Does Golf Improve Health? – A Turn of the Century (20th) View


Before I begin, please note that this Post is not an argument for adding Golf to the President’s Health Care Reform Bill!

According to Murray G Phillips, an Australian sports historian writing in the May 1989 issue of the Journal of the Australian Society for Sports History, around the beginning of the 20th Century,

“Golf’s major justification rested on the belief that sporting participation improved one’s health. The game was lauded for its ability to aid in health-related matters. Consider the testimony of the English champion of 1902 [Sandy Herd] who was successful at 53 years of age. To him it was ‘golf and golf alone that kept him of the youthful side’.”

Philips goes on the quote a review article on golf in Australia written around 1900 in which the writer claims that,

“There is no other form of sport which is so recommended by the medical faculty.”

Interestingly, some of the golf poetry of the time echoed this theme. For example, from a 1906 issue of Golf Illustrated,

There is an old person of Bickley
Who for sixty long years had been sickly;
.       Since taking up golf
.       His ailments are off,
He’s renewing his youth very quickly.

Here are a quick four lines from an 1893 issue of Golf,

To drive the Golf ball on the ground,
To spoon it o’er the hill,
Will keep both mind and body sound,
And save the doctor’s bill.

And in another issue of Golf, later the same year, a poem “A Song of Golf” included the following healthful and colorful stanza:

When doctors fail to cure you, and you go from bad to worse,
Your head just like a toy shop, and existence but a curse,
You need not knuckle under, be it fever, chill, or cough,
Just take your clubs and caddie, and then whack away at Golf.
.                Then whack away at Golf,
.                Then smack away at Golf,
You can banish pills and potions if you whack away at Golf.

(These verses all come from an unpublished collection of poems put together by the late Joseph S. F. Murdoch, the renowned golf book collector and bibliographer. I was extremely fortunate to receive a copy of this collection from one of his close friends.)

It is interesting to note that today, at least in the U.S., the health benefits of golf are often lost to golf carts, unwalkable golf courses and cigars. Meanwhile, many professional golfer prepare to play golf by adhering to rigorous exercise routines designed by expert trainers. Golf isn’t the source of their improved fitness, it’s the driver.

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