Pull carts deserve a place on golf course

John Steadman

March 22, 1993|By John Steadman

Never before has the right to use the convenience of a non-mechanized golf cart caused such consternation and confusion. Leaders of Baltimore's public courses want to rule them off on weekends and holidays this season because they contend they delay play.

Petitions are being signed, and there's even talk of staging a protest march on City Hall -- pulling golf carts, of course. Hopefully, cooler heads will achieve a sense of reasoning and negate the idea before it becomes even more of a cause celebre.

The rule is scheduled to be enforced April 1 at the five courses under the supervision of the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. -- Clifton Park, Carroll Park, Mount Pleasant, Forest Park and Pine Ridge. The carts, or "trolleys" as the English call them, will be allowed during the week, but not Saturdays, Sundays or holidays.

"What happened," explained Lynn Cook, executive director, "is we listened to the golfers complain about speeding up play. That's the No. 1 complaint. It's the leading issue. Our goal is to do all we can to see a round is completed in four hours or less."

Cook approximates the pull carts extend a weekend round from a half-hour to 45 minutes. Players who like to strap their golf bags on a cart consider the estimate to be exaggerated and suggest the move is designed to force golfers to pay for the rental of a mechanical cart that costs between $13 and $17.

But Cook disagrees, saying, "This is not a profit motive. If that was our prime consideration, green fees would be higher. We endeavor to keep them low and are cognizant of the average public course golfer. We also are sensitive to those with medical problems."

Because there has been so much reaction, the issue is to be taken up when the BMGC Board of Directors meets tomorrow night. The corporation, to its credit, has managed the public courses for eight years and earned high marks.

One only has to remember how the courses were grossly neglected and resembled the city dump before the corporation took control. Now they are comparable to some country clubs in conditioning and playability. And there are no membership dues to pay, only daily fees.

Not everything the corporation attempted to do has worked as planned, but Henry Miller, chairman of the board; Jonathan Ladd, director of golf; and Cook have produced positive results. On overall performance, they deserve commendation, not censure. But it seems the corporation, in an attempt to do even more, is instituting some policies that are in danger of alienating too many golfers.

On another matter, apart from the carts, Charles Allender of the Clifton Park Men's Club believes the corporation is being unfair to an organization that has had preferred starting times for more than 50 years. The Clifton Park Ladies Golf Club, a companion group, is considering disbanding because of a restriction on the number of reserved tee times and other newly imposed obligations.

Frequently, with change comes discontent. The corporation says is interested in implementing suggestions beneficial to the majority. There are other complaints, such as starting times, computer handicaps (which Allender insists he and his friends don't need) and a surcharge of $5 per tournament golfer (which Allender claims "goes to the pro shop for items nobody wants").

The pull cart issue has created controversy because it's a stipulation that isn't needed. Golf is to be enjoyed, and legislation can stifle the pleasure inherent with the game.

Eric Johnson, who plays at Carroll Park, says, "Older golfers are upset. Some of them have difficulty carrying a bag and don't feel they can afford to pay a cart rental. In my own case, I have a bad back. If I carried my clubs I'd have to stop and rest."

From another important aspect, golf allows for exercise. If players want to walk while pulling carts, why not? All golfers need to be reminded of the importance of moving and not tying up traffic. But pull carts have a place on public courses.

To rule them off might provide a saving in time, however minimal, but not enough to compensate for the inconvenience it would bring to players denied the chance to use a pull cart. The public parks golfing constituency doesn't have a lobbyist. It deserves to be heard on the strength of what is a sound and reasonable request.

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