Walk the course for better golf

Once upon a time, there was a game called golf in which walking was as much a part of the sport as putting the ball in the hole. Things changed and a sport called ‘cart-ball’ was born. Now people ride motorized vehicles from place to place on the course.But there are indications many golfers are returning to the old ways, where walking is an integral part of the experience. In fact, the USGA reserves a category of membership for walkers. Some U.S. courses are now designated ‘walking-only’ and manufacturers are marketing new lines of pull carts, the better to allow walking courses.

^The U.S. even boasts its own association for those shunning golf carts, the Walking Golf Association, whose credo reads: “We believe walking is an integral part of the game of golf and that every golfer should be given the choice to walk on any golf course at any time.”

The trend is also taking hold in Canada, says course architect Michael Hurdzan, designer of the Devil’s Pulpit and the Devil’s Paintbrush courses in Caledon, Ontario, along with Westwood Plateau in Coquitlam, British Columbia and the Dundarave course at the Brudenell Resort in Prince Edward Island.

Hurdzan,6, is a WGA board member and says, “The camaraderie of a foursome is a tangible joy of golf. The actual feel of the course underneath one’s feet is another tangible joy. Both are gone when everyone rides around in carts. The whole rhythm of the game — or at least the rhythm of the game I grew up with — is ruined.”

Health benefits
Walking a course also provides aerobic benefits. Dr. Gary Wiren, a PGA of America Master teaching professional, cites a Swedish study showing that golfers who walk 12 to 16 hours a week during play improve their fitness levels, their blood pressure goes down, and their lipid profiles improve.

Wiren is a good example of what he professes. He played the 1994 U.S. Senior Open at the famous Pinehurst #2 course in North Carolina at age 58. The USGA requires competitors in this championship to walk, and many complained. Wiren decided to make a point that older golfers could easily walk a course and, moreover, he carried his bag while doing so. Wiren made the halfway cut and walked the entire 72 holes of the championship. Point made.

Making it mandatory
Consider Old Memorial, in Tampa, Florida, where walking, not riding, is mandatory. Designed by Steve Smyers — a designer who appreciates that walking is fundamental to the game — this private course opened in November 1997 and was from the outset meant to be a walking course. Consequently, a property was selected that would allow greens and tees to be near one another.

“One thing we try to focus on is the journey around the course,” Smyers explained one day while playing — and walking — Old Memorial. “For instance, out here (on the par-four first hole), you can see a lake, trees, other holes. A property has a natural beat and people have a natural rhythm to their walking. We try to marry those rhythms.”

That’s not as high-falutin’ a concept as it might sound to the ears of golfers who think that hitting the ball, and not walking, is all that matters in golf. Smyers has played golf in Scotland and Ireland and is aware of how smoothly holes flow together and how comfortable players feel while making their way around links courses in particular. Old Memorial clearly demonstrates he has learned well.

Walking paces game
Interestingly enough, some studies show caddies can keep rounds under four hours-that is, walking with a caddie improves the pace of play while riding can add to the time it takes to play.

To walk a course, as walkers know, is to grant golf its essence-the leisurely use of time. Smyers knows this and encourages walking whenever possible, including at slide shows he gives to prospective clients.

“We’re doing a project in Naples,” Smyers says of another Florida course he’s designing. “My client wants to do something different and so I’ve told him we should encourage walking. To do that we’ll have pull carts. They’re great for people who want to walk but can’t carry their bags, or for courses that don’t have caddie programs.”
Smyers also thinks pull carts make sense in Canada and that they are especially useful in the cooler months.

Stimulate senses
“Walking is so much better than riding when the temperature gets down into the 50s and 60s (Fahrenheit),” he says. “It’s not too much fun to be in a cart then, with a cold wind whipping at you. But walking isn’t too bad at all.”

Smyers contends that golf should not only be a good walk, however. It should also be a good walk enhanced. That’s apparent in his designs. At Southern Dunes, a public course near Orlando, he has employed native vegetation and big, bold bunkering to draw the eye. He does the same at Old Memorial, and the effect is to make one want to walk for fear of missing what is attractive.

It all adds up. A good walk stimulates the senses, provides time to spend with one’s companions, and generates aerobic benefits. So what could be better than walking while golfing? They’ve always gone together and they always should go together.

To golf is a treat, to golf while walking is divine.