Many men’s college golf tournaments require the competitors to play 36 holes in a day. On a standard course, players will walk nearly eight miles during that stretch and — unlike professional golfers with caddies, collegiate golfers are on their own to tote their 25- to 30-pound bags.
Before last season, players had to carry their bag unless they were granted a medical exemption to use a nonmotorized pushcart.
Beginning in the 2013-14 season, the NCAA lifted its ban on pushcarts. Many players were quick to take advantage of the new rule, or lack thereof, while some players and critics were unable to warm up to the idea.
Many perceive pushcarts, which have been present in women’s collegiate golf for years, as a sign of weakness or as an improper advantage.
“You could probably say in some events that half the field would be using pushcarts in women’s golf. On the men’s side, however, it hasn’t been that way,” said Lance Ringler, a college writer for Golfweek. “It’s within the rules of college golf to use one and if they want to use it, they use it. The only thing is that there’s a little bit of talk about an ego thing with the guys.”
Ego aside, others are simply not ready to part ways with tradition.
“I kind of like to stick to the old-fashioned way of carrying the bag,” said ISU golfer Jack Carter. “I didn’t grow up using a pushcart, so I feel like, ‘Why change?’”
Despite some players’ unwillingness to jump ship, other players, including Carter’s teammate Scott Fernandez, are keen to take any legal measure they can to get an upper hand.
“Just take all the advantage you can, really,” said Fernandez, a native of Spain. “I figure the more relieved you are, the more rested you are, the better. Jorge [Utrilla, teammate and fellow Spaniard] and I grew up using them all the time.”
Like Fernandez, Australian Sam Daley also noted how common they are in his home country, unlike in America.
“In Australia and New Zealand, everyone uses pushcarts," Daley said. "No one ever carries, really. Everyone uses pushcarts or motorized carts. Maybe there’s a bit of a perception with the Americans that you’re a bit soft if you use them, but not really. Where we’re from, it’s very normal.”
Unlike Fernandez and Utrilla, who use them every tournament, Daley said the type of course, playing conditions and health all play a factor in his decision to use a cart on any given day.
“Say you’re feeling a little under the weather, or you know the course is pretty hilly, or there’s a long walk between holes and if you know that you can just push your cart instead of carry your bag, I’d consider using it,” Daley said. “But if it’s a fairly flat course or walking from green to tee isn’t too much drama, I’ll probably just carry.”
The ISU men’s golf team, along with virtually all other college teams, have increased its fitness regimens to handle the strain golf can have on the body, regardless if a player opts to use a cart or not.
Neil Wolkodoff, medical director of the Colorado Center for Health & Sport Science, said that carrying a golf bag can lead to fatigue of core muscles used in the golf swing, even for those in top physical condition.
“No matter how good your carrying system, you still have to use core muscles to hold the bag,” Wolkodoff said in an article on GolfDigest.com. “When you’re pushing a cart, you don’t have the stress on your core musculature and shoulders. You’re able to go up a hill and those muscles were not pre-fatigued.”
Along with preventing injuries, pushcarts can help golfers play through nagging injuries that may have sidelined them if they were forced to carry their bag.
At last year’s NCAA championship, which was aired nationally on the Golf Channel, No. 1 Stanford, who won the stroke-play portion of the event before being defeated in the semifinals of match-play, was featured prominently for its strong use of pushcarts.
“Last year at the championship, with Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson of Stanford [who had previous back injuries] both in the hunt for player of the year and Cameron winning the NCAAs, and Patrick winning player of the year, both using pushcarts, it kind of made it okay for some people,” Ringler said.
While Ringler, among others, viewed it as an example of eliminating the stigma behind pushcarts, others used it as fuel for the fire.
Trent Dilfer, a former NFL quarterback tweeted to PGA Tour player Bo Van Pelt, “Pushcarts are a BAD look for these kids,” Dilfer said. "C'mon man, how can a college kid not be carrying his bag?” Van Pelt , “Agreed 100 percent,” Van Pelt replied.
Despite some instances of pushcart push-back, ISU men's golf coach Andrew Tank said he has seen more and more players beginning to use carts, especially since the American Junior Golf Association allowed them in 2009.
“I think it’s a trend we’re going to see continue,” Tank said. “I think you’ll see in the next five to ten years that that’s going to be the norm. As more and more juniors are using them, I think the stigma of using a pushcart is sort of becoming less and less.”