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THE oft-quoted saying is that golf is a good walk spoiled: now a major study involving Scottish researchers is assessing the health benefits of the game for the first time, including how it can help players to live longer. While the benefits of some sports such as running and football have been much analysed, the effects of taking to the fairways have been little investigated.
Dr Andrew Murray, a Scottish sports medicine doctor who is best known for tackling ultra-running challenges, is part of a group of researchers involved in a five-year project looking at the health benefits of the sport. He will discuss the initial findings at the World Scientific Congress of Golf, which is taking place in the St Andrews, over four days from tomorrow.
“Golf has a unique contribution in Scotland and further afield. It is a sport that can be played from the age of four to 104, and played by all ages and both genders. For me it is a game I really enjoy playing with friends and family, so it also offers that social connection. We can confidently classify golf as a moderate aerobic physical activity – the research we have conducted supports that.”
Murray pointed to a recent study carried out in Sweden which found that golfers live on average five years longer than non-golfers, regardless of gender, age and socioeconomic status. He added, “People think that is partly to do with physical activity, but there is also the getting out in the fresh air and the social connections and perhaps the benefits one gets from that. Golf is something that can be started and played right across a lifetime and I think that is so important. I think golf has been substantially undersold – people think you have to do things like go running ultra-marathons to get health benefits. But if you find something you enjoy and do it regularly, that will offer you those benefits. Golf is a great example of something people all ages can do, they can do with friends and that is the part of the beauty of it.”
Murray said the five-year research project, which is being supported by the World Golf Foundation, will also assess injuries and illnesses that afflict golfers and how to reduce their risk.
He is also involved in research investigating whether golf offers health benefits to spectators. “With most sports the majority of people watching are sitting stationary in a seat, with accoutrements they have bought to eat and drink, he said. But with golf people tend to wander the four miles of the course following their favourite players and potentially doing useful physical activity.”
And he said that while golf was often perceived as a sport involving expensive club fees, there were affordable options in Scotland, from public courses to local driving ranges.
Murray said he is just as keen on golf as tackling extreme challenges such as ultra-marathons, and sometimes combined both. “When I took part in both the Outer Mongolia Genghis Khan Ice Marathon and a run across the Namib Desert, I took the golf clubs and had a bit of a game,” he said.
“In Outer Mongolia instead of the Old Course in St Andrews it was the cold course, as it was minus 40C, which was quite an experience. And in Namibia it was a sea of sand – so pretty much the world’s biggest bunker.”
I didn’t know it at the time (I was only 10) but the day the old golf pro at Cow Glen Golf Club near Glasgow died, and his stock of old golf clubs were thrown out, would prove be the start of the amazing odyssey that has been my life. A life dominated by chasing a little white ball around the world. The friends I have met, the money I have made and the lifestyle I have enjoyed all link back to that old pro!
My uncle Forbes, whom I happened to be visiting, sorted through 60 years worth of old clubs, balls and rubbish the old pro had accumulated in his tiny little pro shop, and from it he rescued a handful of hickory-shafted clubs, which were cut down and sent back with me.
My parents didn’t play golf so I started hitting balls on my own on a playing field. Soon after I persuaded my parents to sign me up to a club as a junior member.
For the next 8 years I spent every waking hour, other than school, at Llilleshall Golf Club, and later Shifinal Golf Club. The handful of kids I played with there are still my best friends today, even though I subsequently moved 4,000 miles away.
The knowledge I gained about life and business on those fairways surpassed anything I ever learned in school, although my golf also got me a full scholarship to a US college.
Make no mistake about it, getting your kids involved in golf will be one of the greatest and most valuable gifts you will ever give them!
I grew up in the late 70’s, and sure we had video games like Space Invaders and Pac-man, but it was an afterthought, not a lifestyle. Today’s kids need more than ever to get away from the computer games and get out and socialize with real people, not virtual friends. Golf is by far the very best way to accomplish that, and set your kids up for success in life.
There are a million things you can buy your kids in the hope that it helps them learn and grow, but only a few make a real impact. Encouraging them to play golf is one! Enrol your child in a Junior Golf Academy. Just be warned, very soon they will be out-driving you!
I can’t tell you, what an amazing difference golf has made to my life. Although I had hoped to become a golf professional, I never did, but in the end it didn’t really matter. The travel, friendships, business opportunities and the fact that at 52 I’m can still easily walk 36 holes in a day, more than made up for it!
by Andrew Wood
We all know the scenario: Playing the monthly medal, you are standing at your ball in the fairway with club in hand and the green ahead clear. But you are clearly not furthest away, and the player who should be up is just leaving the tee after re-adjusting the straps on their bag. The etiquette of the game dictates you have to wait. Not only does this waste time, but it also throws your game out of rhythm.
Is it time to do away with the old-fashioned order of play during strokeplay golf, to expedite increasingly time consuming rounds of golf?
The Golfing Union of Ireland certainly thought so during the second round of the recent AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship in Ballyliffin. With poor weather conditions leading to long round times on day one, the Championship Committee decided to implement ‘Ready Golf’, resulting in a significantly improved pace of play.
The R&A refers to Ready Golf in its Pace of Play manual as commonly used term which indicates that players should play when they are ready to do so, rather than adhering strictly to the farthest from the hole plays first stipulation in the Rules of Golf.
Ready Golf has been adopted by many as a catch-all phrase for a number of actions that separately and collectively can improve pace of play. There is no official definition of the term, but examples of Ready Golf in action are:
It certainly made a difference in the Irish Amateur Champs: the first group finished 15 minutes ahead of the 4.5 hours timing schedule – 25 minutes quicker than the previous day. The final group finished the day 16 minutes behind time, but better by 45 minutes compared to round one.
GUI Championships Manager Mark Wehrly explained the decision during the tournament:
“We have challenging conditions and a lot of ball searches and provisional balls. Playing Ready Golf is a logical reaction to the fact that, quite often, players will be ready to play before those who would be farthest from the hole in this set of circumstances.”
And there is further evidence to suggest that playing Ready Golf does improve the pace of play. In a survey of Australian golf clubs conducted by Golf Australia, 94% of clubs that had promoted Ready Golf to their members enjoyed some degree of success in improving pace of play, with 25% stating that they had achieved ‘satisfying success’.
In matchplay it’s a different story of course. Playing when it’s your turn is part of the contest, and leaving yourself a longer approach to strike the first blow can be a canny strategy. In matchplay contests the honour/order of play system must stay.
And when Ready Golf is being encouraged players have to act sensibly to ensure that playing out of turn does not endanger other players.
An argument against playing Ready Golf is that the game could lose its discipline. Things could turn into the whacky races, with players focused solely on their own game, charging towards their ball and paying no attention to what playing partners are doing. Perhaps playing in turn an essential element of the social and sporting side of golf?
A happy medium seems logical. It shouldn’t be Every Man for Himself out there, but when it makes sense to play out of turn in order to keep pace, perhaps it shouldn’t be deemed poor form. But by all means have your say below…