Many people associate the origins of golf with Scotland, but the sport actually dates back to Roman times—around 100 BC. During those times, the recreational sport simply involved a stick and a leather ball. Fast forward to today, and golf is a highly competitive sport—and also an $84 billion-dollar industry. It has also become much more mainstream thanks to attractions like Topgolf—a popular spot for teambuilding, family outings, and friend groups looking to switch up their traditional Friday night, and it has helped make golf more enjoyable for men and women of all ages.
But out on the course, golf can also be quite the workout, requiring an agile mind and incredible focus. In fact, when golf legend Arnold Palmer said “Success in this game depends less on strength of body than strength of mind and character,” he may have been onto something.
GRATEFUL FOR THE GREEN
It’s no surprise that there are numerous positive mental health benefits resulting from consistent physical activity, but it’s easier to see them in things like running or biking, when you’re almost guaranteed to break a sweat. Golf, however, is a slower-paced activity … it doesn’t exactly scream “rigorous workout.” But before diving into the physical benefits, of which there are many, it’s important to note just how beneficial the slow pace of golf can be. Michele Meleski, vice president of fitness, racquet, and recreation for ClubCorp, a leading operator of private golf clubs and country clubs in North America, weighs in: “Golf can be an integral part of enhancing one’s well-being. Enjoying outdoor activities, otherwise known as ecotherapy, reduces stress and anxiety while boosting the immune system. Not only does golf have a social component that creates a sense of belonging, it can also deliver a physical and mental challenge.”
Meleski also emphasizes the grounding effect of playing golf: that is, how it can make you feel more connected to the earth. One 2018 study found that direct contact with the ground can significantly improve your mood, specifically helping to alleviate feelings of tiredness and depression. And while most people don’t golf barefoot, simply being outside for a prolonged amount of time has similar mental benefits to those seen with grounding. When you consider that the average game takes four hours, the time spent outside is significant.
Then there’s the mentally challenging aspect of the sport, where patience isn’t just expected, it’s practically required. It’s in those moments of frustration—often experienced when an eagle turns into a bogey or your shot lands in the bunker—when a true test of patience takes place. Etiquette and tradition are the foundations on which golf was built, so throwing temper tantrums isn’t exactly encouraged, and a golfer is expected to face these moments of irritation with a certain amount of calmness. For those who lack in this area, golf is a great way to increase your serenity levels (or otherwise risk embarrassing yourself in front of your peers). Players who practice patience on the greens will reap rewards—and an overall more enjoyable experience.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOLF
Golf continues to gain traction across many different age groups. Meleski confirms this, saying, “The unprecedented growth stems from several factors: golf is the ultimate social-distancing activity since there is ample space outdoors on the course, and the game can be enjoyed with friends and family.” Golf magazine agrees, noting in a 2020 article that, even amid a pandemic, almost all courses have players on them. And you won’t only see the ‘typical’ golfer on the course, according to Meleski. “The rise in popularity of golf-entertainment venues has increased participation and interest in getting more involved in the sport in general,” she shares. “Our junior and women’s programs have likewise seen an increase in participation levels as all members of the household look for fun ways to stay active.”
And for those just starting out? Meleski offers sage advice: “Don’t be intimated by the game. It is a fun, lifelong sport, and there are many great programs out there to help beginners get started. You should look for lesson packages so you enjoy the full experience while learning how to become comfortable maneuvering around the course during a round.”
Perfecting your swing, working your way up to a driver, and sharpening your putting skills are just some of the components of golf that will take time, along with consistent practice. It may look simple on TV, but it’s an activity that requires work. And as you improve, you’ll end up getting in a better workout than you think.
While riding a golf cart is probably more fun, you certainly won’t get the same number of steps in that you would walking, which can help your cardiovascular and respiratory health. In an average eighteen-hole round of golf, you can walk nearly four miles and burn almost one thousand calories (more if you carry your bags). If you choose to ride in a cart, those numbers will be almost cut in half. Physical endurance can be heightened even more so during a game of golf than in a circuit workout. Think about it: depending on the course, you’ll be walking up hills, honing your balance and flexibility skills, and flexing various muscle groups. When you combine the low-impact physical factors with the cognitive challenges, golf does quite a lot for the mind and the body.
A PUTT ABOVE THE REST
This moderately intense sport isn’t your typical fitness activity, but that’s exactly why it’s worth a try. You’ll bond with others, enhance your patience and calmness, and immerse yourself in the great outdoors, all the while getting in your daily dose of physical activity. As a result, golf is soaring to new heights, encouraging people of all ages to pick up a club and take a swing.