The Unintended Consequences Of Cart Traffic On Overseeded And Non-Overseeded Turf

By Pat Gross, director, Southwest Region
November 12, 2013

(L) Heavy cart traffic in the fall on this non-overseeded bermudagrass fairway leads to thin, compacted turf and tight lies throughout the winter. (R) Perennial ryegrass seedlings lack the density and root development to withstand heavy cart traffic. Restricting cart use during the month of November allows the cover turf to mature and build the necessary density to withstand cart traffic for the remainder of winter.

Riding a cart while playing golf is the way many golfers prefer to enjoy the game. While enjoyable for the golfer, the unintended consequences of heavy cart use during the fall in the Southwest can set the stage for inferior playing quality during the winter season on both overseeded and non-overseeded golf course playing areas. Recent site visits to golf facilities have focused on the topic of carefully managing cart traffic during the fall season so that reasonable conditions can be preserved throughout the winter.

Cart traffic on overseeded golf courses – In the Southwest, overseeding of desert resort courses typically occurs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 so that they will be ready for play in early November. Although these golf facilities look good on opening day, golfers are playing on immature ryegrass seedlings that are highly susceptible to traffic damage. The young plants have not developed a strong root system at this point and are just beginning to produce multiple leaves (tillers) to provide a dense surface. Heavy traffic at this stage of development can tear the young seedlings out of the ground and delay the establishment of a strong perennial ryegrass turf cover. For this reason, it is typically recommended to restrict carts to the paths throughout November to build a stronger turf cover that can be enjoyed for the remainder of winter.

Cart traffic on non-overseeded golf courses – For golf facilities with bermudagrass and kikuyugrass that have chosen not to overseed, fall is an important time to build a strong base going into the winter season. Mowing heights on fairways are typically raised to between 0.600 and 0.750 inches to provide a thicker pad of leaf material during the winter season when turf growth shuts down. Heavy cart traffic during the fall compresses the turf canopy and sets the stage for thin surface conditions throughout the winter. Restricting carts to the paths as much as possible during November helps build a stronger turf canopy and more leaf material heading into the winter season. 

Source: Pat Gross  (pgross@usga.org)

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

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