Push carts: The push is on

I went looking for a flat stomach, and I found golf.

In so many ways, golf is synonymous with fitness. It doesn’t surprise me that walking in general and push carts in particular are making a comeback in American golf.

Push carts once were called pull carts. They used to be pulled; now they’re pushed. Doctors say it’s more sensible that way. It doesn’t strain the back or shoulders.

The British could give a push-pull about this. They call them trolleys, and zoom, off they go. A word of advice: Never challenge a Brit to a speed-walking golf contest.

Over the years, Americans mastered the art of taking our seats in motorized golf carts. If modern push carts have the allure to seduce us out of our riding carts, I say hallelujah.

“It’s pretty simple,” said Ed Kowachek, president of Sun Mountain Sports. “Golfers today are athletes,

and they want to do healthy things.”

Like walk? Like avoid that big cushy seat on a golf cart?

Oh, how the game has changed.

Growing up, I couldn’t help but notice that many golfers were legendary drinkers, on and off the course. When I took my first newspaper job in Sarasota, Fla., two of my best friends were heavyweight golfers who went by the unforgettable nicknames of Wide and Double Wide.

Golf has undergone a major transformation since then, but I suppose you want some evidence?

In 1999, when golf professional J.D. Ebersberger was founding The Palms Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif., he dreamed of creating the fastest-playing course in the United States. A round there is 31/2 hours – start to finish – or somebody will complain.

Ebersberger juiced up the motorized carts to go faster, and he brought in 30 push carts. “To be honest,” he said, “most of the walkers move just as fast as the cart riders.”

At The Palms, where summertime temperatures in the desert can reach 120 degrees, the year-round percentage of walkers is about 20 percent. This is even more impressive when viewed in context of the membership: Motorized carts are included in the dues at The Palms, so there is no extra cost associated with riding.

Ebersberger’s experience reflects another trend: clubs purchasing fleets of push carts to create a uniformity of appearance and encourage walking at the same time.

Dale Morgan, head professional at Austin (Texas) Country Club, oversees a fleet of 45 push carts. He

also keeps track of who walks and who doesn’t.

“About 55 percent of our membership walks,” Morgan said. “I’ve got guys from ages 22 to 82 who walk all the time. A lot of people say it affects your revenue, but we’re a health-conscious club. Walking has become kind of new again. We like it; we encourage it. We do not charge for the push carts. It’s part of the membership.”

At the Country Club of Orlando (Fla.), push carts create revenue as well as good health. Golfers pay $5 to use a push cart from the club’s fleet, or they pay an annual fee to store their personal carts at the club.

“We have parts for them,” golf professional Jay Davis said. “My assistants can qualify as push-cart mechanics. We are repairing push carts all the time.”

Davis estimated that 50 percent of his golfers are walkers. Donald Ross designed the course in 1924, and it’s a straightforward walk.

“We have older members who have never sat in a golf cart in their lives,” Davis said. “Walking is a big deal here.”

The modern push-cart movement started in 1999 with the Sun Mountain Speed Cart, a three-wheeler that turned golf on its ear.

The Rickshaw, a cart with two mammoth wheels, had gained a solid following in the 1990s, particularly in the western regions of the U.S., but the Speed Cart rapidly forced the Rickshaw off the proverbial cart path.

Bag Boy, a 60-year-old company known for excellent hand carts, quickly gave chase in the three-wheel derby, followed by a new contender, Clicgear.

These nifty carts have braking systems. They have grass-seed holders, umbrella holders, drink holders and special places for valuables and apparel and paraphernalia. They are easy to push. They go down hills by themselves, without tipping over.

Golf facilities took notice. Some older clubs, trying to protect caddie programs or perpetuate a certain snobbishness in which golf has considerable experience, prohibited push carts, citing longstanding policies. Many other clubs, though, adopted a progressive approach.

Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland, Ore., has played host to six U.S. Golf Association championships. With two courses (one public, one private) and no surrounding houses, it is a natural paradise.

“More than 70 percent of our play is walking,” said general manager Scott Humphrey. “I think this is exactly what the three founders had in mind. It’s a walk in the country. We sell push carts, and they’ve been a big seller.”

Golf’s new slogan: Go ahead – push me around.

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