At present, PlayAway Golf has two trailers — one located in Tennessee, the other in Florida — with 50 push carts each to service tournaments in a 300-mile radius. [Photo: PlayAway Golf]
Concerning the greater timeline of push-cart usage in college golf, Matt Noe has a theory. We’re in an in-between period, Noe speculates, but we’re headed for an all-in period. Since the American Junior Golf Association first allowed push-cart usage in its events in 2009, the stigma has waned and the vehicles, though cumbersome to cart around, have become increasingly popular.
While push carts are easier on a golfer’s back and can provide a competitive advantage, they change the dynamic of team travel.
“What we’re finding now in just the college coaches we’re talking to, beginning in 2020, 2021 and beyond, all the kids who grew up in junior golf have grown up pushing,” said Noe, founder of PlayAway Golf, a push cart rental service. “… It doesn’t matter how big your sprinter van is, there’s still not enough room for six girls, six bags, six overnight bags and six push carts.”
Therein lies the genius of a new venture Noe has undertaken with his wife, Nicole. As parents of competitive junior golfers, the Tennessee-based Noe family quickly learned how push carts hinder junior travel. Frustration born of trying to rent push carts from clubs or sports stores while on the road – combined with disbelief at watching some international players buy a brand-new push cart for one tournament only to leave it behind – resulted in the new venture.
The Noes debuted the service this spring on the college circuit, and junior golf isn’t far behind. Among their first events were the 54-team Jekyll Island Invitational, the largest Division III tournament in the country, and the women’s SEC Championship.
“The goal was to get out in front of the D1 schools to see that there is a better way of doing it,” Matt Noe said. “College golf needs someone to change its model a little bit.”
The Noes hatched the idea roughly a year ago and purchased their fleet of 100 ClicGear push carts shortly after. They arrived in pallets of 25 at their home, and each was fitted with a PlayAway logo before being loaded, 50 apiece, in two trailers aptly named Bones and Fluff after two of the game’s most well-known caddies.
Bones will remain in Tennessee, while Fluff will live in Florida. The plan is for each trailer to travel within a 300-mile radius of its home base. Eventually, the Noes hope to expand across the country.
At an event serviced by PlayAway, push-cart transactions take place daily on the driving range – pick it up in the morning, return at day’s end. For coaches of push-cart users, the alternative often involves FedExing the carts from one tournament to another. It’s an extra variable, an added expense and often a headache for golf professionals at the host course, who act as the middlemen.
Reserving push carts ahead of a tournament is recommended, though push carts can be rented individually upon arrival if there is availability. Pricing varies by event, but is built around the price of shipping and travel as well as the "hassle factor." The price point will never exceed $300 per event, per team (up to seven players).
Jim Owen, the director of golf at Oglethorpe University (an NCAA Division III school near Atlanta) calls the Noe’s idea “big-time.” Owen has coached college golf for 25 years and is often on the forefront of adopting changes that better the college-golf experience. He has been instrumental in making player-inputted live scoring the norm in Division III. Now coaches can make on-course decisions based on up-to-the-minute.
Owen sees the PlayAway concept as similarly game-changing, particularly when it catches on at the junior level. From the perspective of a man orchestrating a 54-team event, it was also one less logistical hurdle – for himself, and for the head golf professional.
“It takes that headache that they shouldn’t be exposed to off of the table and really makes for a better relationship with the golf course,” he said.
Coaches may be the conduit to facilitate the PlayAway model in college golf, but they can also be push cart skeptics. North Carolina Wesleyan coach Greg Ripke was one of them, opposing the idea mainly for the storage issue they created in the team van.
Ripke agreed to try PlayAway at Jekyll Island. After the first round, two of his players were leading and all were more relaxed.
“At the end of the day, they didn’t want to give them back,” said Ripke, who has changed his stance on push carts.
It’s that kind of thinking, and instant adoption, that explains the push cart movement — and the Noes’ quick thinking in getting ahead of it.
Julie Williams covers amateur golf for AmateurGolf.com. She is a former college golfer and Golfweek writer who coaches a high school girls golf team in Cocoa Beach, Fla.