Cart blanche?: Many local golfers still prefer walking

Though not viewed as an extremely physical sport, golfers still expend a good deal of energy as they swing a club, hit a ball and walk the fairways – about five miles for the typical 18-hole golf course.

While recent studies show that nearly two of every three rounds are played using a golf cart, there are still plenty of fitness-minded types and traditionalists who enjoy playing the game with both feet on the ground.

An informal survey of Blair County golfers reveals similar results – with 30-40 percent who prefer walking.

For hundreds of years, of course, there was no choice: All golfers walked. They toted their own hickory-shafted implements or employed local youngsters from the club’s caddie yard to do the heavy lifting.

The first mention of any motorized cart came in 1932, when Curtis Willoch modified a small electric car to carry himself and a set of clubs around his home course in Pasadena, Calif. The vehicle allowed Willoch, who had suffered a severe leg injury, the ability to continue playing a game he loved.

Willoch’s invention, however, didn’t catch on with the general public right away. It was another two decades before golf carts started to become widely used.

In the 1950s, companies like E-Z-Go and Club Car began mass producing electric carts similar to what we see today. As with most new inventions, though, golf carts were not without their detractors.

In the early 1960s, U.S. Senator Abraham Ribicoff, of Connecticut, felt so strongly he publicly criticized their use.

“Golf carts are the worst thing that’s happened in golf since the invention of the sand trap,” Ribicoff said. “They’ll cause players to miss much needed exercise.”

Though many agreed with these sentiments, golf cart use grew steadily. Area courses joined in, too, gradually replacing caddie shops with cart sheds used to house these new vehicles.

In 1965, Sinking Valley head pro Ed DelBaggio purchased a fleet of five electric carts to serve his club’s membership. The carts were a big hit and provided the young pro with an additional way to earn money.

It was typical, early on, for club pros to share the profits from golf cart use.

By the 1970s, reliable gas carts were introduced as an alternative to electric units. The new gas carts provided more power and were easier to refuel but had disadvantages, which included noise and maintenance costs. Today, electric carts still outnumber their gas-powered counterparts nationwide by about 60 percent versus 40 percent.

A few years ago, Neil Wolkodoff, director for the Center for Health and Sport Science at the Rose Medical Center in Denver, conducted intensive research on golfers and the physical differences between walking and riding.

He found that golfing nine holes with a bag burned an average of 721 calories, while golfers using a caddie lowered the number to 621 calories. Golfing nine holes while using a cart still accounted for 411 calories.

“One of the surprise realizations was that just swinging a golf club about 100 times uses up a significant amount of energy,” Wolkodoff said.

His research also showed that golfing with a push cart produced the lowest average scores during his study. Using a caddie ranked second while using a golf cart produced the next lowest scores. Surprisingly, golfing and carrying your own clubs produced the highest average scores.

Locally, there are a variety of reasons why golfers choose to walk or ride. Altoona’s Anita Jo Petrusky, one of the area’s most accomplished players, carries her bag whenever she can.

“I like to be able to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings while I’m golfing,” she said. “Walking allows me to do that. I also like the rhythm of walking. It allows me to concentrate on the task at hand – my next shot.”

Rick Dillon, of Roaring Spring, has used a motorized push cart for the past several years.

“I like the fact that I can walk without the wear and tear of carrying a bag on my shoulder. My cart has let me do that – it’s great exercise,” Dillon said.

Sylvan Hills Golf Course in Hollidaysburg boasts one of the highest percentages of walkers among local courses. A recent sunny spring day found Blake and Karen Wagner of Hollidaysburg golfing together yet separately.

Karen Wagner enjoys the ease and convenience that riding offers.

“Carts allow you to move around the course much easier,” she said. “I also get concerned when we have bad weather or thunderstorms. Carts allow you to move to safety very quickly.”

She and husband Blake play at Sylvan Hills a couple of times each week.

“I’ve had both knees replaced and walking the golf course really helps me to strengthen them,” Blake Wagner said. “I really enjoy the exercise that walking allows.”