but let's be honest: Golfers don't use the paths anyway.
Paul L. Carter
The Bear Trace At Harrison (Tenn.) Bay

Here's a question: Can golfers explain the 90-degree rule? If so, why is it so difficult to remember? When did golf carts become ATVs?
Josh Heptig
San Luis Obispo (Calif.) County Golf Courses