How Many Miles Are Walked and Calories Burned Playing Golf?

Scientific Study Confirms It: Golf is Good for You

Two senior golfers walking down the fairway
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Golf is good for you. That's the conclusion of a study completed by an American sports scientist back in 2009. But we didn't need a scientist to tell us that, did we, fellow golfers? Golfers know that getting out there on the course, swinging the club and — especially — walking the golf course 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 — how many miles are walked, how many calories are burned playing golf — and also about the effects of different kinds of effort on the golfer's score.

Key Takeaways

  • Studies confirm that golf is good exercise. But how golfers get around the course has a large impact on miles walked and calories burned.
  • A golfer walking, rather than riding, can burn nearly 3,000 calories a week by playing 36 holes.
  • Golfers who walk also tend to score better than those who ride in a cart or carry their own bag.

The scientist who conducted the study is Neil Wolkodoff, who, in 2009 at the time of the study, was director of the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver, Colo.

To conduct his study, Wolkodoff recruited eight amateur golfers, 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 between walking and riding in a golf cart. They also varied 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, 9 Holes of Golf

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

Miles Walked, 9 Holes of Golf

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

The study concluded 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 an Associated Press article about the study, "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."

Carrying the Golf Bag and Its Effects on Scoring

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. These are the golfers' average scores during the study for each of the different means of transporting the golf bag:

  • Using push cart: 40
  • Using caddie: 42
  • Riding in cart: 43
  • Carrying own 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. Golfers are more engaged with the golf course and their own games whe walking.

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, study leader Wolkodoff surmises, increases 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.