Ginger or Mary Ann?

Columns - Design Concepts

October 11, 2018

Questions about cart paths are often as ubiquitous as the paths themselves. A frequent question is “Should we use asphalt or concrete for our cart paths?” The answer is ... obviously ... hoverboards.

The concrete/asphalt divide follows the Mason-Dixon line. Down south, asphalt can get hot enough to soften up and stick to tires, so concrete is typical. Up north, asphalt is typical, but concrete is rocketing up the charts with a bullet. For what it’s worth, there are other options. Sometimes clients request gravel for its lower cost, but in limited experimentation, I have not found them practical. A few environmentally minded clients ask about permeable pavement, which is common in urban landscape architecture, used to reduce runoff, often a requirement under sustainability guidelines. However, at over twice the price, the cost deters even the most environmentally minded golf course owners, and architects can reduce run off using the detention capacity of golf course ponds.

The choice between asphalt or concrete pits the longer-term durability of concrete against the typically lower initial cost of asphalt. Typically, those with the “long view” favor concrete, while those with shorter horizons can opt for asphalt in northern climates. Additionally, concrete is price competitive with asphalt when oil prices rise, affecting asphalt directly. It pays to bid both. You may decide that concrete is worth the extra expense when the price difference is narrow.

For either material, correct specifications and quality installation are a must. If your owner’s representative, architect or engineer don’t understand material and installation requirements, some contractors will cut corners. You should bid “apples to apples,” with an independent specification, rather than let various pavers provide a price on their standard methods. All asphalts and concretes aren’t always equal.

While each pavement will vary at each site, requiring individual design, these are typical golf path guidelines:

Asphalt Paths typically require:

  • A compacted sub-grade, at least 95 percent on the proctor. On new golf courses, the paths are usually used as circulation routes well before paving and the constant equipment traffic usually compacts the base quite well. In renovations, you should expect to use a roller on new locations.
  • Occasionally a stabilization fabric, depending on soil moisture and stability.
  • 4 to 8 inches of a base gravel, depending on soil stability.
  • 2 to 4 inches of asphalt, sometimes laid in one pass, and others with a base course overlaid with a finer finishing course. Experienced owner’s reps know that asphalt machines place thinner lifts when going uphill, which leads to more cracks later on.
  • A custom designed asphalt mix, which usually follows local guidelines for bike paths, driveways, or sometimes, even roads.

One problem in retrofitting an existing course is matching the old pavement, which is now cracked and faded. If budget allows, you should repave the entire system, but you will want to at least “top” the old path (at about half the full new price) for a consistent look. In most areas, disposing of asphalt now requires special handling, and you can’t simply dig a hole and bury it on site somewhere.

Concrete Paths typically require:

  • Compacted sub-grade, (gravel bases have been eliminated unless sub-grade is unstable)
  • 4 to 4? inches of 3000 to 4000 PSI concrete, often thickened on the edge for greater strength.
  • The long time standard of 3000 PSI for sidewalks, driveways and similar concrete uses is now 4000 PSI. Cart paths were typically specified as “5 sack concrete,” but 5.5 to 6 sack concrete is required to increase strength accordingly. Sometimes, suppliers propose “a better value” of 5 to 5.5 sack with additives, and can get 3500 PSI or more, but you will have to be the ultimate judge of the strength you want to hold up under maintenance equipment and truck traffic.
  • Formed with wood forms, with no use of so-called “slip form” machines which spread unevenly. Also note, a 2 by 4 piece of lumber isn’t actually 4-inch deep/wide. If you want 4-inch paths, the contractor needs to rip larger lumber to an exact 4 inches or leave the forms a half-inch off the ground, which rarely happens.
  • Reinforcement, like 4 x 4 steel wire mesh, or steel rebars. Any steel reinforcement should be set on “chairs” in the path’s top half, ideally above mid height to help surface strength. Many contractors will merely lay reinforcing bars/mesh on the ground to save time, but the result is 0 percent effective.

Jeffrey D. Brauer is a veteran golf course architect responsible for more than 50 new courses and more than 100 renovations. A member and past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, he is president of Jeffrey D. Brauer/GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas. Reach him at