Growing up in southern Arizona, I spent countless summer days in two locations: the golf course and the swimming pool. Logic and survival pretty much dictated the activities be done in that order.
Thanks to an amazing junior program, the golf was free at Tucson’s five municipal courses. You just had to be under 18 years old and attend a 20-minute etiquette lesson (maintain pace of play, rake the bunkers, fix your divots, and don’t use the flagstick as a javelin).
With high temperatures routinely pushing 110, teenagers were often the majority of the course population from June to August. And since we weren’t old enough to rent a cart, we strapped a 15-pound golf bag over our shoulders and took our hacks for about three hours.
At that time, we weren’t thinking about the financial benefits of saving money on a cart, and we certainly didn’t consider the health benefits associated with walking.
Now that I’m older and living in a city that doesn’t heat up like a Dutch oven, I don’t mind paying for a round of golf. Because I’m also an admitted cheapskate, I’m more inclined to walk 18 holes to avoid a $15 cart fee.
As an added bonus, I’m learning the health benefits of being frugal.
No free ride
First, let’s address the financial aspect. I spent a few minutes researching the 18-hole cost of cart rentals at municipal courses in eight major cities: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, and Seattle. Throwing out the high ($25 in Miami) and low ($14 in Phoenix), the average cost of a cart is $16.
For someone who plays twice a week during the summer (about 25 rounds), that’s roughly $400 in cart costs.
Walk this way
Now, let’s get physical. A few years back, the Colorado Center for Health and Sports Science (CCHSS) studied the effects of walking nine holes versus riding in a cart.
“As a golfer myself, there were always discussions whether or not golf was exercise,” CCHSS medical director Neil Wolkodoff, PhD., said in an email. “Since I could not really find any studies on this, I decided to perform my own. I also was curious if riding in a motor cart and playing resulted in a meaningful energy expenditure.”
Monitoring volunteers who wore portable metabolic equipment on the course, Wolkodoff found that golfers who walked while carrying their own clubs burned 721 calories. Those who used a push cart burned 718 calories, and players using a caddie burned 621.
“The health benefit is based upon total kcal (calories) expended, so this can help with blood sugar regulation and blood pressure, but golf really won't make you fit. You just don't sustain the heart rate for 20 minutes or more, so you really don't improve your aerobic fitness.
“That is an important distinction as this puts golf in the mild to moderate category of exercise, something you do in addition to formal exercise four to five times per week, but not instead of formal exercise.”
Better than nothing
And what about the riders? In Wolkodoff’s study, the golfers who rode in carts burned 411 calories while playing nine holes. Considerably less than the walkers, but still better than doing nothing at all.
“When you look at the data, riding in the motor cart burned a great deal of kcal (calories) compared to what people thought,” Wolkodoff said. “If a person burns about 500 kcal per nine holes, that is probably 1,000 in 18 holes. Most people who perform a gym workout burn 350-600. So, (golf takes) a great deal more time, however, (burns) a significant number of kcal.”
Walking: It does the body good
The American Heart Association has long touted the benefits of walking at least 30 minutes every day, and a recent study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that walking for one hour a few times a week can help brain function and thinking skills for those diagnosed in the early stage of cognitive decline.
An 18-hole stroll on a 6,000-yard layout at your favorite golf course means you’ll walk about 3.5 miles from tee to green. Add the distance between holes (along with a few detours to search for wayward shots), and it’s reasonable to believe you’ll cover more than four miles before the day is done.
And if the temperature starts rising into triple digits, we’ll try not to pass judgment if you decide to spring for a cart.
Walk or ride: What’s your preference? Share your thoughts below.
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