Modern golf in the form in which we know it today originated from 15th century Scotland, but a similar activity can be dated as far back as the game of paganica in Ancient Rome or chuiwan, a Chinese game which was first played in the eighth century. Golf is a multi-billion dollar industry which continues to grow in America and throughout the world, in the U.S. alone, golf is estimated to be a $76 billion industry.
In recent polls, it is suggested that 38% of Americans consider themselves to be golf fans, and 25.7 million Americans play golf. Clearly, there can be no questioning golf’s popularity, but whether or not golf should be considered a sport is a matter which has caused much debate over the years. Of course, there are valid and reasonable arguments to be made on either side.
Those who claim golf is a sport would point to the fact that it is an activity requiring skill which has an element of competition. They would also point to the fact that golf requires a certain degree of coordination and muscle use, as well as being featured at the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics. However, here are the top 10 reasons why golf is not a sport:
10. You Can Play While Injured
You could not play soccer, basketball or hockey at the highest level with a broken leg, yet a number of golfers are still able to compete in professional tournaments despite injuries which would rule you out of major competitions in any other sport. The most famous example of this came in 2008, when Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open despite playing with his left knee missing an ACL and two stress fractures in his left tibia. (Wow, remember when Tiger was THAT good?)
While we’ve seen many athletes battle through injuries across all sports, it’s a little less impressive to do so while golfing, then say, Terrell Owens playing with screws in his ankle in Super Bowl XXXIX.
9. Olympic Rule
While golf will be an Olympic sport at the 2016 Summer Olympics, it hadn’t been an Olympic sport since 1904 prior to the decision to include it in Rio. The decision has been heavily criticized from some quarters, with suggestions that golf has only been re-introduced and had its 112 year absence ended because of its growing popularity, and the lucrative sponsorship opportunities it brings. Whilst some claim the decision shows golf is a sport, the likes of race walking and pistol shooting are all Olympic events, and the tug of war was even competed more recently (1920) than golf.
8. Competition/Score Keeping Does Not Equal Sport
The fact that there is an element of competition, that is to say, a number of individuals competing against one and another, and scores are kept and tallied up throughout, some believe, is sufficient evidence that golf is a sport. While both elements are common to both golf and almost all other sports, they do not, in of themselves, qualify golf as a sport. For example, spelling bees and poker have both of these elements, but few would argue that they should be considered sports.
7. Lack of Speed/Tempo
Most sports have some speed and tempo to them. They pick up pace and slow down, with the tempo ebbing and flowing throughout the game/competition. Golf does not. Players play their shots and then slowly make their way to the ball and play their next shot, before proceeding to the next whole. The tempo rarely changes, and the vast majority of the spectacle is not the game itself being played. It is perhaps for this reason that no golfing event ranks among the top 10 competitions for viewing figures whilst rugby union, cycling and cricket events all do.
6. Age of Players
In most sports, athletes have a peak and an expiry date. Most soccer players retire around the age of 35, and most highly competitive sports have similar or even younger average retirement ages. The oldest ever professional soccer player was 50, the oldest American football player was 48, the oldest basketball player was 52, the oldest tennis player was 49 and the oldest rugby union player 40. Yet the oldest golfer was 79 years of age. Furthermore, whilst in most sports players deteriorate with age, some golfers find their best form late in life, such as Tom Watson who almost won the British Open aged 59. While it’s all well and good that golfers can hit their prime later in life, is that really the sign of a sport? Sure, an activity requiring strong mental acumen and lots of experience, but not one to display peak athleticism.
5. Golfers Are Not Athletes
You only need to look at some golfers to see that they are quite clearly not athletes at the peak of their physical conditioning. The likes of Guy Boros, Kevin Stadler, John Daly and Mark Calcavecchi are prime examples. Many golfers drink and smoke without it having any impact upon their game and form, in other sports that is simply not possible. Whilst people can point to soccer players or baseball players who may have smoked, they still had a great deal of strength, stamina or athleticism. It definitely sounds like something fun to do with your friends at some point, but how can a game justify itself as a sport where those kind of habits are permitted and don’t affect one’s game?
4. Skill Doesn’t Mean Sport
Some argue that the fact that golf requires skill and practice means that it is a sport. While it is undoubtedly true that golf requires a great deal of skill and ability and takes much time to become good enough to compete at the highest level, so do very many things which people would never claim were sports. Chess requires all of those things, as does brain surgery or theoretical physics, but you would be laughed at for suggesting that those things qualified them as sports.
3. Much of The Activity is Walking
An hour of golf without a cart or caddie burns, on average, 360 calories. By comparison, an hour of basketball burns 727 calories, soccer over 900 and boxing even more than that. Golfers who use a cart burn around 208 calories, meaning that walking constitutes 42% of the work in golfing. Given that walking is not considered a major part of golf, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in the PGA Tour v. Martin case of 2001, golf itself, which is the integral part of the sport, requires almost as much effort as the walking, which is not.
2. It’s a Game
While one can argue that golf matches the official definition of sport, being “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”, the definition of a game seems to match golf far more accurately, that being, “an amusement or pastime; a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.” Calling it a game rather than a sport does not detract from golf or its players. It just seems to capture the essence of golf far more accurately than the definition of a sport. Anybody who has a skillset in golf should be proud of it, but calling it a sport just doesn’t seem right to many people.
1. Lack of Physical Exertion
Ultimately, when one thinks of a sport, they tend to think of something which requires a fair amount of physical exertion. As stated in point three, golf requires nowhere near as much effort physically or calories as almost any other sport. When ESPN ranked 60 activities by their athletic rigor using factors such as endurance, agility and strength, golf finished in 51st place. Almost all major sports ranked in the top 10. Table tennis and weight lifting both finished higher, with golf only narrowly beating roller skating and archery.
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