Is Golf a Sport?

There are many questions asked concerning golf, most of which involve playing equipment, shot technique or strategy.  However, there is one question which may be considered taboo by some but does need addressing, ‘is golf a sport?’

You may have been subject to this question yourself without even realizing it at the time or overheard someone else having a debate on the topic.

Traveling on the train I once overheard a couple arguing about what they were going to do on the weekend.  The man said he was going to play golf on Saturday and his companion reminded him of a wedding he was required to attend.

The argument about what the man was going to do with his Saturday rumbled on until his partner said, ‘anyway, golf isn’t even a sport’.

Unfortunately for the person in question, golf is a sport and there are a number of arguments which back up this claim.  Firstly, we need to take a look at some definitions, so we are clear on the differences between the term sport and other terms used.


Sport has been described as a sport, hobby and pastime but what is the difference between each of these words and what does it mean for golf?


Sport can be defined as ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment’.


A hobby can be defined as ‘an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure’.


A pastime can be defined as ‘an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby’.

As we can see from the above definitions, all three of them can be used to describe playing golf.  For some people, playing golf is an activity for leisure on the weekend with friends and this falls into both the hobby and pastime definition.

However, if we were to look at the various aspects of playing golf, such as the swinging of the golf clubs and the walking involved, there is both physical exertion and skill.  You can also compete against other people, either as an individual or a team when playing golf and that also falls into the definition of sport.

The key here, is the two different perspectives when looking at golf.  From the perspective of the person playing golf, it can be seen as a hobby or pastime.  However, when categorizing or labeling golf in terms of what it is, golf falls into the definition of sport.

So, from the perspective of the person playing golf on the weekend, golf can be labeled a hobby or pastime, but for overall classification, golf is a sport.

With that in mind, what is it about golf which makes it a sport?

Is Golf an Athletic Sport?

Some would argue that golf is not the most strenuous of sports.  If you compare golf to other sports such as football, tennis or soccer, it does not have the same explosiveness or physical contact element which some other sports provide.

However, compare it to motorsport or darts and golf appears to have a more athletic element to it than both of those sports.  In truth, all sports are different and just because one appears to be more athletic than another to the casual observer, it is not always the case.

If you watch a golfer step off a buggy onto the green, make a short putt, walk back to the buggy and drive away, it does not appear very athletic.  Watch Dustin Johnson close up on the tee of a long par-5 hole and you will soon change your mind.  The power generated on the ball when professional golfers tee off is incredible and very athletic.

Some people will point to John Daly as an example of a golfer who is not an athlete.  You can find images of Daley playing a shot with a cigarette in his mouth and clearly this is not the sign of a sportsman at the top of his physical condition.

Nonetheless, Daly could hit the ball along way in his prime and to do that, he needed to use his muscles to generate power on the ball.  This is similar to tennis players when they toss the ball into the air and make a big serve.  It is a physical, athletic activity and the same applies to the golf swing.

Golf may not have the same levels of physical exertion as tennis, football or soccer but that does not mean it is not an athletic event.  Different sports have different fitness requirements and you would not expect to see a golfer in his 50’s playing soccer but would a professional soccer player have the ability to swing a golf club using the balance, technique and power required to match a 50 year old professional golfer off the tee?  Probably not.

Is Golf an Endurance Sport?

If you look at the athletes competing in the Tour de France, they are all at the peak level of fitness required to push their bodies to the limit in an endurance environment.  A golfer could not get on a bike and ride for over 3000 kilometres up mountains and keep pace with the cyclists.

Cycling is an endurance sport and on the face of it, golf is definitely not an endurance sport.

However, a closer look at golf reveals a side of the sport which is often overlooked and that’s mentality.  How often have you been playing golf and things have perhaps not been going very well so you have switched off?  Or perhaps you have reached the 15th hole of a long day on the course and find you are struggling to focus your concentration on the remaining holes?

Endurance is not only physical but also mental and that plays a huge role in sport.  Greg Norman’s collapse at the 1996 Masters is a great example and the Great White Shark fell apart mentally and in doing so the physical side of his game also went to pieces.

Endurance in sport is not only physical but also mental and professional golfers must keep their mind focused on the job for four days in a row to win a tournament.  One lapse of concentration is all it takes and the tournament can be taken away from you in an instant.

Mental strength over a long period of time is key in golf and therefore golf can be classed as an endurance sport.

Is Golf A Difficult Sport to Learn?

As with any question, ‘is golf a difficult sport to learn?’ is relative and in comparison to many other sports, yes, golf is difficult to learn.  Perhaps the best way to understand why golf can be a difficult sport to learn, it is best to look at it from the perspective of a beginner player.

There are several aspects to golf which can make it a difficult sport to learn and they include the following:

  1. The Rules – You must understand the rules before you begin, some of which can be quite complex. However, if you get yourself familiar with the most important rules first, you will know enough to get on the golf course and enjoy a round.  It is when you decide to enter a competition that you must have a finer understanding of the rules.
  2. The Equipment – To play golf you must have the correct equipment. This includes everything from golf clubs and balls to shoes and polo shirts.  However, you do not need a full set of clubs to start playing golf and you can begin with a driver, putter, sand wedge, a couple of low to mid-irons and a pitching wedge.  Do not allow people to put you off by saying you need a full set of clubs to begin playing because you do not.
  3. Beginner Sets – Purchase golf clubs which have been made for beginners. It is very tempting to go out and buy the club you see Jordan Spieth using but the reality is this club is going to be difficult to use.  If you go to a golf store and say you are a beginner, they will advise you on the best set of clubs to start playing golf.  These should help you to hit the ball off the tee, get the ball in the air and have plenty of forgiveness.  Golf is not so difficult to learn if you have the right equipment.
  4. Choose the Right Ball – Much like the clubs, choosing the right golf ball is very important when learning to play golf. Again, you are looking for a golf ball which will help you get the most from your game.  This will probably be a low compression golf ball as these help beginners to get some distance off the tee but also offer some control around the greens.  Having a golf ball to suit your standard and style of play will make playing golf a lot easier.
  5. Take a Lesson – To make things easier from the beginning, you are advised to take a golf lesson. This will get the basics in place immediately and give you the basis to learn the more advanced techniques as you develop.
  6. Practice – As with any sport, you will only get better at golf and ultimately find it easier if you practice. Devise a routine and take it to the driving range where you can spend as many hours as you like on the various aspects of your game.  You will always find golf difficult if you do not practice between rounds but with the right amount of dedication, it will become easier and a lot more fun to play.

So, golf can be a difficult sport to learn but if you follow the tips above, it makes things simpler and beginners can be up and running in no time.  In addition, it can be seen from the individual elements of golf highlighted above, such as rules, equipment and practice, golf is indeed a sport.

Is Golf an Expensive Sport?

Unfortunately, golf is an expensive sport in many ways but at the same time, the costs can be reduced if analyzed properly.

In January 2016, an analysis by Santander showed the average golfer spent $214 per month on playing golf.  This included purchasing clothing, equipment, golf course membership, competition entry fees plus travel and accommodation required.

For someone earning $14,000 per year, this is clearly a lot of money but for someone earning $50,000 per year, it becomes very affordable.  Therefore, the answer to the question ‘is golf an expensive sport?’ is relative to the individual being asked.

However, in comparison to other sports, such as football, soccer, darts and tennis, golf is more expensive.  So, when compared to other sports we can say golf is an expensive sport but for the individual, it remains relative.

For those on a low income or do not want to spend a lot of money for other reasons yet would like to play golf, there are other routes available.  Instead of purchasing a brand new set of golf clubs, you could look online for a second hand set or try charity stores, which often have sets of golf clubs available cheaply.

The same applies to golf balls and you could always play at a public course where you can book a tee time and pay for each individual round rather than a monthly or yearly membership fee.  Municipal golf courses are open to everyone whereas private golf courses are for members only.  If you want to play golf within a budget, you could choose to play on municipal courses and play when you have the funds available.

There is no getting away from the fact golf is an expensive sport when compared to other popular sports and it can seem like golf is a sport for the rich.  However, that should not stop you from getting involved if you have a desire to play and it is possible to enjoy playing golf cheaply if you are happy to use second hand equipment and play at public golf courses.

Is Golf a Popular Sport?

Golf is one of the oldest sports on the planet.  It is widely agreed that the modern form of golf originated in 15th Century Scotland and the number of players has obviously increased dramatically since then.

According to a report by the National Golf Foundation, a trade organization that works with various sectors within the golf industry, 23.8 million people played golf on a course in the United States during 2017, which matches the figures from a year earlier.  Of these people, roughly 20 million can be considered a regular golfer and they account for 95% of the total rounds played and money spent on golf.  However, the number of golf courses were reduced by 1.5% as 205.5 golf courses closed.

Compared to other sports in the United States, golf is doing well in terms of participation rate.  In 2018, 23.4 million people played basketball, 15.6 million played baseball, 11.9 million played soccer and 6.6 million played football.  From these numbers, it is safe to say golf is a popular sport among people in America.

In terms of the people who played golf in the United States in 2017, 5.8 million were women and this accounts for 24% of the total people who played golf that year.  Clearly this shows golf continues to be played mainly by men but 35% of the newcomers to golf in 2017 were women, which is a good sign we will being seeing more female players on the golf course in the future.

As for right now, we can conclude golf is a popular sport and there is every chance we will see this number go up in the years to come.  Golf clubs are beginning to introduce innovative ways for people to play golf, such as paying by the hole rather than for a complete round.  Doing this allows people to squeeze in a few holes of golf when perhaps they do not have time for a full round.  A lunch break or late evening is a great time to play a few holes of golf, when time does not permit 18 holes.

Perhaps one of the major reasons golf is so popular is due to the age at which players can still participate.  At retirement age people go on to play and enjoy golf for many years, with some people not taking up the sport until they are 50 years old.

Other sports such as basketball, football, baseball and soccer tend to see people stop playing once they reach 50 years old than vice-versa.  Some people play golf well into their 70’s and it is a good way to keep fit and socialize, both of which are very important in older age.

Golf is not an older persons sport but is a sport which welcomes people of all ages.

Reasons Why Golf is Not a Sport

The fact older people can enjoy a golf is one of the reasons often produced by people who believe golf is not a sport.  Even in professional golf, players over the age of 50 can come close to winning the big tournaments.  Tom Watson almost won the Open Championship at the age of 59 and for some, that means golf is not a sport.

What are some of the other reasons offered for why golf is not a sport and are any of them valid?

  1. Lack of Speed/Tempo – Many sports have a high tempo to their play, such as football, soccer, tennis and basketball and golf lacks this element. A player will play one shot and then walk to their ball to play their next shot and so on.  There is no flow as such and this is a criticism labeled at golf by those who think it is not a sport.
  2. Walking – As mentioned above, golf involves a lot of walking, especially from one shot or hole to the next. To look at, the player is physically doing nothing, other than walking and this does not constitute a sport.  In football, tennis, basketball and soccer players are constantly running and changing direction.
  3. Lack of Physical Exertion – Golf does not burn the same number of calories as the sports listed above. ESPN conducted a study which showed golf came in at 51st place for activities ranked by factors including endurance, agility and strength.  Rodeo, auto racing and surfing came in ahead of golf.

Despite the points above, they each come with a counter-argument which suggests golf is a sport.  Firstly, each of the reasons given as to why golf is not a sport is using a comparison with other sports.  Golf is a sport in its own right and should be treated as such.  Just because there is less physical exertion in golf than boxing or the overall tempo in golf is slower than tennis is not enough to state golf is not a sport.

Let’s go back to the definition of what makes a sport, ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment’.

If you play an 18 hole round of golf, you will know about it afterwards because there is plenty of physical exertion involved.  There is explosiveness off the tee and mental exertion when planning and executing shots.  It takes a great deal of skill to play the various shots required to be successful at golf.

Unlike sports such as football, basketball or soccer, you cannot be good at one position or aspect of golf, you need to be good at all elements of the sport to succeed.

Whether you play or watch golf being played at the highest level or at amateur level, there is a huge competitive element.  At the Ryder Cup, sometimes the competitiveness can creep over the edge, players are so determined to win the event.

Finally, if you are watching or playing golf you do so because you are being entertained.  Whether it be a local tournament or a PGA Tour event, plenty of people enjoy watching and playing golf.

Is golf a sport?  It ticks all the boxes required to be a sport, so the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.