• Alistair Tait

Breaking news: Golf is good for the elderly – Honestly!


File the latest R&A research into the benefits of golf on older people under “Who knew?” or “No kidding?” or “Tell me something I don’t know.”

John Gilmer Speed, Benjamin Rush, Henry Callender, Tobias Smollett, Issette Pearson or Samuel Ryder could have saved the governing body the trouble of supporting “new research” if they’d been around today. The R&A could just have had a wee chat with three-time Open champion Gary Player before backing research by the University of Southampton and University of Southern California on the benefits of golf for older people. Player has been banging on about the health benefits of regular exercise such as golf for over 50 years.

According to the two universities, there's proof that:

“Golf can provide significant health benefits to older participants in the form of improved muscle strength and balance.”

The two universities conducted research with people over the age of 60 to find that:

  • Participants in the golf training programme improved their muscular strength, power, endurance, balance, flexibility and walking performance

  • Golfers under the age of 80 had better strength and balance than sedentary non-golfers of similar ages

  • Golfers had better dynamic balance and static balance than non-golfers

  • Strength of limb muscles and balance were better in golfers than non-golfers

  • The physical demands recorded during a golf round were equivalent or greater than the demands for other common activities e.g. gym work or yoga

  • Participants benefited from green space, social interaction and walking over hilly terrain

Professor Maria Stokes of Southampton University said:

“The findings indicate that golf is associated with health benefits related to better muscle strength and balance.”

USC’s Dr George Salem added:

“Our findings suggest that golf should be considered when prescribing exercise for older adults because it appears to be safe, feasible and an adherent form of exercise for a better, healthier quality of life."

Fair play to R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers for pushing golf as a form of exercise. He said:

“These findings should encourage policy makers and healthcare professionals to consider recommending playing golf to older people as part of encouraging them to adopt a more active lifestyle, as well as tackling physical inactivity to reduce healthcare costs.

However, to present this as “new evidence” is stretching things just a wee bit. We’ve been told about golf's health benefits this for years.

We wouldn’t have the Ryder Cup if not for Ryder’s doctor. Ryder’s physician didn’t need research to confirm golf was the perfect form of mild exercise the seed merchant needed.

In the Ladies Journal in 1894, Speed wrote:

“The walking a golfer does is purposeful, and therefore never tiresome; but when five or six miles have been covered by a stout person, a trifle short of breath, and specially if the course be a good deal up and down hill, that player when the last hole has been made will be apt to conclude that he or she had been doing something.”

Pearson, the Ladies Golf Union's first honorary secretary, realised in 1899 that golf was the perfect sport for women even if it was predominantly a man’s game. She wrote:

“Golf, I have been told, is physically a better game for our sex than any other, as it exercises a greater number of muscles without fear of over-exertion or strain.”

Callender was captain of Royal Blackheath Golf Club in 1790, 1801 and 1807. He was also a poet, and once penned these lines:

“May your health be preserved, with strength active and bold/Long traverse the green, and forget to grow old.”

In 1771, Smollett wrote this in the Expedition of Humphry Clinker:

“I was shown one particular set of golfers, the youngest of whom was turned of four-score (80). They were all gentlemen of independent fortune, who had amused themselves with this pastime for the best part of a century without having felt the least alarm from sickness and disgust; and they never went to bed without each having the best part of a gallon of claret in his body.”

If that quote doesn’t put a halt to any thoughts of cutting down on your wine consumption, then I don’t know what does.


Benjamin Rush, one of the signatories to the American Declaration of Independence, once said:

“Golf is an exercise which is much used by the gentlemen of Scotland. … The late Dr McKenzie, author of the Health and Long Life, used to say that a man would live 10 years the longer for using this exercise once or twice a week.”

Hmmmm, I wonder what research McKenzie conducted to come that conclusion? You don’t think perhaps he, and the aforementioned, naturally realised walking four miles once or twice a week is, er, good for older people?

#JustSaying: “I’d probably be the fat lady in the circus right now if it hadn’t been for golf. It kept me on the course and out of the refrigerator.” Kathy Whitworth

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