The golf cart is here to stay. There’s no question about it; they’ve morphed into much more than a conveyance on the links - they’re used just about everywhere, from airports and other large indoor venues, to retirement communities, and the list goes on and on.
Back to the course though. The question frequently arises as to whether there is really an advantage of one method of transportation versus another - walking/riding between shots and holes. Here are some observations; then you can make up your own mind.
Health and Fitness
The primary argument against the use of golf carts on the course is the health and fitness one. Essentially, the detractors say, take out the walking and you’re taking away the exercise benefits of the game. This is mostly true, but not 100%. Simply being up and about for 18 holes is burning calories and working your muscles - the simple act of getting in and out of the cart is worth something, in terms of physical activity. Heck, over 100 strokes, that’s 100+ stand-ups and sit-downs. Still, it’s true that the real golf work-out is the multiple walks between shots and holes. There are some anecdotal reference points to consider here.
Over 18 holes of golf, either walking shot-to-shot and tee-to-tee, or using a pushcart, results in over 1400 calories burned, on average. That’s well on the way to three Big Macs’ worth of energy utilized. Say you’re a male whose BMI index suggests 2200 calories a day. Your golf game is actually a big contributor to any exercise regimen you are pursuing, on the days you play golf, at least. Plus it’s true, as mentioned - the use of a pushcart does not significantly impact the exercise value; for those with back problems, for instance, its use would probably come highly recommended.
Then there is the process of natural aging process are all continuously going through. There may come a time, way down the road, when a golf enthusiast, who can still swing the club, can’t make it on foot over 18 or even 9 holes. Even younger players with physical limitations count here. The golf cart can’t be discouraged; it should be encouraged. Everyone who wants to should be able to get in a round of golf if they want to.
Back to the Fully Able-Bodied Now:
The other knock against riding the links versus walking them is a psychological, performance-related one. One theory is related to “get in the groove”. The quicker the trip between shots, the more likely you’ll stay in whatever groove you’re in. On the positive side, a great drive may result in a great second shot, if you get there quickly and stay in that mindset. The opposite, of course, is also possible. Hit a lousy shot, get to the next shot too quickly via golf cart, and your groove stays…. lousy.
The pervading belief in the sport, however, is that slowing down, and focusing, is one of the keys to golf success. Here is where walking gets the real advantage, versus riding between shots and holes. Like all sporting activities, much of golf is a mental game. You can only get so far on lessons, the driving range and other types of physical repetition or practice. Once on the course, your mind needs to be “in the zone” the whole game; that’s the real challenge.
Racing from hole to hole on wheels does not allow for much of a reset, and refocus, between shots. You may get the benefits of getting through the game more quickly and with less leg soreness. But at the end of the round, you may also have a few extra strokes you hadn’t counted on, due to such mobile efficiency. Taking time to thoughtfully consider the next lie, the next tactic, and being able to put what just happened in the rear-view mirror, and take a few deep breaths, offers a huge advantage you simply cannot duplicate in a short, fast ride to the next shot.
Taking time between shots will allow you to maintain a tempo, perhaps one you have pre-imagined as your “winning” pace, that gets you into a winning mindset in advance. You also get to enjoy your surroundings more with the slowed pace. Most golf courses are designed to be attractive to the eye. It’s easier to do that on foot.
The issue of pace is a practical one when it comes to the golf cart as well; it relates to the concept of pacing just mentioned. Say you’re zipping through the course in a cart, and are continuously catching up to the group in front of you, who happen to be on foot. That means you have to pause and wait on just about every tee, as they finish the hole. Talk about throwing you off your rhythm. Not only is the opportunity for the aforementioned reset and refocus gone; you are also subjected to an imposed pause between holes, which is not the same thing at all as the pre-planned pacing strategy.
Advantages to Both
There are definitely significant advantages, both health-wise and psychologically, to taking the more measured, on-foot approach to the golf game, as opposed to riding around in a golf cart. Your heart and lungs will definitely benefit from the extra physical activity; your mind likely will too, as you slow down a bit, absorb your surroundings and more easily clear your mind between swings. As a sidebar, your mind may also benefit from knowing that you’ve saved a few dollars by walking. Golf cart rentals aren’t that cheap! It’s not a primary consideration, but then again, for some, it may be. Lots of folks who want to golf may be on a tight budget.