The Trials of a Walking Golfer

 Walking golf course versus carts

‘We’re not going to wait for you, you’re just going to slow us down’. As welcomes onto a first tee go, it was a rather unusual one. A friend and I were playing at the wonderful Yas Links in Abu Dhabi earlier this year and we had elected to walk rather than take a buggy.  After all, it did seem a shame to play one of the most spectacular golf courses built in the last 20 years and not get as much enjoyment from the experience as we could.  However, the rather aggressive Irish gentleman who we were to spend the next 5 hours with didn’t quite see it that way.

He was labouring under the mistaken view that golf is faster if you play in a buggy than walk it. Now, I probably play golf a little too fast.  Sometimes I need to think a little bit longer before I pull the trigger or take a practice swing over those 2 foot putts. But, I do move at pace. Of a summer’s night at my home course I will get around 9 holes in under an hour, sometimes playing two balls. My Dad (who is now in his eighth decade) and I played 18 at North Berwick a few weeks ago in 2 hours 15 minutes and both shot our handicaps.  All of this popped into my mind as that welcome was made on that tee box at Yas Links.

However, I simply let him know that I didn’t think we would be holding him up and that, if we did, of course he should move on. I was confident of the assertion partly because I could see there were already two groups ahead of us on the short 1st hole, so we were in for the long haul, and secondly, I had seen his partner’s practice swing.

In fairness to the guy, after 2 holes where we had waited on every shot, he did have the good grace to admit he had been wrong on the first tee and he was thinking about getting rid of the buggy himself.

I have an inherent prejudice in favour of walking in almost every case.  For me, golf is not about speeding up to the ball in a cart and hitting it.  It is about appreciating the environment you are in, feeling the turf under your feet as you walk around.  It’s also about the social interaction.  If you are in a buggy all day you don’t get the chance to have a proper chat with your playing partners or build the tension as a match gets tight.

I can think of only a handful of courses where I would choose to take a buggy rather than walk if I played again. Several talk about the long walk from green to tee but this is rarely a real barrier.  Two do come to mind, and they are both Jack Nicklaus creations. The abomination that is the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles is best totally ignored if you are in the area, but if you do have the misfortune to endure it, then take a buggy. There is no flow whatsoever to the course and you need to take a buggy to give yourself any possible chance of pleasure such is the distance covered by the course. The other one I would call out is Monte Rei in Portugal.  Another Nicklaus layout, the course itself is much better than the PGA but the walks to those elevated tees, towering down over a left to right hole, really do take it out of you.

A lot of golf courses do encourage you to take a cart but it is rare to find those who actually demand it. I have fond memories of my friend Rich remonstrating with the lady in the pro shop at Terreblanche explaining that it was his human right to be able to walk the course.  I have no idea at all why they insist on it as the course is eminently walkable, it just displays an ignorance of what golf really is. There are other courses, like Finca Cortesin in southern Spain where it makes sense to take a cart given the nature of the terrain, and they may look at you like you are a little mad for walking, but will let you get on with it.

There are times when I will take a cart.  In the middle of a big golf trip where there has been a little over-indulgence, I will gladly take the wheel, or when it is just so hot there is a risk to survival.  However, on those occasions it just reinforces what a false economy it sometimes is.

The worst situation is when you have no choice but to stick to the cart paths.  This then leads to the sight of me trudging 70 yards across a fairway with half a dozen different clubs in my hand, before the long walk back to find the cart is parked 50 yards behind.

Like many, I have succumbed to the joys of a pedometer on my watch and recently measured the number of steps I took walking a 6,500 yard course.  The tees were fairly close to the greens and I came in at 11,000 steps.  I was forced to take a cart at Saadiyat Beach Golf Course earlier this year and, over the course of the 4 hours and 30 minutes, I walked 7,500 steps - not really that much of a saving over a walking golfer but a lot more faff.

I also genuinely think that walking a course helps your game.  You have time to contemplate what is to come, get a feel for the conditions around you, feel the green under your feet as you walk to put your bag down.  All of these nuances add up and if you are physically able to do it, I really think it will help your scoring.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not some kind of cart fascist and for those who really enjoy taking one, or who couldn’t get out any other way that’s fine.  But I do feel a little sorry for those who have only ever played the game in a cart – and such people do exist.  They are missing out of one of the real pleasures in life -  teeing it up first thing in the morning, striping it down the middle, swinging your bag over your shoulder and marching off with a heart full of hope!