Benefits of Walking the Golf Course

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The United States Golf Association thinks you should be walking the golf course. Riding in golf carts has become the favored mode of transportation for many weekend golfers - but you should try those legs out again for several reasons.

As David Fay, former president of the USGA, has written, "We strongly believe that walking is the most enjoyable way to play golf and that the use of carts is detrimental to the game. This negative trend needs to be stopped now before it becomes accepted that riding in a cart is the way to play golf."

Walking a golf course is good for your health, good for the course's health and good for the game's health.

Walking Is the most Fundamental Excercise

Everyone knows that walking is the most fundamental of all exercise programs. So it makes sense that walking a golf course would be considered good for you. It hasn't always been considered that, however. Some have argued that golf is not good exercise because of the start-and-stop nature of walking golf.

Don't believe it. Walking a golf course is a great part of any exercise program, as has long been proved by numerous scientific studies... not to mention anecdotal evidence and good ol' common sense.

As for those scientific studies: Among others, researchers in Sweden found that walking golf equated to 40-percent to 70-percent of the intensity of a maximum aerobic workout (assuming 18 holes played). In another, cardiologist Dr. Edward A. Palank's study showed that walking golfers reduced their levels of bad cholesterol while keeping their good cholesterol steady; the control group of riding golfers failed to show those good results.

Also, according to Golf Science International, a researcher named Gi Magnusson calculated that four hours of playing golf while walking is comparable to a 45-minute fitness class.

Another study done at the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver, Colo., concluded that walking nine holes on a hilly course is equivalent to a walk of 2.5 miles, compared to 0.5 miles when using a cart. And that a golfer who walks 36 holes a week is burning nearly 3,000 calories (see the full summary of the study in the article "Guess what - golf is good for you").

An article in the Northern Ohio Golf Association publication Fairways offered suggestions for beginners or veteran riders who want to walk but aren't yet in shape for it:

  • Walk alternate holes during a round, so that by the end of your round you've walked nine holes.
  • Walk one set of nines, ride the other.
  • If you are at a course that requires golf carts, walk down the fairway to your ball while your partner brings the cart up.
  • If playing with a partner who rides, ride only on the cart path and walk to and from the cart to your ball on every hole.

It's also a good idea for walkers to look after their backs either by using a push cart to carry their bag or by switching from a single-strap bag to a double-strap bag. Golfers can also consider a motorized caddy, which completely relieves the golfer of the need to carry or pull a bag.

Golf Cart Damage

Golf carts damage fairways. They damage rough, they damage areas around bunkers and around greens (of course, carts aren't supposed to get into areas around bunkers and greens, but depending on who's driving, they sometimes do).

When carts were first introduced - back when golfers were accustomed to playing on fairways that were as likely to be hardpan as grass - this wasn't such a big deal. Today, though, advances in agronomy and turfgrass management have introduced great varieties of grasses to areas where they weren't, in the past, able to grow. As a result, courses are in better shape than ever. But another result is that many of these turfs are more responsive to wear and tear. And driving a cart over these grasses creates far more wear and tear than walking on those grasses or pulling a bag cart over those grasses.

This is one reason why many courses post the 90-degree rule for riding carts on permanent bases. Riding carts are often not allowed off the ​cart paths following periods of rain. Some courses no longer allow riding carts on the fairways at all.

Walking a golf course is a good thing to do for the sake of the course itself - it saves wear-and-tear and damage to sensitive areas, which creates a better golfing environment.

Health of Golf Courses

It's good for golf for the two reasons already mentioned - because it helps the health of golfers and because it helps the health of golf courses - and for other reasons.

When playing with partners, walking a course is often faster than riding in a golf cart. This is true, although it seems counterintuitive! 

One of the reasons golf carts were introduced in the first place was to allow more players onto a course at the same time. And carts do that by speeding the time it takes a group on the No. 1 tee to reach its first shots of the day down the fairway. That shortens the gap between tee times. But over the course of 18 holes, a group of four sharing two carts wastes a huge amount of time driving from one rider's ball to the other rider's ball (see Golf Etiquette for more comments on this).

Walkers, on the other hand, each walk directly to their own ball. A secondary effect of walking directly to your own ball is a reduction in the amount of time you spend chatting with your playing partner in a cart before actually hitting the next shot. A walker can use the time spent trodding to his or her ball to think about their next shot and to think about club selection.

Walking a course gets you closer to the golf course. That's not some weepy get-close-to-nature sentiment. It's a way to learn more about the courses you play, to gain an appreciation for the nuances of a golf course that just aren't visible from a golf cart.

And then there's the scientific study that shows golfers who walk (or at least those golfers who took part in this particular study) score better than those who ride.

Nobody is suggesting that carts be banned or that longtime riders should give up the practice completely. There are certainly good reasons to use a golf cart from time to time, and there are many golfers who require golf carts for their own health reasons. Nobody who rides in a cart should feel bad about (unless they aren't observing good etiquette and safety rules!).

But the next time you step on the first tee, try to just keep stepping - all around the golf course. You'll be doing a favor for yourself, your course and your game.