Golf’s health benefits can help the game’s own health

Early this year, at the Health Matters conference before the Humana Challenge, former President Bill Clinton said: “Sports are becoming like music; we watch them instead of play them.” That is indisputably true. From the voyeurism of televised sports to the virtual reality of, well, virtual reality, we have devolved into observers of our own existence rather than participants. For many, if not most, life has become a spectator sport. In this is an opportunity for golf.

Golfers waiting in the shade to tee off, heading for the clubhouse
Golfers waiting in the shade to tee off, heading for the clubhouse

The numbers are frightening. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.7 percent of adults in the United States are obese. Even more frightening, approximately 17 percent of children in America age 2 to 19 are obese. And the situation is getting worse. The CDC says obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980.

At a time when golf is having a health issue of its ownthe number of recreational players is not growingthe game can step up to help and, at the same time, help itself. Playing golf can be part of the plan for healthier living. A step in that direction was taken by the American Junior Golf Association, which is going to use its 94 tournaments this year to educate the more than 5,500 participants about proper nutrition and hydration.

“They don’t know how to eat,” executive director Stephen Hamblin said over the weekend at the AJGA annual meeting in Braselton, Ga. Hamblin said the AJGA decided to take action after a survey last year found that a quarter of its competitors didn’t eat a morning meal before a practice round, and those who did consumed high-carbohydrate, sugar-laced cereals. This effort by the AJGA is to be applauded, as are programs to promote healthier lifestyles for children by the ANNIKA Foundation and the Notah Begay III Foundation.

But so much more can be done. Those who want to grow the game should position golf as a healthy activity and as a family activity. They should support walking instead of riding so players not only get exercise but also have the opportunity to talk with family and friends.

They should make pace of play a front-burner issue. The Tee It Forward program is a step in the right direction, but every time fans watch the pros play they see bad examples when it comes to pace of play. If it were possible to get around 18 holes in 3 1/2 hours, or faster, more people would play and those who play would play more often.

Teeing area over a sand bunker. Shallow depth of field. Focus on the ball.
Teeing area over a sand bunker. Shallow depth of field. Focus on the ball.

Golf has long been burdened by stereo types, one of which is that it is a game for out-of-shape old men. In that regard, the pro tours have helped. Thanks to the blueprint drawn by Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods, players have learned that proper conditioning is part of the plan for success.

But although the pro tours should be at the front of the bus, they should not drive it when it comes to growth of the game. The pool of potential new golfers is in millions playing other sports, or in those who are physically inactive. The facts are clear: Eat less and exercise more and you’ll live a longer, healthier life.

Let’s make golf about exercise, and let’s make it about a time for meaningful interaction. Let’s promote golf as a walking activity with this slogan: Golf A Step in the Right Direction. And let’s promote it as a family activity with this slogan: Golf Where Families Walk, Talk and Play Together. There is a health-care crisis looming in the United States, and it is spreading elsewhere. Golf can shatter its stereotypes and show that the game is part of the solution, not part of the problem.