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Guess What? Golf Is Good For You

Scientific Study Quantifies Miles Walked, Calories Burned - And Effects on Score

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Two senior golfers walking down the fairway
Jetta Productions / Iconica Getty Images

Feb. 19, 2009 - Golf is good for you. That's the conclusion of a study recently completed by an American sports scientist. But we didn't need a scientist to tell us that, did we? Golfers know that getting out there on the course, swinging the club and - especially - walking is a bit more than just a leisurely stroll in the park. We already knew that golf requires coordination, concentration, and, yes, physical effort, to play successfully.

But it's always nice to have an expert verify those beliefs. Particularly when the study in question revealed some interesting and very specific conclusions about the value of golf as exercise, and also about the effects of different kinds of effort on the golfer's score.

The scientist who conducted the study is Neil Wolkodoff, who is the director of the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver, Colo.

According to an Associated Press article (no longer online) about the study's findings, Wolkodoff recruited eight amateurs, all men, with ages ranging from 26 to 61 and handicaps ranging from 2 to 17. The volunteers were fitted with various sensors and measuring equipment, and then each played the front nine of a hilly suburban Denver golf course several times over the study period.

During these 9-hole outings, the golfers varied their means of transportation (walking, riding in a cart) and also their means of transporting the golf bag (on a golf cart, on their shoulders, on a push cart, on a caddie's shoulders).

Among the findings were these numbers (remember, the figures cited are for nine holes only):

Calories Burned

  • Walking: 721
  • Using push cart: 718
  • Using caddie: 613
  • Riding in cart: 411

Miles Walked

  • Not using a riding cart: 2.5
  • Riding in cart: 0.5

The study concludes that golfers who walk 36 holes a week will burn around 2,900 calories per week. The threshold of 2,500 calories burned in a week is an important one; according to the AP article, "studies have shown that those who burn 2,500 calories a week improve their overall health by lowering their risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer."

The study also looked at the effects on golf scores of different methods of transporting one's golf bag. Those findings were just as interesting:

Average Scores

  • Using push cart: 40
  • Using caddie: 42
  • Riding: 43
  • Carrying bag: 45

Many golf purists argue that walking the golf course is not only better for your health (no doubt about that), but also better for your score. The thinking is that when walking the course, the golfer sees more: He or she takes in what lies ahead of them on the hole, has time to consider options and to think about club and shot selection.

This study certainly bolsters that argument. Walking the course with a push cart or with a caddie both produced lower average scores than riding in a cart. Walking while carrying one's own bag yielded the highest average scores, however, which likely has to do with the extra physical exertion required. That causes the golfer to tire more quickly and also, Wolkodoff surmises, increase instances of lactic acid build-up in the muscles. When lactic acid increases, fine motor skills decrease, and fine motor skills are what are required for the precise motions of the golf swing.

On the Web:

Rose Center: Is golf really an exercise?

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