The 'Cart Path Only' Rule at Golf Courses

Explaining when it's in effect and why you need to follow it

Two golf carts on the path next to a golf hole
When it's 'cart path only' at the golf course, keep your carts on the designated paths at all times. Rick Carlson/Perspectives/Getty Images

"Cart path only" is a condition that may be in effect at a golf course, and when it is it means that golfers using motorized (riding) golf carts must keep those carts on the designated cart paths at all times. Drive the cart on the cart paths only, and nowhere else. No taking the cart out into the fairway on cart-path-only days.

When Is 'Cart Path Only' In Effect?

Whenever the golf course says it is! Some courses observe cart-path-only rules at all times. Most courses, though, impose cart part only in response to turf conditions. The most common reason is when the golf course is wet, particularly after a strong rain.

Riding your cart through rough and out into the fairway after a rain can leave ruts or otherwise damage the grass. At the other end of the spectrum, courses suffering through droughts might keep carts off the grass. If the golf course's grass is in a fragile state or is more susceptible to damage than normal, the "cart path only" rule may be in effect.

Golf courses might designate the entire course as cart-path only, or might designate only certain holes as such. Perhaps some fairways handle rain better than others, for example, so the cart-path only designation might apply only to those fairways with poorer drainage.

The bottom line is that the specific reasons "cart path only" rules are in effect at any give time aren't important to know; just know that the superintendent is trying to protect the golf course.

How Do You Know When 'Cart Path Only' Is In Effect?

The golf course needs to let golfers know. This may be done by the posting of signs in the pro shop and around the first tee; or the posting of signs on designated holes if "cart path only" doesn't apply to the entire course.

Golfers should also be told when they pay and/or when they check in with the starter what the cart rules are for the round.

If a course has any holes that are always "cart path only" - par-3 holes are usually cart path only - then in addition to any on-course signage such a rule may also be noted on the scorecard.

The 'Cart Path Only' Rule Shouldn't Slow You Down

Some of you may be thinking, "Wait, if I can't drive the cart directly to my golf ball, isn't that going to slow things down?" No, it shouldn't, and it's the golfer's responsibility not to let it.

Be ready to play when it's your turn to hit. It's as simple as that. One way golfers slow things down on a cart-path-only day is by walking from their cart to the their ball with only one club in hand, discovering it's the wrong club, and walking back to the cart to retrieve another.

Don't do that! If you can't tell from the cart location which club you need, then carry two or three or more clubs out to your ball.

Does 'Cart Path Only' Apply to Push Carts?

At some golf courses yes, at some no. Whether push carts are allowed on fairways when the course is designated "cart path only" is something that differs from course to course. If you're using a push cart, you'll need to ask about this if the course doesn't make it clear either through signage or with verbal instructions.