News & Opinion

Want to add years to your life? Ditch the cart

Ho-hum. The latest click-bait obituary on golf, “Death watch: How much longer can golf survive?” (http://on.mktw.net/2oHJBnz) came out recently.

Pffft. Golf has survived for 500 years and will continue to do so, successfully negotiating cyclical downswings and rebounds, just like anything else. You can look it up, although it’s apparent that the alarmist author of the Market Watch mushroom mulch didn’t bother.

Our greater concern should be our own death watch. Unlike the game, we won’t be here forever.

So, it behooves us to recall the pithy comment of a long-ago comic-strip character who said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Yes, it’s our fault.

We have done our best to choke the game by overbuilding golf courses of the wrong kind – too long, too difficult, too expensive – more focused on magazine rankings than enjoyment. We’ve designed courses around real-estate developments that are abominations, from design and routing perspectives. We’ve exchanged caddies and walking for riding, an inevitable result of the mistakes previously mentioned.

We’ve substituted affluence for affordability and accessibility. We, and the game, are poorer for it.

It’s time to get back to the future and, inevitably, resuscitate the game one more time.

One of the most pervasive and, sadly, most accurate images of golf in North America is folks cruising around in golf carts on overbuilt, overly manicured courses.

Again, we are our own worst enemies, not just from the perspective of the health of the game, but from that of our own health.

A crusading effort, http://www.golfandhealth.org/, backed by the World Golf Foundation, aims to persuade the general populace as well as critics of the game that golf can not only be enjoyable but can help us live longer.

According to that website, Dr. Andrew Murray and his colleagues at Edinburgh University’s Physical Activity for Health Research Centre reported last fall on the results of a review conducted by researchers into 5,000 existing studies about golf activity.

Their findings, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the No. 1-ranked sports-science and sports-medicine publication in the world, were stunning.

Golf not only has physical- and mental-health benefits for everyone who plays, but those benefits increase with age. Older folks improve their balance and endurance as well as respiratory and cardiac health.

“We know that the moderate physical activity that golf provides increased life expectancy, has mental-health benefits and can help prevent and treat more than 40 major chronic diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer,” Murray told the BBC.

“Evidence suggests golfers live longer than non-golfers, enjoying improvements in cholesterol levels, body composition, wellness, self-esteem and self-worth.”

Other studies show that walking 18 holes is equivalent to a five-mile hike. That hike can drop blood glucose levels by up to 30 percent in older golfers and helps everyone with weight maintenance and physical fitness. Walking and carrying clubs can burn up to 2,000 calories per round. Even if you can’t carry, get off the power cart and use a manual or electric push cart (what the Brits call “trolleys”).

Even being a spectator at a golf tournament is good for you.

“Spectators at golf events have been reported to walk significantly further than the 7,500 to 10,000 steps recommended daily for health,” according to golfandhealth.org. So, you don’t have to actually play the game to reap the health benefits associated with it.

Backing these findings is a study of 300,000 golfers by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. The death rate for golfers is 40 percent lower than for non-golfers of the same age, sex and socio-economic status. That equates to a five-year increase in life expectancy for regular golfers.

Unlike the human race, about which has been said “must evolve or die,” golf must devolve to survive.

But survive it shall.

It’s time for golfers to walk the talk.

John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario. Email:  gordongolf@outlook.com;  Twitter: @gordongolf