Minimizing Golf Cart Damage in the Rough, USGA Central Region Update

Posted on September 8th, 2020

The gate system helps indicate the exact location where golf carts should enter and exit the fairway.

Maintaining a healthy, dense stand of turf in shaded areas where tree roots actively compete with turfgrass is a difficult proposition. Add golf cart traffic to the mix and turf conditions can quickly deteriorate, resulting in poor-quality lies and even bare ground. This was the challenge at Lakewood Country Club in Dallas, Texas, where numerous trees occupy the perimeters of the holes. The club’s previous golf cart management strategy, which relied upon signs near the putting greens to signal when carts need to return to the paths, was providing less than optimal results. It was common to see golfers cruising up and down the rough in search of their ball until they reached one of the signs. The cumulative traffic stress was simply too much for many areas of bermudagrass and the staff was having to routinely sod weak areas.

A new golf cart policy was created to improve the traffic pattern and provide greater clarity of where to drive and where not to drive. The policy has two easy-to-remember rules: enter and exit the fairways between the “gates” and drive golf carts in the fairways exclusively when playing a hole. Two-foot-tall wooden posts spaced approximately 10 feet apart create the gates, through which all golf carts are supposed to travel when leaving or returning to the path. One of these gates is positioned at the beginning of the fairway and another up near the putting green. After a golfer passes through the first gate, they are instructed to always keep their cart on the fairway until they reach the gate that returns them to the path. The only time a golf cart is in the rough is when traveling to or from the cart path through a gate. The locations of the gates are periodically repositioned by the maintenance team based on the amount of traffic.

Results have been overwhelmingly positive. The golfers were quick to adopt the new cart policy and turfgrass quality in the rough began to significantly improve in just a couple of months after the gate system was implemented. Bare areas have been eliminated and the amount of thin turf has dramatically declined. Using two posts to form a gate, as opposed to a single post at the end of the fairway, helped focus golfers on the correct path. The gates also allow the maintenance staff to better protect sensitive turf areas by shifting traffic to more robust areas. Instructing golfers to remain in the fairway has been a success. The fairways, which are far enough away from tree roots and out of shade, provide a much more favorable growing environment for bermudagrass. The healthier turf is better able to withstand and recover from golf cart traffic stress. Minimizing golf cart traffic in the rough provided considerable benefit with minimal investment and little or no inconvenience to golfers. 

Central Region Agronomists:

John Daniels, agronomist –

Zach Nicoludis, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service 

Contact the Green Section Staff

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