The biggest debate at this time in the Southwest Region is when to allow unrestricted golf cart use on newly overseeded fairways and rough. Superintendents are understandably protective of the young seedling turf, and golfers are equally passionate about driving their carts directly to the ball and not having to walk back and forth to the path. How do you decide when to turn the carts loose?
First, it is important to recognize that there is no objective standard for determining when the overseeded turf is strong enough to tolerate cart traffic. The traditional standard in the Coachella Valley/ Palm Springs area, based on experience, is to keep carts on the path for at least four weeks after overseeding. Under ideal weather conditions, this allows two weeks for good seed germination and initial mowing, with an additional two weeks for the turf to mature. This process is highly dependent on temperatures and weather patterns, and rarely do we experience ideal conditions.
Secondly, consider the fact that cart traffic never improves turf quality – it only makes it worse. The abrasion and wear injury caused by cart tires is especially damaging to young seeding turf and can negatively affect the quality of the overseeded surface for several months. A more detailed explanation about the impact of cart traffic on turf is provided in the article “Letting the Numbers Tell the Story on Cart Damage” by David Wienecke. As superintendents intuitively know, the more time allowed for the turf to mature, the better it will be able to withstand cart traffic.
Lastly, the decision on whether to allow carts to drive on the fairways and rough is a qualitative judgment call. What is the standard for overseeding quality and what is the ownership/ membership willing to do to support and achieve that standard? The answer may be different for each facility. A survey of Green Section agronomists across the southern United States indicated a wide range of policies with respect to cart traffic on overseeded surfaces, and different expectations for turf quality. Although there were differences of opinion among our staff, there was consensus that a golf shot that bounces and rolls on the fairway is a reasonable indicator that the overseeded turf is strong enough to support cart traffic. Conversely, soft, succulent turf that produces minimal bounce and roll is likely to be more susceptible to damage from cart traffic.
To aid in making that judgment call, the following guideline can be used to gauge the length of time that carts should be restricted to the paths as part of the decision-making process:
Length of Time on Path Grade or Expected Level of Quality
6 weeks - carts on path or until good ball roll is evident. A+ or exceptional fairways
4 weeks - carts on paths B or above average fairways
2 weeks - carts on paths C or average fairways
0 weeks on paths D or below average fairways
Source: Pat Gross, firstname.lastname@example.org