Golf: Is it a true workout?

They use cars, carts and even sometimes caddies, so just how much of a real workout are golfers getting?

Well, that depends upon how you play the game. Phillip Vardiman, assistant professor in health, sport and exercise science at Kansas University, says walking an 18-hole course could mean a trek of up to five miles.

“If it’s a very hilly course and more challenging, walking it would increase your heart rate and calorie consumption,” Vardiman says.

But those who prefer to ride shouldn’t expect a great workout.

“So many recreational golfers grab a snack and a couple beers or sodas at the turn, and that will offset the calories you may burn playing the game,” he says.

For many golfers the benefits of playing go beyond calorie burns. For them the pleasure comes from the relaxation and recreation it offers. That’s certainly true for Margaret and Dennis McNiel, of Lawrence. They actually met through golf in 2002 at an Overland Park Golf Singles Group event, and were married a year and a half later. When the weather permits, they like to play every weekend and have enjoyed golfing vacations in Hawaii, South Carolina and Florida.

“I believe it is good exercise, but even better is the fact that you’re outside. Golf helps release stress, and you are out in nature where you can affirm the good things in life,” Dennis McNiel says.

Vardiman agrees that the benefits of golf may go beyond its workout potential.

“Even if you ride the course, you’re still receiving benefits. You’re increasing your range of motion and flexibility, improving your eye-hand coordination and working on balance. The relaxation and recreation time it offers is still a plus,” he says.

As for the argument that golf isn’t really a sport, Vardiman, who before coming to KU was the athletic trainer for the golf team at the University of Arkansas, says that at higher levels of the game, players must maintain their fitness level in order to handle the stress of playing competitively.

“People can say what they want about golf, but at high levels it requires a lot of stamina and flexibility,” Vardiman says.

Margaret McNiel has been playing golf for the last 25 years and believes the sport is misunderstood, especially by those who don’t play it.

“Anyone who plays knows it takes athletic ability to do so,” she says. “Those who don’t play it don’t understand the amount of strength and coordination it takes. I like golf because, unlike many other sports, you can continue to play it as you age.”

But if you’re looking for a vigorous workout, golf may not be the sport to pursue. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that gets you outside, provides some social interaction and helps you remain flexible, improves coordination and helps relieve stress — as long as you don’t take your game too seriously — then grab some clubs.