NOT ALL OF YOU will be familiar with the acronym BIPSIC. It is used in a golfing question much favoured by Americans and typically runs thus after one or more members of a fourball have had an unsuccessful hole in either a matchplay or stableford contest, ‘Where’s your partner?’ ‘Oh he’s BIPSIC’ standing for ‘Ball in pocket sitting in cart.’
Carts, or buggies as they are more commonly referred to in the UK and mainland Europe, are an American invention and are first thought to have appeared on a golf course during the 1930s although records differ on who first invented it. JK Wadley from Texas was certainly inspired by seeing a three- wheeled contraption in Los Angeles used to transport the elderly to the shops to produce his version of the buggy but it failed to capture the regular golfer’s imagination.
It was not until the 1950s that things really took off with Merle Williams of Long Beach, California, producing an electric version that became hugely popular with elderly golfers. Now they are ubiquitous and often obligatory on many new courses that, due to their layout, have long distances to travel from green to the next tee box. In the 1950s there were around 1,000 buggies available for hire on American golf courses, today there are over 2m.
There is big money in buggy hire too, with many courses in Europe routinely charging €40 to hire and provide one of the biggest splits of opinions amongst the golfing community. Many, especially the elderly, find them a massive boon whilst other simply hate the things, and the accursed buggy-paths that go with them in so many instances.
The buggy path is there to preserve the condition of the course but means for many players that, when in the rough or a bunker on the far side of the fairway, they must park and head off clutching an armful of clubs never certain what lie they are going to find their ball in.
This leads occasionally to a lost club when a player leaves a wedge on the side of a green or bunker and certainly adds a considerable time to a round of golf. And worst of all if a mishit shot lands on the path the ball can bounce anywhere, and usually anywhere but where you want it to.
Buggies also kill the social niceties of the game, as it is impossible to speak to players in another buggy until one meets them on either green or tee box. And finally, golf is meant to provide players with some decent exercise, allow them time to enjoy their surroundings and also to be able to reflect on both good and bad shots alike, all impossible if the game is played in a buggy
But there are two big problems facing the anti-buggy brigade; firstly clubs can generate significant income by having a fleet of buggies. Research in the USA has shown that one buggy should generate just under $2,000 in income pa, with a typical fleet being in the order of 50 buggies and above.
Second, and perhaps even more crucially, is the increasing age profile of many club golfers, some of whom are finding it increasingly difficult to play a full 18 holes on their home course. Golfers aged 55 and over play, on average, three times as many rounds of golf as those aged between 25-34 years old.
So this is the conundrum, do clubs face the prospect that senior members will leave as they can no longer get value from their membership or do they bite the bullet and go for the necessary evil of more buggies out on the course?