Is Playing Golf Really an Exercise?

Do you ever watch golf and wonder if it’s really that difficult? Have you ever golfed and wondered just how good of a workout it is? Or maybe you’ve discussed if golf is a sport or a game

At the Rose Center for Health & Sports Sciences, our Medical Director Neil Wolkodoff, Ph.D., recently finished a research study that will help answer these questions.  

Dr. Wolkodoff studied how many calories golfers burn while golfing, depending on if they walk with a caddy, walk and carry their own bag, walk with a pushcart for their bag, or ride in a golf cart. 

Each participant in the study played 9 holes of golf, while wearing metabolic measurement gear to monitor their oxygen levels, heart rate and calories burned. The final results had some surprises. 

You would probably expect to burn the least amount of calories riding around on a golf cart, because you’re not walking as much, and this is true. Playing golf with a motor cart only uses about 411calories per nine holes

On the other hand, playing golf with a caddy burns 613 calories per nine holes, and using a pushcart and carrying your bag both burn about 720 calories per nine holes. 

The study concluded that even though a pushcart adds more weight, putting your bag on wheels is a more efficient use of energy and movement. 

Carrying your golf bag burns calories, but wastes energy

A study like this hasn’t really been done before, according to the New York Times “On Par” golf blogger Bill Pennington. He was also  impressed with the study’s findings of a possible connection between being physically fit and a better golf score.

According to the study, the higher your anaerobic threshold levels (the point when lactic acid buildup generally begins to impair coordination and concentration) the easier walking the green and concentrating on your shot will be.  Wolkodoff suggests that golfers do weekly endurance training and also some type of total-body interval training during the off season to raise their anaerobic threshold and, in turn, lower their golf score. 

Walking doesn’t just burn calories, but it might also help you refocus after a bad shot.  “On Par” also looked into this idea with Wolkodoff.

Wolkodoff suggests that there might be a psychological benefit to walking after a bad shot because it gives you time to cool down and refocus before your next hit, as opposed to getting in a golf cart and zipping over to your next shot. 

“Even one minute walking down a fairway will probably do a lot to get rid of the adrenaline and stress hormones that get into your system when you’re upset,” Wolkodoff said. “The physical nature of walking flushes the system and has a calming effect. You can reclaim your rhythm. It’s a natural response as opposed to a rushed one.” (From the NY Times blog

To answer the title question, playing golf really IS an exercise. In fact, it uses almost every muscle in your body. And by walking the course and carrying or pushing your bag, you can make sure it counts (and maybe even lower your score).

Learn more about the Rose Center for Health & Sports Sciences, and how our docs can help you improve you customize a program for maximum athletic results at

Neil Wolkodoff, Ph.D.

Neil Wolkodoff, Ph.D., has trained a variety of athletes including NFL, NHL, MLB, and Olympic athletes for more than 15 years. Wolkodoff has been a pioneer in applying gas exchange and energy system testing (VO2 Max/AT/Lactate Threshold), to assess and design individual levels of performance. 

In his role as exercise physiologist/director of education for the Pro-Rehab & Fitness Center, he trains the staff on medical and fitness modalities and their use. His clients include various professional and amateur athletes, as well as professionals from the LPGA, PGA and Senior PGA tours. He has contributed articles to Golf Tips, Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, Shape, Men’s Fitness, American Health and He is the author of Core Powered Golf, Physical Golf and Body Logic published by KickPoint Press.




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One Response to Is Playing Golf Really an Exercise?

  1. Pingback: Why Women Golf | Golf Fore Gals

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