The golf cart needs a big hug

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

CHICAGO - Real golfers aren't supposed to like golf carts. In fact, real golfers are supposed to hate them. If you don't walk, you aren't playing golf the way it's supposed to be played. In fact you're thumbing your nose at an integral part of the game and defiling its traditions. The golf cart is wrong, bad, an agent of Satan.

Still, it's time to wrap our arms around the cart and give it a great big hug.

Walking a golf course, especially with the aid of a capable caddie, will always be the best way to experience the game. Spikes, albeit soft ones, spearing the turf of rolling fairways simply enhance the pace of the game, allow time for your senses to truly take in the surroundings and help you remember how naturally graceful golf is.

Still, any golf nut knows the golf cart can be an absolute necessity.

Arnold Palmer, at the height of the cart controversy involving Casey Martin, insisted most of us should stay away from the four-wheeled demon. But, really, has Arnie ever tried to play 36 or 54 or 72 in one day on some golf binge-a-rama in Myrtle Beach? Traditionalist or not, you ain't hoofing it for 72 holes. You may walk your home course on a relatively flat Midwest track in a typical Saturday round, but when your buddies come calling, stuff you in a plane, force you to knock back shots of tequila and stay up ‘til 3 a.m. for poker, you're not about to walk anything. Heck, you might even sit down to play Golden Tee!

Even Tiger Woods plays out of cart when he's kicking it around with O'Meara and Cook in Windemere, Fla. And why shouldn't he? Rumors have it Woods' custom-built cart has a CD player, phone, and, we hear, a refrigerator.

And what about golf's Everyman, John Daly? If Big John had the option to cart it rather than walk it during a PGA Tour event, what you do expect he'd choose? Smoking a cigarette, munching down a bag of Oreos, and driving a cart, now there's a way to connect with the average fan.

Quite seriously though, the cart does permit people to play golf that otherwise would not be able to. Older players who simply can't walk the nearly six miles for 18 holes can still take part in their favorite sport because of the cart. It's also true for the disabled. Ron Santo, the former Cubs infielder and now color radio analyst for the Cubs, had to be fitted with two prostheses after losing his legs to diabetes, but still plays his beloved game of golf thanks to the cart.

Many say the use of carts for these reasons is understandable, but its plain nonsense to permit able-bodied 24 year olds to zip around the course in a golf cart loaded with bravado and beer. No one thinks that's right except the 24 year old in the driver's seat and the course manager who's picking up the revenue for the cart rental.

But consider this -- if that 24 year old truly takes to the game, and finds it becomes a life habit, there's a good bet he'll switch to walking, at least some of the time. He likely didn't start his golf schooling at junior caddie age, and he probably didn't belong to the golf team in high school or college. If he had done any of these, walking would have been ingrained in his golf psyche. Since it wasn't, the cart keeps him interested until he realizes the game is anything but a "good walk spoiled" and discovers the beauty in a stand bag.

Even cart lovers would agree there are places, sacred ground, where nary a rubber wheel should be permitted to touch green turf -- Augusta, St. Andrews, any of the great links courses of Ireland, Bandon Dunes -- just to name the obvious. And although there may be many other courses were carts should be persona non grata, there are many more layouts where the cart should be welcomed. Not just because the arrogant American golfer wants to act like a bully on the cart issue, but simply because it brings more people to the game and more rounds to the courses where marathoners have traveled for a weekend of gorging on golf.

One more thing, there's enough golf snobbery out there; don't add to it. Just like the smoker who quits and can't stop telling his smoker friends what a disgusting habit it is, don't badger the cart golfers. It'll turn them off and it won't work anyway. When they're really ready to quit cart golf, they'll do it on their own.

Yes, walking is still the ultimate way to move through this game, but, at the right time, in the right situation, it's OK to take a load off and ride, baby, ride.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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