Overuse And Neglect

Much press is given to golf courses--the turf, the landscaping, the architecture of the clubhouse, even the layout of the pro shop. And those are all essential parts of the experience for players.

But, just for this article, let’s turn our attention to a part of the public-golf facility most people don’t usually think about--the paths that wind their way through the course. Admittedly, this is not a sexy topic. Everyone would rather hear about the water hazards, sand traps, even the putting greens.

But no single aspect of a course gets more use than the cart paths, and no single aspect gets more neglect. Why? Because paths are just … there.

Whether a facility sees more use from golfers who use push carts to move their clubs along the fairway or whether it has gas- or electric-powered carts available, the paths are going to get plenty of use, and they must be kept in good repair.

First Things First

The purpose of a golf cart path is to minimize wear to the course. A wide, smooth, well-constructed path encourages golfers to stay there, and off the fairway.

While over the years, cart paths have been constructed in a variety of widths, these days there are more stringent guidelines.

According to information on the U.S. Golf Association website, elements of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) do pertain to buildings, golf courses, and other recreational facilities. They suggest unobstructed pathways of at least 4 feet wide that connect all areas of the golf facility. (Complete explanations are available at www.ada.gov ).

A 4-foot-wide path through the course may be the ADA requirement, but many facilities opt for a much wider thoroughfare.

According to Dave Oatis, director of the Northeast Region-Green Section of the U.S. Golf Association, “Installing paths less than 8 feet wide leads to wear along the edges and more rapid deterioration of the path. Paths must be even wider in areas where carts congregate or pass one another, and in areas heavily used by the maintenance staff. Widths in these areas should be 12 feet or more.”

A golf-course architect can supply recommendations that work with a given area's playing population, topography, and more.

However, in many cases, the width of the path is determined at construction time, and that width is dictated by the budget for the project, so what may be the ideal may not come into play at all.

On The Surface

Golf cart paths can be loosely grouped into two categories:

• Stable pavement (asphalt or concrete)

• Loose, granular material (gravel, crusher run, mulch, shredded tires, etc.).

Some might also be made of brick and other materials, but more popular by far are the first examples.

No choice is perfect; each has its advantages and disadvantages. Stable pavements overall tend to require little daily maintenance, but isolated problems in or even reconstruction of sections of paths made of granular material tend to be more easily and less expensively fixed.

Staying In Shape

Many forces influence how much maintenance goes into paths. Budget and manpower are perhaps the two most influential factors.

Public courses often suffer from overuse and little downtime, which affects the paths as well.

The most essential aspect of any path maintenance plan is supervision. Travel your paths on a regular basis and keep an eye out for problems that may be developing.

Grounds managers in facilities with granular-surfaced paths will have to put in more time to make sure material has not migrated off the path and onto the fairway due to heavy wear, wind, or rain. Loose material on the fairway can damage the turf, stick in golfers’ shoes, and also affect maintenance equipment, such as mowers.

Regular raking and replacing granular material should be incorporated into a maintenance routine.

In areas where temperatures allow for a constant freeze-thaw effect, hard pavements (particularly asphalt) will be subject to forces that cause them to crack and heave. Tree roots can also stress and break concrete or asphalt pavements.

“Cart paths are a neglected item at many facilities,” says Art Tucker of Plexipave System, Div. of California Products Corp. in Andover, Mass.

“Asphalt and concrete are not zero-maintenance items. They become pitted and raveled either through wear or weathering.”

Various “fixes” may be available depending upon the cause and depth of the problem. Cracking of asphalt, for example, is common, and can have any number of causes, some more serious than others. A sports-facility professional can diagnose the problem and recommend a treatment plan.

Many crack-filling products are commercially available, but not all are suitable for use in athletic-facility installations where people will be walking as well as using motorized vehicles or push carts. Make sure you have the correct product for any use.

Other preventive-maintenance tips, such as keeping tree roots trimmed so they do not sneak under pavement and cause it to heave up, can help keep paths in good shape. Keep paths clear of dirt or grass so standing water doesn’t create problems over time.

Most importantly, listen to what golfers are telling you about problem spots in the facility, and investigate any complaints immediately.

Community Assets

The public golf course is one of a community's greatest assets, and many of today's regular players learned the game there. Public courses have so much to recommend them: They’re generally built with the average golfer in mind, so they’re not intimidating; they’re more player-friendly and usually don’t require high maintenance; and they’re affordable, fun, and located in almost every city. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics relating to sports-facility design, construction, and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, and health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore, Md.