Growing up, if golf ended up on the television, it sure didn’t stay there long, with those overweight guys drinking and smoking cigars…golf may be a contest yes, but a sport?… No. Grainy black & white tvs did nothing to generate any interest, and frankly, with my as yet undiagnosed eye difficulty, I couldn’t even see the ball unless I was so close that some grown-up sternly warned me it would ‘hurt my eyes to sit that close’. Little did I suspect then I would use golf as medicine, and spend so much time in telling people Golf is Good. It is a sport in which I have seen old men best young bucks and seen an eleven year old boy beat several members of the mens club. I’ve enjoyed local wildlife, benefitted from cross training and short bursts of cardio, the course is usually filled with the sounds of serenity or happy men. Breathing in the cleanest air in the neighborhood, surrounded by trees water grass and sand, touching the earth while playing a game, how could I help but say, Golf is Good
In my fifty’s, after my back surgery, a friend invited me to the golf course and introduced me to a new friend. Historically, I have been less than coordinated, let’s say…that last kid picked…for any team…me. and for good reason. Playing catch, I’d stick out my hands to get the ball and catch it…Wham with my forehead. Could never climb that rope. could run long distances but was slow and face it, I could skip faster than I could run. If red robin sent someone over they knew they could break that chain at me, the weakest link. But since I figured getting out of the house was getting out of the house and I would have good company, why not try to expand my horizons and see what happen. I was fortunate enough met Rex Cole, my favorite golf pro, he saw my total lack of rotation in my back and told me not to worry, “Everyone has their own cup of tea.” He gave me little drills that I could do that surprisingly opened up my hips, helped me drop my guarded, spasmed posture and even though I didn’t know it then, gave me vision therapy exercises I wouldn’t know the value of for another two years.; and even though I understand that golf may lead to some people having to have back surgery, for me golf was and continues to be an integral part of my rehab program after my back surgery.
So how does this make golf good for me? How is my enjoyment not just a golf addicts fix? Golf has helped to improve my endurance, strength, coordination, visual acuity, improved my flexibility that is still expanding. But beyond that, why do I think golf is good for human beings? Well for starters Golf is played outside, in the sunshine…and exposure to sunshine helps boost our immune system, gives a hedge against type ll diabetes, is vitally important for vitamin D development, which is a key player in the body’s calcium absorption system, strengthening bones and working against osteoporosis.
Golf is good for vision. Vision is more than just opening your eyes and receiving input. The visual gymnastics required for an excellent round uses almost the full capacity of your eyes and many types of focus. The estimation of distance to the flag, the water’s edge, the sand trap, these are all complex mental exercises that also incorporate physical movement of the optic nerve. Reading the green, detecting variation in pitch distance observing obstacles (like unrepaired ball marks and earthworms) incorporate accurate depth perception. Following the trajectory of a rapidly moving ball requires changing of focus with aspects of tracking, convergence and divergence. I don’t even want to talk about those trees that I swear come and jump in front of my well aimed ball. This game makes your eyes do gymnastics you can’t get with a book, video game or driving down the highway in part because of how the eyes are used in the expanse of the course. Changing from near to far, evaluating right, left, physically your eyes get a work out. As a result, the optic nerve, a cranial nerve which originates in the brain but attaches to the eye itself, is different from any other nerve in the body by being more like brain tissue than nerve tissue. Exercising your eyes by changing focus on distance, focus during motion, engaging full use of depth perception tracing other golfers in the periphery actually can make changes in the hard wiring of your brain and contribute to neuroplasticity. (the brain’s ability to change and improve itself in response to challenges) Putting is it’s own exercise and reward, there is a vision therapy exercise done with a string with multiple beads on it (Brock string) that is very much like changing focal points to line up the ball with the flag at different holes or different distances from the ball. When I started doing vision therapy this one drove me crazy, because the beads would vanish as my eyes switched dominance. As I got better with the Brock string, my ability to line up my puts improved dramatically. When I started playing golf, I did not realize how different from normal my ability to focus was but I learned to focus, and started actually hitting the ball and sinking putts. My ability to focus on other things has improved as golf has demanded better visual tracking. My kids aren’t as afraid to ride in the car when i’m driving 😉
Golf is good for improving motor planning skills. It takes skill to hit a golf ball. it takes even more skill to hit it where you want it to go. Yes you want to hit the ball and make it go into the hole, but how? At first people just want to make contact with that tiny ball that sits on the tee mocking them….”I dare you to hit me” it scoffs…Whack! off the toe. Whack! off the heel, Whiff! Try not to fall down, but once you make that perfect point of contact once, you’re hooked. That in 5 strokes you are expected to hit any object a quarter of a mile and land it in a hole about the size of a can of pop is amazing, especially since you need to do that going around corners and avoiding obstacles that were planted there just to mess with your head and make it more difficult. No matter your skill level the goal is to do this keeping up with the group ahead of you and staying out of the way of the folks behind you and to either side.
Pace of play is not determined by skill level but by a person’s ability to be focused enough on the game to know when they can hit, how to keep up with the group ahead of them. how to take delight without dawdling. Paying attention to where each members balls are in relation to the others keeps from having strange meandering paths on the fairways and allows for better flow of the course. That hole placement changes day to day, the strategy to hit the perfect shot at the same course from the from the spot requires thought every time you step up to hit the ball. this stimulates judgement centers in the brain that once you’ve awakened them with golf, they are at your disposal for any other aspect of your life be it assembling a bicycle, a project at work, or planning your next vacation. Golf gives your mind and body practice seeing variations on a theme, making and executing good choices, practice on persevering even when your best efforts go astray. You learn to be more aware of your surrounding even if it’s to avoid being hit by someone elses errant shot.
Golf is good for flexibility, strength, balance and endurance. Weather a cart is used or a golfer carries his bag, golfers walk. Cardio activity is achieved. People can increase the amount of cardio by losing the cart but walking is part of the game. Golfers balance is challenged as they traverse different textured surfaces, earth, sand, hard-pack, weeds….(others may find soft grass and fairways 😉 ) The rotation of a great swing will include turning at ankles, knees, hip socket, pelvis on spine, spine, shoulders while maintaining stability of the skull. The centrifugal force generated by the club head can be enough to create a little springy rebound motion at the end of the rotational range of motion, gently pushing the joint past its usual boundary increasing flexibility or at least taking advantage of the .properties of cartilage.
Stretches in preparation for a round or even as a 15 second fix done during a round provide lubrication to joints that may just slow down the aging process. I know several golfers over 80 years old, but not many football players even in pick up games after the age of 50. Most men will carry their own bag at least from their car to the bag drop and will keep up their strength so they will not feel emasculated in front of their friends. Golfers can bend over. They have to! Putting the tee in the ground, lining up a putt, picking up your ball. Men who cannot bend over to pick up their socks at home can all reach a half an inch above the earth for a wayward Titleist.
The frequently prescribed drills, exercises and stretches look strikingly similar to PNF patterns. In physical therapy we used these patterned exercises (PNF) with high functioning athletes and low functioning brain-damaged persons; and in my estimation, the golf swing done correctly is a perfect full body PNF activity. The golf swing done correctly incorporates flexion and extension, internal and external rotation, as well as abduction and adduction. the swing uses both concentric and eccentric contractions. The centrifugal force of the club coming around can pull a person off balance Being able to swing a club full force and not fall down is really quite a remarkable feat. As people work on their swing to improve their score, they do not realize they are freeing up their hips, keeping their respiratory system open by keeping the shoulder girdle from sticking to the rib cage, the almost chiropractic type adjustment that happens when a still skull encounters and resists an actively rotating spine when the ball hits the club and the head is the other end of that impact is absolutely amazing…unless…the shoulders, wrists, hips, ankles,,,do not go through their patterns correctly. I have seen developmentally disabled persons hit the ball better than I ever will. and laughed as college football jocks skull one into the lake.
Golf is good social interaction. Golf fosters friendships and crosses many cultural boundaries. Tournaments bring people together, whether supporting Wounded Warriors Foundation, celebrating a birthday, raising money for Stoney’s Kids you never know who you are going to run into at the golf course. I have played with Chinese, Scottsmen, Germans, Americans from across the country and neighbors I didn’t know I had. I met my mechanic at the golf course.. People who love golf have a connection…it’s almost like church. Strangers who play, know the buzz words or at least can appreciate a good shot and cringe together at spectacular looking duff. The handicapping system, scrambles, alternate scoring methods,makes it very easy for highly skilled and novices to together or even against each other in such a way the inferior player can still beat his buddy. Most courses will try to pair up singles, or create foursomes from twosomes to help with pace of plays. Some of the happy accidents of ‘fate’ lead to business opportunities and even to life long friendships,
Golf challenges people to take one shot at a time, and to leave the problems or successes of the last hole behind. Some people get angry when they hit a bad shot but regular golfers realize that just like in life you can’t hit them all exactly where you want them to go, but you can line things up, swing away, and hopefully end up closer to your destination and have fun along the way. Learning to laugh at miss-hits, learning to take each swing at its own entity, regular golf helps people regulate their moods.
Where else can you drive and have some friendly person bring you a sandwich or a cold beverage? Who else will not only allow you to drink and drive, but will rent you the cart and bring you the alcohol? If you need peace and quiet, come early & play alone High school students and successful professionals sit in the same club house, play on the same scramble teams, a compete for the same awards. If you have a favorite course that you frequent, the other regulars can become like family. Some of the men are like little ole women knowing the latest gossip around the course. We attend each others weddings, funerals, fundraisers for sick children or other charitable causes. We contribute $20 for a $10 hat because we love the cause hosting a particular tournament. If you’re lucky you get the Cheers “Norm!” greeting when you walk in after your round.
Many courses rely heavily on volunteer help, usually as an exchange for golf discounts or other course benefits. Marshalls and Ambassadors help with miscellaneous tasks, repairing divots, greeting golfers and giving inside course knowledge, helping golfers with lost balls or lost sense of time. These volunteers may instruct golf etiquette and help control pace of play on the course. Sometimes duties include helping set up contests or assisting before tournaments. Responsibilities and rewards are negotiated differently at different courses but this is how I get my golf fix on my golf budget.
I have a friend that swears golf is good as a screening tool for potential mates…In a single round of golf, you can tell an awful lot about a person’s character. When dating a new person who is already a golfer, because their game is more familiar to them than you are, and the length of the day, you get to see how they react to challenges in general, their behaviour on the course is likely representative of how they live off the course.. who selects the course? How do they handle disappointments and difficult situations? Do they have a temper? Is there club throwing or foul language with bad shots? Do they try to help you with your swing…is that ok with you? Know how they keep their bag is indicative of what they want in their personal space. Do they appreciate etiquette? You get a general idea of their athleticism, flexibility, posture, unguarded response to success and failure, their attitude towards rules, boundaries and how they act in competitive situations. How do they treat the course employees…from check-out to beverage service. Does their sweat smell like sexy heaven? Are they more playful or competitive…if in a foursome how do they treat or interact with the others? Do they cheat on you or for you, give strokes, stack the deck in your favor or theirs. Do they appreciate the beauty of the course or just run from hole to hole? How irritated do they get if they have to wait on the guys ahead, cause that’s what they will be like if you are late. The actual score at the end of the day doesn’t matter as much as is there gloating or crying or excuse making or is the card forgotten,(once all bets have been settled).A half a day of golf can weed out 6 months of investigative dating. I understand some companies screen potential employees the same way for the same reason. Even someone who has never played will show how they respond to new challenges.
Golf is good for sanity, serenity and whimsy. Golfers the zone get almost a meditative quality about them. especially the golfers who come out on their own, not looking for company early in the morning or late in the afternoon when fairly sure they will have a piece of the course so they can find their own peace of course. It requires discipline and perseverance to achieve a high level of play and one reaps the rewards of meditation and grooved motions, golf is like yoga in that respect. Paradoxically an averagely athletic person with minimal introduction can have a fun time and feel successful in a scramble tournament. Women joke that men don’t share their feelings, this is not true on the golf course. Unbridled joy and pride are expressed with the same enthusiasm as disappointment and anger, even when it’s not verbally expressed, this game gives a guy an opportunity experience the full gamut of emotions while breathing in the cleanest air in a city because of the cleansing nature of sunshine, trees and water. Something about it simply soothes the soul. Then you have people like me who see pixies sailing on the floating cottonwood seeds at dusk, who have half convinced themselves that the floating log is actually an alligator resting in that pond I’m avoiding. The conversations with wild life that live in the fringes of the course mostly my mind rival Disney concoctions. Imagining how a well struck shot would look is almost as good as actually hitting the shot as drawn up…and that kind of whimsy is actually encouraged, and shots that have been pre-imagined are twice as satisfying as those wonderful happy accidents, and they feel soooo good.
Golf is good for other strange reasons: Biofeedback, Meditation, Electromagnetic grounding, Chlorophyll absorption, Sunshine and bunnies. That ‘picture a good shot in your mind’ is actually both a meditation and biofeedback exercise. When people think of biofeedback, generally they picture a darkened room with soft music and electrodes. Golf at higher levels depends on a consistently available swing The trajectory of the ball lets you know of your success. There are folks that prefer the driving range, others that work chipping, and the ones who really love their game who putt. Studies that mention the benefits of meditation abound, but strangely I’ve never seen golf in a meditation book but, affirmations “go in go in go in” “Put the biscuit in the basket” “keep your head down” “follow through” all of those things that become incorporated in to a players game seem to follow the basic rules of meditation practice.
Touching the earth, once very common, tends to be a lost aspect of ‘civilized’ society. Evidence has recently led to studies in earthing that shows even placing the tee in the ground or brushing away leaves, is good for your bodies electrical system, literally golf is grounding. Golf courses have larger amounts of nice green grass than most neighborhoods. Chlorophyll is known to help bodies to detoxify, and although breathing in golf course air is not like getting a green shake at Jamba Juice, frequent mowing and schedules keep the air feeling green. Then comes the sun, the rain, wind, the fog, changing temperatures, golf allows one to experience the full range of weather, and the different ionic environments available. A golf course supports life, the hawks, ducks, bunnies, coyotes and other animals that surround the course both entertain us and sustain us. Golf is good.
I believe the golf swing done correctly is a perfect full body PNF pattern with what resembles a chiropractic adjustment at the junction of the neck base of the skull at the moment of impact, usually done in an environment were the practitioner is breathing in chlorophyll and absorbing vitamin D at the same time. What’s not to love?!