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Q. How do We Design Cart Paths?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


A. We open this series with the item - cart paths - that we both hate and question the most. The short answer is . . . use a golf course architect! (Of course, that would be my short answer to nearly every question in this series.)

I once opened a design seminar by (half-) joking that cart paths are the most important design element to consider. With 60-plus percent of today's golfers driving carts, they become an important design consideration, except at walking-only clubs. On public courses, where we might expect more rounds and less course-etiquette/customer care, cart paths can be a "first-among-equals" design consideration.

I have seen some terrible golf-cart paths, both functionally and aesthetically - including many separating a fairway from its flanking fairway bunkers, and a few in the fairway itself. Hey, I favor "handy" over "hidden" myself, but that's just taking things too far!

Here are some "big-picture" tips for cart-path design:

Circulation is Job 1, Concealment is Job 1A. I plan circulation first, and figure out concealment afterwards. Some architects overly favor concealment, sometimes placing paths and fairways in different zip codes. Why put a path where no one will drive? Concrete is too expensive to go unused.

I put them where golfers naturally want to drive. When the next tee is right of the green, I place the path on that side since golfers (nearly) always take the shortest, flattest route. Why fight it? Especially when the shortest route is also always the least expensive, as well.

Use Broad Curves. They look and spread wear better, and allow easy movement of maintenance equipment and sober golfers, not to mention somewhat easier driving for drunk golfers (I broaden curves even later in the round to account for increased inebriation . . . I warn that this design theory has NOT been tested in the courts!).

A minimum radius of about 110 feet allows your superintendent's pickup truck to drive comfortably at 15 mph. Carts have topped out at 16 mph and require similar curves for easy driving.

Generally, each hole works best with only two to four inside curves along the fairway. Each inside curve should have a wide opening, free from bunkers, trees or other obstructions that funnel traffic. Entry/exit points should be 1 to 2 feet wide per thousand rounds, i.e., 40-80 feet wide for a 40,000-round course.

Curvier paths look a little "squiggly," which seems to draw the eye to the path. They should blend into the landscape well, sometimes almost to the point of disappearance.

Additionally, if improperly positioned they cause turf wear both inside and outside the path. How many unsightly tire tracks or cobblestone additions have we seen on the inside of tight curves? How about wear around sharp "points" protruding into fairways, which heavily encourage cart path exit/entry at that point?

Remove trees if necessary to maintain a minimum radii, keep tree trunks five to 15 feet from the pavement to prevent both dented carts damaged pavement from shallow tree roots.

Crossing fairways increase cart accessibility and is okay, as long as you avoid the prime landing areas! This is convenient on particularly long holes, and can be hidden well with low ridges on both sides of the path.

Jeffrey D. Brauer began his career as an apprentice in the Chicago area in 1977. His first project was Kemper Lakes, which shortly after hosted the 1989 PGA Championship. He formed GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas, in 1984. In the last 29 years he has designed and consulted on a wide spectrum of projects, ranging from partial renovations to international resorts. His recent work includes teaming with the design team of Pascuzzo and Pate on a remodel of the world-famous La Costa Resort & Spa in California, and renovations at Superior National Golf Course in Lutsen, Minn., and Mesquite Municipal Golf Course in Mesquite, Texas.

He has been a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects since 1981, serving as President during its 50th Anniversary year in 1995-96. Jeff still studies the classic works - both old and new, and has played more than 75 of the best courses in the world.

Jeff gives many presentations and is a regular architecture columnist for many publications and websites, including Golf Course Industry and Cybergolf.com. He has also been a strong advocate for the "Tee it Forward" campaign and strives to make his courses fit the description of "fun to play every day."

Jeff's work has been spotlighted in most of the world's major golf magazines. Golf World ranked him as one of the top-20 golf course architects and Golf Inc. ranked him as the world's fourth-best value in golf architecture in 2010. Jeff's portfolio and reputation keep him at the forefront of desired designers for new courses, reconstruction and renovation projects.

For more about Jeff, visit http://www.jeffreydbrauer.com/sites/courses/layout.asp?id=859&page=48451.