Upsetting the apple (golf) cart

Nearly ten years ago, a topic/discussion began popping up in my inbox: the practice of golf clubs either banning the use of personal golf cars/carts, or charging golfers to use their own carts on the course.

You may recall these discussions in both this column and the Letters pages. You may also remember the irony we encountered when Inside Golf gave away an $11,000 golf cart as part of a massive prize giveaway, only to learn that the winner couldn’t use his new prize at his home club, Cronulla.

Over the years, there have been a few cases where golfers, especially those with medical certificates, have taken clubs to task via “Anti-Discrimination”; notably The Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Though the cases have yielded mixed results, one thing has been made abundantly clear by all rulings: clubs need to tread VERY lightly in this area.

And the practice appears to be gaining a bit of steam lately, with more emails, website comments and voicemails reaching the Inside Golf editorial desk (see this month’s Letters page for an example).

Reader Mark Lyttle, for example, recently had this to say: “Some clubs argue (the charges offset) the extra wear and tear to their course. Maybe personal carts somehow cause more damage than hire ones??? Some argue reduced revenue from members not hiring one of the club’s carts. They neglect the fact the if the members can’t use their own equipment they won’t play there and so the clubs miss out on green fees, food and drinks after the game, etc.”

Reader Jim Maher added the following: “How would it be if we all had to hire a motor car to drive on some of the roads, and leave our registered car at home, Then on other roads you are able to drive your own car?”

Yet another online reader said “To suggest one must hire a cart is the same as forcing players to hire their clubs and push cart. Ludicrous.”

Clubs/courses, however have a different viewpoint, stating that club liability, insurance and player safety justify the practice.

Reader Jason White notes: “It is not just related to personal liability. Golf clubs invest in golf carts; they are maintained to a high standard. They have an electronic system installed on them – Visage, which is a service and a safety control measure. It controls the speed of the cart, it controls no-go zones, isolates the carts from dangerous areas such as water, steep slopes, damage to greens etc. The private cart cannot be controlled or monitored on the course, and cannot receive safety alerts (like weather, etc). Is the private golf cart owner going to spend the nearly $2-3K to install this safety mechanism? I would say no.”

Another reader counters this argument, stating: “Golfers who walk with their own push carts or carry clubs would not get these notifications either…” and “…most private cart owners would be members of a club and are thus covered/insured via their membership through Golf Australia and Sports Cover, which includes liability cover for damage or injury caused by their golf cart use.”

Many readers are calling on Golf Australia to step in and formulate a National policy, directing clubs not to discriminate against members. Clubs, meanwhile maintain that they have the right (and in many cases, obligation) to enact these practices.

So what’s the answer? It’s clear that this is an important discussion that, I believe, requires action (and closure) sooner rather than later.

So, this month I’m calling on readers and golf clubs to email me with their “best-shot” justification regarding their position(s) in this matter. I am also calling on Golf Australia to step up and find a way to, once and for all, support both golfers and clubs in this matter.

So get to your computer keyboard clicking, and share your thoughts. All comments are welcome.  

See you on the cart paths

Richard Fellner

(Story originally appeared in Inside Golf)

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