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Giving golfers carte blanche to walk

 Doing a round of golf on foot provides benefits well beyond the exercise value

By Brad Ziemer, Vancouver Sun

When Mark Twain penned that famous line about golf being a good walk spoiled, he'd obviously never ridden in a power cart.

There are those who believe that carts are spoiling golf. You have to practically threaten Doug Roxburgh with a 3-wood to get the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member into a power cart.

"I really haven't ridden very much, only when I am forced to," says Roxburgh, the 13-time B.C. Amateur and four-time Canadian Amateur winner. "I just have always enjoyed walking the course."

For Roxburgh, golf has always been about walking. It began nearly 50 years ago when he first became a junior member at Marine Drive Golf Club and continues today when he plays the highly regarded layout on Vancouver's Southwest Marine Drive. Or any other course for that matter.

Roxburgh's preference for walking the course extends beyond the obvious health benefits.

"I just think you take more in when you are walking," says Roxburgh, 59. "You certainly get a feel for the terrain and topography. It's more of an intangible, but I just think you are more into the course when you walk. You get a better feel for all the subtleties of a course."

In recent years, increasing numbers of recreational golfers have begun playing more of their rounds in a power cart.

And some of the game's governing bodies think that's a shame.

Before recently resigning as executive director of the United States Golf Association, David Fay launched a campaign to increase the number of golfers walking the course.

"We strongly believe that walking is the most enjoyable way to play golf and that the use of carts is detrimental to the game," Fay wrote in an article for a USGA publication. "This negative trend needs to be stopped now before it becomes accepted that riding in a cart is the way to play golf."

Prospective USGA members can sign what is called a Walking Member Declaration. Its text reads: "... By signing this, I hereby give my oath that I will never ride in a golf cart for a round of golf unless it is forced upon me or I develop a physical condition which necessitates the use of a cart. Whenever given a choice, I will always walk."

Golf Canada, the game's governing body in Canada, has not taken an official position on the matter. But in an interview for this story, executive director Scott Simmons left no doubt where he sides on the issue of walking versus riding.

"I would concur 100 per cent with David's opinion," Simmons says. "One of the great things about this game is that you can literally play it from cradle to grave as long as you keep yourself in decent shape.

"It's been proven that the best form of exercise for anybody is walking. Think about how much you walk when you play golf. The average course for the average person is 6,400 or 6,500 yards so you are talking about four miles if you are going in a straight line."

And of course most of us don't hit it straight so we are walking even farther than that.

The health benefits of walking the course have been well documented. A recent study by the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver concluded that a golfer who walks 36 holes a week is burning 3,000 calories. That's a significant number as other studies have shown that burning 2,500 calories a week improves overall health by lowering risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

There's also a case to be made that walking may help your golf score. That same Denver study found that those walking the course using a push cart scored better than those using a power cart (average score of 40 for nine holes versus 43 for those in a power cart).

Joe Galvin, a 75-year-old 16-handicap who walks Burnaby Mountain Golf Course twice a week, appreciates the health benefits of walking the course. But that isn't really the main reason he walks.

"I think you just get a better view of the course walking," he says. "I also think a cart golf is a little anti-social. You are talking to the person in the cart with you but the other two people you only interact a little bit with them on the green and on the tee and you don't see them until the next hole."

Galvin and some his buddies who are members of Burnaby Mountain's senior men's club, laugh when they see youngsters riding around the course in power carts.

"I think sometimes they're using them to carry around their beer," Galvin says. "Unless you arrive at a course where they insist you use a cart, I think it's kind of silly to ride in a cart."

The trouble is at some courses power carts are mandatory. That's especially true for some of the newer resort courses, which feature dramatic elevation changes and long distances from greens to the next tee.

"I think that's the biggest deterrent," says Golf Canada's Simmons. "The way they have designed a lot of the new courses, you literally have half a mile from one tee to the next green. So in a lot of cases it is just almost impossible to walk because it will affect the pace of play so much."

Golf BC, this province's largest golf course operator, has taken a significant step at some of its courses to encourage walking. Andy Hedley, Golf BC's vice-president of operations, uses the company's new fee structure at Nicklaus North in Whistler as an example.

Last year, in peak season, fees at Nicklaus North were $175, including power cart. This year, the course is offering a $149 rate, without cart, for golfers who would prefer to walk.

"Rather than including the cart and people feeling like they are obligated to take it because the price includes it, now we have taken the cart out," Hedley says. "So we have gone from $175 to $149. And obviously our rates come down from there depending on the season and the time of day."

But the fact remains that large numbers of courses are trying to put their customers into power carts simply because it's a huge revenue generator.

"I don't want to speak on behalf of the course operators because I am not one," Simmons says. "But it's quite obvious that electric or gas cart rentals are a significant source of income for the facility."

Simmons and others think we'd all be better off if we walked the course whenever possible.

"There are so many pull carts out there that are state of art and so ergonomic that you can push them with one finger. So that shouldn't be a deterrent, having to carry your clubs ... I guess the point I am making is there is no excuse not to walk." Well, except maybe one. No one wants to chase people away from the game who aren't physically able to walk the course.

"I don't think you can get rid of carts entirely," Simmons says. "There are people with medical conditions who couldn't play the game without a cart and the last thing you'd want to do is stop that. But if you are able-bodied and healthy, you should be encouraged to walk."


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