Guess What? Golf Is Good For You.

In sharp contrast to stereotypes, the game is actually a holistic wellness routine.

August 17, 2022 10:04 am
Illustration of a man on the golf course
Illustration by Gabriel Serrano

In partnership with PXG

Golf has a peculiar reputation among those who don’t play it as a frivolous hobby for out-of-shape, old rich dudes. And, to be sure, many in said demographic do love their golf, but they’re not necessarily reflective of the sport’s general population — or of its great potential as an integral part of a person’s fitness and wellness routine. 

At its core, golf is a game you play on a long walk in a park, usually with friends — effectively making the golf course a gym for the mind, body and soul, providing players with aerobic exercise, a cerebral challenge and the vital experience of being outdoors. 

A Good Walk Is Never Spoiled

Golf is walking and walking is exercise. And, actually, it’s really good exercise. It may not be quite as beneficial as running or hitting the elliptical for an hour, but as part of a well-balanced exercise regimen, study after study confirms that golf is good for you, even if you are bad at it. 

A 2018 statement by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that golf was not only associated with improving cardiovascular risk factors and mental well-being but also increased life expectancy. In fact, Swedish research indicates that golfers can live up to five years longer than non-golfers on average. 

And you can spend those five extra years logging even more rounds — especially since golf is low-impact and easy on the joints, allowing you to play well into your golden years. Plus, regular rounds of golf decrease the risk of more than 40 major chronic diseases including heart attacks and certain types of cancer.

Want to shed a couple pounds? If you’re not pounding beers or double-fisting hot dogs at the turn, a walking round of 18 holes will help that weight come off. During four hours trodding the links, players can walk between five and eight miles, depending on the course, and burn 300 calories per hour on average.  It goes almost without saying that actually walking the course is preferable as opposed to taking a cart. But riders, rejoice. Those who take a cart are still likely to get close to 10,000 steps in during a round, which is not only good for burning a few calories but benefits overall cardiovascular health as well.

The Mental Game

Beyond the physical, golf is also exercise for the brain.

To quote the legendary Bobby Jones, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears,” a saying that rings just as true for the recreational version of the sport.

The main challenge is finding and building focus, according to sports psychologist Dr. Morris Pickens, who coaches numerous elite players including the two-time major winner and PXG trooper Zach Johnson. “The ball is sitting still. So it seems like it wouldn’t be that hard,” Pickens says. “If you’re playing football or basketball or another reactionary sport, this projectile coming at you is really what occupies your mind.” But in golf, “It’s more up to the performer to figure out, okay, how do I wanna occupy my mind?” It’s important to “be able to focus their thoughts where they need to be.”

golf good for mental health
PGA Champion and PXG Brand Ambassador, Zach Johnson.

Golf is a game that presents varying challenges every time you tee it up. Weather and course conditions are constantly changing, ensuring that every shot is different minute to minute. From 160 yards, you might have a straightforward eight iron onto the green when conditions are benign, but if the wind is at your back perhaps a high fade or even a club less could be the play. The calculus is perpetually shifting, and players must use all of their guile to work out the solution. 

Anyone who’s played a round can tell you that golf is difficult. There is a steep learning curve, and it requires a substantial amount of practice just to be able to consistently hit the ball. But while golf can be a maddening pursuit, it also can help clear the head and release stress and reduce anxiety, no matter the player’s skill level. Because when you’re playing, that is where your focus is. So thoughts outside the game melt away on the course. Especially if you leave your phone in the car.

Maintaining that focus is essential for beginners and old hands alike. One key to keeping concentration is loading the bag with equipment players can trust — golfers shouldn’t have any anxiety about their clubs. A great way to mitigate any gear related stress is with PXG engineered clubs that are loaded with cutting edge tech for all players — from newbies to pros — and can be custom fit for every golfer’s unique swing. Not only does it make the game a little easier, but having the right sticks also makes playing more fun. And the more enjoyment you get on the course, the more mentally rewarding the game is. 

The game can offer therapeutic energy, according to Pickens. “I would define relaxation as something that gives you energy,” Pickens says. “For a lot of people just being out on the golf course gives them energy, whether that’s the rush of a $5 Nassau bet on a Saturday morning and being with their buddies or it’s nine holes by themselves in the evening,” he says. 

Darius Rucker is one such player who uses golf as a curative activity. The multi-platinum, GRAMMY Award-winning artist and PXG Ambassador logs countless miles on tour and uses golf to reset. “When I’m on the road, I play pretty much every morning,” Rucker says. “Nothing helps me manage stress and fatigue quite like golf.  It’s equally rewarding and humbling.  Every course I play represents a new challenge and a new opportunity.  I really can’t think of a better way to start my day.”

Golf Is a Social Sport

A regular tee time with friends or family is a real motivator to get out and play, ensuring that you garner golf’s other benefits. But another benefit to golf is that you can actually talk as you play — you can catch up and have real conversations while out on the course. In contrast to other games you play with friends, where it’s just shit talk during and maybe a chat after…if you have time. 

“If you’re around people that you like and you enjoy that time, then that’s gonna give you energy and it’s gonna probably make you feel better about yourself and worry less about your job or things that are negative in your life,” Pickens says. It’s a few hours of uninterrupted fun hanging with friends and catching up.

“To me, spending time with friends playing golf is all about the quality time,” says Jared Williams, a player from New Jersey on a buddies trip to Scotland. “You don’t have to worry about your family problems, professional challenges or any other headaches. You just focus on getting the ball in the hole while enjoying the company of your friends,” he says. “In our fast-paced lifestyles, it’s a luxury to be able spend an uninterrupted four hours together.” 

According to another buddy on the same trip, Aaron Fitt, of Durham, North Carolina, adds, “I just feel like golf is that connective tissue behind some of my strongest and longest lasting friendships; it’s what keeps us planning trips together year after year that we otherwise surely wouldn’t,” he says. “It is a source of constant banter and a shared interest that always gives us something to talk about, and a lifelong challenge we can take on together.”

Golf Is Accessible for Everyone

To be sure, golf can be elitist. Exclusive clubs like Winged Foot, Bellerive and Monterey Peninsula are rarified air where a select few can afford, or even possess the connections, to become a member. 

But players need not join a private club to play, and it doesn’t have to cost loads of cash. A round at Weequahic Golf Course in Newark (30 minutes from midtown Manhattan) costs a modest $22 for residents on weekdays. Eighteen holes at Buffalo Dunes in Garden City, Kansas, will run players a modest $25 during the week, while a twilight round at Pacific Grove Golf Links in Monterey costs under $40, which is a steal considering it shares some views with Pebble Beach, where they charge nearly $600 for a lap.

Beyond the misconception that golf has to be expensive, the pandemic golf boom is laying waste to the stereotype as a game for out-of-shape, older men with lots of money. According to information from Kemper Sports, which manages more than 100 golf facilities, up to a third of new golfers are women and up to a quarter fall into the 18 to 34 age range. Proving that you don’t need to own the aforementioned plaid pants or an AARP card to enjoy the links.
In another victory for diversifying the game and countering the traditional narrative about who should play it, this year marked the first annual U.S. Adaptive Open, where golfers from 29 states and 11 countries competed in eight impairment categories. For those who watched, the tournament was not just an inspirational event but also a thrilling competition.

Golf Is a Game

The best thing about golf is that it’s fun. If it weren’t, why would anyone play? The objective seems simple,… just get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes. But in reality it’s endlessly complex. There are seemingly infinite options when pursuing the goal and sorting out the strategy is half of the fun.

Of course, the other half is executing and hitting the shot you want. There is nothing quite like the feeling you get from smashing a bomb down the fairway, a purely struck iron, or draining a 30 foot putt for birdie. To paraphrase a line from Tin Cup, it’s like a tuning fork goes off in the club and radiates through your whole body. 

“Golf is more than a good walk,” says Alex Riggs, a Dubai based golf coach and PXG brand ambassador. “It can provide tremendous challenges, both athletically and mentally.” The game demands not just power and precision, but also patience and concentration. “It is a sport, it is an art form, it is a beautiful gift for us all to enjoy.”

The other brilliant and enigmatic quality the game possesses is that it is un-winnable. Sure you can beat your competitors, but you can’t beat the game. There is always space for improvement in golf, which is one of the ways it mirrors life. You can always do and be better. It just happens that, while you’re playing golf, you can work on your life a little, too — mind, body and soul included, even if you’re wearing plaid pants.  

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