Perhaps George Bernard Shaw was looking into the future when he referred to golf as a good walk ruined. In this age of electric golf carts, there’s very little walking required for a round of 18 holes. Although the out-of-shape crowd can play golf, it can be more physically demanding and beneficial, fitness experts say. Being in better physical shape before playing can also reduce the risk of injuries.
Matt Thomas, a physical therapist at Baptist Sports Care Center in Clinton, said there are different levels of exercise when playing golf.
“Riding in a cart is the lowest level. Pulling a cart is a higher level and gives some cardiovascular workout, and walking and carrying a 30-pound bag on your back is the highest level,” he said. “Walking up and down the hills of a golf course carrying a bag is a pretty good workout even though you’re stopping and starting. It’s several miles over the course of four hours. I think that’s pretty tough and great exercise.”
He pointed out that high school golfers must walk and carry their bags to get the maximum workout.
Jay O’Mara, M.D., of the Mississippi Sports Medicine Clinic in Jackson, agrees. “For the most fitness benefit, don’t use a cart,” he said. “Most people would walk four to five miles a round but walk less than one mile in a cart. I think the myth of unfit people playing golf comes from seeing a guy with a beer belly hitting a ball around on television.”
In his eight years of practicing sports medicine, O’Mara has done more knee surgeries than anything else, but the majority of golf injuries he sees are elbows and shoulders and are caused by over use or repetitive motion. Many injuries could be avoided by warming up properly.
“I also see some hip and knee injuries from golf,” he said. “Golfers can improve their flexibility — that’s the main thing — through core strengthening. That and anything on the forearms and upper arms will improve a golf game by helping the player get more distance off the tee.”
Thomas said many golfers, if they’re like him, swing a lot, and every swing strengthens their trunk and should muscles. “Your level of fitness and play depends on what you’re shooting for and how fit you are already,” he said. “Riding a bike or walking on a treadmill is good exercise to get physically ready to play. Better still is to walk outside in the heat.”
He and other therapists at the Sports Care Center help enthusiasts with a lot of core strengthening — including scapular, rotator cuff and shoulder — to get muscles in shape and stronger.
“That builds up muscles,” Thomas said. “Golf is an endurance sport, not a power sport. I play and I have trouble with my shoulders, so I work on that. When someone comes in, we work on their needs.”
The injuries he sees are mostly shoulders and wrists with some elbow injuries occasionally.
The golf guide Web site Montrealplus.ca recommends training over a three month span as ideal. Training should include stretching to build flexibility as a way to improve the game and avoid injuries. As with O’Mara and Thomas, this source also cites strengthening golf-related muscles as an important aspect of the program. Despite the don’t-over-extend theory, golfers still have to be relatively strong to execute a swing with speed and control.
Another word of caution: a golfer’s pulse in times of stress ranges from 110 and 144 beats per minute. “To play this great sport, you not only require flexibility and strength, but a strong heart,” the website states. “You don’t get into good shape by practicing a sport; you need to be in good shape to practice it well!”
O’Mara and Thomas think golf is good exercise and escape from day-to-day duties, a sport that is growing regionally as Mississippi gains more courses and more golfers enjoy the state’s almost year round playing season.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.