A new movement is brewing in recreational golf: walking.
Growing nationally, golfers are rejecting the motorized golf cart – the standard bearer of American rounds of golf for more than 50 years – and are choosing instead to walk or walk one stroke at a time. .
This has contributed to a substantial increase in the number of rounds played and has spawned another new phenomenon: the verifiable notion that golf, when a round is taken, is an exercise that can complement a fitness regimen as golfers burn. regularly 700 calories or more on an outing that can span up to six miles.
Additionally, the walking boom, propelled by the advent of lightweight and fashionable carry bags and technologically sophisticated push carts for golf bags, is being led by a legion of players young and older – with a growing percentage of women – going back to the roots of golf as a walking activity only.
“Walking is cool again,” said Bob Bullis, 72, who plays four times a week at the El Macero Country Club near his home in northern California. “I am there with these kids who walk, do a good workout and play sports properly.”
For decades, the stereotypical perception of the sport has been that of sedentary golfers walking the course in carts with cup holders filled with mixed drinks. But many golfers today are deliberately adopting a healthier, even Zen atmosphere.
“Walking the two minutes back and forth can be a peaceful meditation,” said Kevin McKinney, 51, a musician who plays regularly at the Hancock Municipal Golf Course in Austin, Texas. “You increase your heart rate, which you don’t feel when you ride in a cart. It’s a beautiful setting if you let it.
Interviewed while playing at Hancock Course last month, McKinney texted a reporter a photo of a man and woman playing golf as they pushed a child in a stroller.
The increase in walking rounds – some golf courses have seen a 300% increase – is linked to the pandemic and the impact it has had on recreation.
In 2020, golf was one of the few outdoor activities considered safe from the spread of the coronavirus, and U.S. golf facilities hosted 50 million more rounds of golf than in 2019. For a large part of the game last year, due to strict physical distancing guidelines, motorized golf cart use was banned and walking became commonplace, even in country clubs and resorts that once required l use of a golf cart.
“People found out that they liked to walk and even when the Covid rules were lifted this year and the carts came back, people were like, ‘No, we are going to keep walking,'” said Jerramy Hainline , senior vice president of GolfNow, a tee-off service with nearly four million registered golfers that provides technology to more than 9,000 golf courses. “The march is now here to stay. “
If this remains true, it will shed new light on recent studies that have championed the health benefits of golf. In 2018, a consortium of public health experts, with the help of several governing bodies, including the World Golf Foundation, researched 342 previously published sports studies and linked golf to improved strength and durability. better balance and at a lower risk of heart disease. A 2008 Swedish study of 300,000 golfers found that golfers had a death rate of 40% lower than that of other people of the same sex, age and socioeconomic status, which has turned out to be translates into a five-year increase in life expectancy. Golfers with lower handicaps were the healthiest, perhaps because they played more.
But the most fascinating and long-lasting study on the credibility of golf as a moderate and dignified exercise was conducted 13 years ago by Neil Wolkodoff, director of the Colorado Center for Health and Sport Science. At a cost of $ 30,000, Wolkodoff attached portable metabolic measurement systems to amateur golfers to count calories burned by playing nine holes in a variety of ways: walking and carrying clubs, walking with a pushed or pulled cart that carried their clubs, walk with a caddy and ride in a cart.
It was no surprise that golfers walking and carrying their bags through the typically hilly topography of a golf course expended the most energy and, on average, burned 721 calories. Walking with a cart produced roughly the same calorie intake and being accompanied by a cart burned 621 calories. Even driving a cart while playing nine holes burned an average of 411 calories. The simple act of swinging a golf club 100 times, which the average golfer would likely do with practice swings, consumes a significant amount of energy.
Calorie consumption would likely double over 18 holes, when a player typically zigzags through the fairways chasing stray shots. There have been follow-up studies to research by Wolkodoff, who said his findings were found to be correct.
“Golf is not the same exercise as running or using an elliptical trainer, but it is part of a health program,” said Wolkodoff, PhD. in physiology and has trained a variety of professional athletes, said this month. “People should burn 2,500 to 3,000 calories per week. If people go to the gym three times a week and play golf twice a week, they can hit that number. “
The traveling golfers who have flocked to the game over the past two years are part of a cohort of new players who are more likely to be female and under the age of 35. A survey of nearly 25,000 golfers released last month by KemperSports, which operates 120 golf facilities nationwide, found that players new to the game since last year’s pandemic were nearly 33% girls or women, which is almost 10% above the industry average. More than 26 percent of new golfers were between the ages of 18 and 34, about four percent above the national average.
“We were missing millennials and millennials in golf,” said Steven Skinner, CEO of Kemper Sports. “But they’re in good shape and more willing to throw a pack on their backs and walk. That’s part of why they really got into the game.
More than a quarter of junior golfers are also non-white, compared to just 6% of young golfers 21 years ago.
At Hancock Golf Course in Austin, where rounds jumped 82% last year and climbed another 19% this year, Kevin Gomillion, who oversees golf operations, said the increases came after the city has decided to make the course a pedestrian only installation.
“It’s one of our best shots,” Gomillion said. “The course went from hardship and being upside down to solvent.”
The condition of the course has also improved considerably without tire marks on fairways and high traffic areas. Slow play has become less of a problem as people tend to walk at roughly the same pace.
As the walking rounds snowball, no one in the golf industry expects motorized golf carts to disappear altogether. On the one hand, many golfers need a golf cart for health reasons or because they have a disability. In addition, the daily cart rental fees can generate considerable revenue for golf facilities (although many courses this year started charging the same fee for walking or riding in a cart and did not. seen from drop in play). Golf outings often see up to 80 players teeing off at the same time throughout the course, which is much easier to accomplish with the use of a cart. Yet before this year, nearly 70% of games were played with a golf cart, according to the National Golf Foundation. But in a foundation survey last summer, 33 percent of golfers who played regularly said they walked more frequently. Similar figures for this year have yet to be compiled.
Traditional golf carts, which became mainstream in the 1960s, face more modern competition. At the PGA Tour Superstore, a leading online golf retailer with 47 brick-and-mortar stores across the country, sales of easy-to-carry golf bags and lightweight, nimble trolleys soared 210% in 2020. This year, A spokesperson for the company said sales of women’s carrier bags doubled and sales of junior carrier bags increased 200%.
There are also new modes of transportation on golf courses – the Phat Scooter, a two-wheeled electric device, and four-wheeled GolfBoards – challenging the standard electric or gas-powered golf cart, although they still offer golfers a lap. Robotic carts controlled by a remote control can also carry your bag.
“The game is changing, which people have said before golf won’t do,” Hainline said. “But it’s different from a year ago and golf will be even more different in two years.”
At the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta, the walking parts were usually relegated to unwanted tee times in the late afternoon or evening. But, spurred on by a busy season of walking rounds during the pandemic when carts were banned, this year’s route had it all played out before noon on foot only (carts and walkers were allowed after noon). Income has increased and golfers on foot now account for 74 percent of games played.
“People think of it as a two or four hour walk in the park,” said Brian Conley, general manager of the course.
Winky Fowler regularly plays on the Bobby Jones course and used to ride a cart. Over the past 18 months, she and her circle of friends have started walking instead.
“We were like, ‘It’s not bad, I like it,’” Fowler said. “It keeps you flexible, the exercise is great, and your body is fluid. We will continue; it just makes you feel good.