Is golf really a sport or just a hobby? Is it a good walk spoiled, or should we forget the walk and ask Santa for a golf cart this Christmas?
Would a PowerBar help more than an apple after nine holes, or should we forget ’em both and just wolf down another candy bar? And do you really have to have Tiger Woods’ biceps to be any good?
A sports scientist pondering these and other questions crunched some numbers and came up with answers, a few of which put a new twist on some old assumptions.
Among the top findings: Given the number of calories burned, it’s certainly OK to call golf a sport.
“One of the more interesting things I found was that the actual act of swinging a golf club takes significant energy,” said Neil Wolkodoff, director of the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver.
Wolkodoff found eight male volunteers strapped them into some state-of-the-art equipment and took them out for a few rounds of golf.
Wolkodoff found the subjects burned more calories when they walked and carried their clubs (721) than when they rode in a cart (411). When they walked, they traversed about 4km, compared to 0.8km when they rode, but the 500 percent increase in distance corresponded to only a 75 percent increase in calories burned.
The conclusion was that the act of swinging the golf club could actually be considered good exercise.
“As far as physical exertion, it’s not the same as boxing, but it’s definitely more than people thought,” Wolkodoff said.
But golf addicts tempted to cancel gym memberships should consider this: the 2,884 calories the average player might burn by walking 36 holes a week is considered good for health, but will do little to improve fitness — meaning it won’t increase aerobic capacity.
For the test, Wolkodoff strapped subjects into equipment that measured, among other things, their heart rate, oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production and how far they were walking. Each volunteer played four nine-hole rounds: one carrying the bag on their shoulder, one pushing the bag in a push-cart, one with a caddie and one in a golf cart.
All the subjects went through fitness tests before the experiment to establish their baseline anaerobic thresholds — in other words, at what point they began to burn fuel without the help of oxygen. When people cross their anaerobic threshold, lactic acid builds up, which makes muscles start to burn and causes fine-motor skills to deteriorate.
This is important because the higher a player’s anaerobic threshold, the more ability the player has to walk long distances without losing the motor skills needed to execute shots.
Among Wolkodoff’s findings were that there was virtually no difference in calories burned between carrying (721) and using a push cart (718). Walking the course with a caddie carrying the clubs burned fewer calories (613) and playing while riding in a cart burned even fewer (411).
Players in Wolkodoff’s tests scored best when using push carts and playing with a caddie. Their nine-hole averages were better than when riding in the motor cart.
Wolkodoff said that offered proof there could be a benefit to walking the course that outweighs the benefit of resting while driving to your ball in the cart.
“It gets back to the idea that walking gives you a certain amount of time to think about a shot, to rehearse, go through the stuff,” he said. “Where in a golf cart, you’re holding on, then, boom, you’ve got to get up, go to the ball and make a decision pretty quickly.”