The story behind golf

The word golf comes from the Dutch word for stick or club, but much of the recorded history of golf arises out of Scotland. Even Mary, Queen of Scots, apparently teed off on the links of Lothian, Scotland, in 1567. With hills swathed in green, Scotland seems as good an ancestral home of golf as any.

Golf Digest estimated that 32,000 golf courses now dot the world's landscapes. Avid golfers may hear that figure and begin planning their next golf getaway. Beginners may hear that and not know where to begin. Many think of golf as an elite sport, and the historically high-priced course memberships and costly equipment don't help the sport's rep.

But don't be frightened away by all the khaki pants and white shoes! Thanks to more accessible public courses and a shift in demographics - there's now a magazine called Golf Punk, after all - the links can be a place for anyone who wants to socialize, soak up some sun, and get fit.

The benefits of golf

  • Walk the line. Images of golfers scooting along in motorized carts may lead some to think of golf as too leisurely to be called a sport. But if you simply park the cart, everything changes. Suddenly, you have 18 fairways of varying distances stretched out in front of you. Should you choose to carry your own clubs, you're now walking 18 holes with some weight across your shoulders. Doesn't seem so leisurely anymore, does it? In one study, a group of otherwise sedentary, middle-aged men were asked to play golf 2 to 3 times per week. After 20 weeks, their fitness was measured, and the results found that the men who golfed improved their aerobic endurance, lost weight and inches around their waist, and enjoyed increases in their levels of "good" cholesterol.

  • Of clubs and calories. If you're able, you should carry your own clubs. In one hour of carrying your clubs on the course, you can burn anywhere from 300 to 500 calories. Also, switching from cart or caddy to carry-it-yourself makes golf more of a weight-bearing exercise, which will help to build bone strength. If you amass an impressive collection of woods, irons, and putters, avoid injury by investing in a sturdy double-strapped golf bag or a pull cart.

  • In the swing. Swinging the clubs also exercises joints and strengthens muscles in the arms, shoulders, back, and core. You don't get those long Tiger Woods-style drives by just lazing around in the cart sipping iced tea. Those with arthritis benefit from playing golf, as its positions and swings help to stabilize, strengthen, and improve range of motion in your spine, hips, and knees.

  • Mind's eye on the ball. Golf challenges your hand-eye coordination and helps you to hone your strategic thinking skills. Your mind is busy keeping track of your strokes and choosing clubs to match particular situations, and yet for many, golf can be relaxing. You might be able to tee off on some of your stress once you get into the golfer's zone.

The warnings about golf

  • The strain from striving. Many golfers see the "perfect swing" as something of a holy grail. On the course or at a driving range, you'll see golfers hacking away, shot after shot after shot. Golfing gloves will shield your skin from blisters, but golf's repetitive use of the shoulders, elbows, and wrists can cause strain. Golfer's elbow results when the muscles on the inner side of the elbow become strained. Perhaps named for the sound golfers make when the pain hits, yips are a kind of muscle spasm or tremor that may also be due to overuse.

  • Putting posture. A golfer's shoulders hunch and eyes stare down at the ball with intense concentration. This bent or stooped figure is a common sight in golf, and neck and back strain may develop from this sort of posture. To alleviate tension and allow for more range of motion, golfers would benefit from stretching their upper back and shoulders before play. Proper golf posture can contribute to the success of your swing and your overall stamina during a match.

  • Exposed to the elements. Golf takes you outside, giving you a chance to breathe some fresh air and soak up some vitamin D from the sun. On the other hand, golf takes you outside, giving you a chance to breathe in a variety of potential allergens and get a sunburn or sunstroke. Make sure to wear sunscreen with adequate SPF; sunglasses with UV protection; and light, comfortable clothes. Drink plenty of water as you walk the course, and take breaks when your body needs it. If a storm begins to brew, hightail it off the course as quickly as your cleats can carry you. Lightning and metal clubs don't mix!

What you need for golf

  • The basic equipment. You don't necessarily need a lot of equipment to enjoy a round of golf. Sure, once you're beyond the basics, you may want to expand your arsenal of clubs and go for a variety of woods and putters. For now, you can make do with a standard iron and a dozen or so balls (they do tend to lose themselves). A tee may help you to avoid creating too many divots, those clumps of dirt and grass you dig up when you chunk a fat ball.

  • The lingo. As you can tell from the previous sentence, golf has its own language. Should you choose to get really serious about golf, consider investing in a golf dictionary or taking lessons with a pro to help you learn the different kinds of swings, strokes, and grips.

  • Patience and a sense of humour. A round of golf can take awhile, and, as many golfers will attest, it can also take a lot out of you. As baseball icon Hank Aaron said, "It took me 17 years to get 3,000 hits. I did it in one afternoon on the golf course."

Inspiration to get you going
Mark Twain said, "Golf is a good walk spoiled," but these folks believe otherwise:

  • "You must swing smoothly to play golf well and you must be relaxed to swing smoothly." - Bobby Jones
  • "What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive." - Arnold Palmer
  • "Golf is a spiritual game. It's like Zen. You have to let your mind take over." - Amy Strum Alcott

Amy Toffelmire