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  • Alistair Tait

Golf and mental health? Vital!

I’d probably be a basket case right now if not for golf. I expect I’m not alone.

Taking the opportunity to spend three-four hours in green and pleasant spaces isn’t just a chance to enjoy the sport I love: it’s good for my mental health.

Cyclists, runners, hill walkers, and anyone else who has a favourite form of exercise that gets them outdoors during this pandemic no doubt feel the same. Any chance to get away from a steady diet of depressing headlines, to take a break from social media, has to be welcomed. And what better place to do it than on a golf course?

You can forget zoom calls. That novelty soon wears off. There's no substitute for spending face to face time with friends. As for a quiet 9-holes with my pal Izzy, it's one of my favourite ways to walk her. It's a perfect win-win situation: she gets a walk and I get to play golf.

This isn’t the first time golf has come to my rescue. It happened in 1998 when my career received a wee blip. Same last December when 25 years with the same magazine came to a curt end with the heartless words: “Let’s just cut to the chase.” When a conversation opens with those six words, it’s always going to be short. No thanks, no apologies. Just a curt cut off. Perhaps it wasn’t helped by the fact the person delivering them probably didn’t know the difference between a mashie and a niblick, a brassie and a spoon and probably thought the “impregnable quadrilateral” was a wrestling manoeuvre.

Despite complaining about being “a dogged victim of inexorable fate” a few blogs ago, the green grass of the fairways helped keep me sane. On both occasions when my career was thrown into upheaval golf wasn’t a good walk spoiled, as Mark Twain famously said, it was good for my mental health. Forget about trying to hit fairways and greens, of perfecting bunker and chipping technique, there’s no better place to get away from it all than wandering through the trees, especially with a faithful hound in tow who couldn’t care less if I make birdie or triple bogey. There’s arguably no better place for quiet reflection than the walks between shots.

There have been many recent surveys on the health benefits of golf. They tend to point out the obvious: that walking four miles a day three or four times a week is good for you. Said surveys skirt around the notion of golf being good for mental health. As far as I’m concerned, it’s massive.

People who suddenly see a chapter in their career abruptly close, as I did last December, are very fortunate to have the chance to take to the fairways. Ditto for those who can get out on a bike, or a hill walk, a run, a dog walk or any other pastime that gets us outdoors.

Thought about this way, golf really is a strange dichotomy: trying to perfect this imperfect game can not only drive us around the bend, it can also save us from going around the bend.

It’s why I fear for friends in Ireland waiting to see if they can still play golf during the impending six-week lockdown. Well, at least those who live within 5 kilometres of a course. Anyone living further than that is looking at six weeks away from the game.

I’d struggle mentally right now if I had to spend six weeks off the fairways. I’m lucky. I have my family around me to help, but what about those who live alone, especially older people who’ve lost partners? Taking away their chance to get out in vast open spaces to enjoy their favourite pastime isn’t what the doctor ordered. Just the opposite.

Don’t underestimate the benefits of this stick and ball game to the mental health of its practitioners. It could literally be a lifeline.

#JustSaying: “Golf is a game of the people. It is played by the Common Man as a sport and a relaxation from the worries of life.” Robert Harris, Sixty Years of Golf

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