Golf: the unlikely big hit of the pandemic
A year ago, golf was such a dwindling sport, Sydney’s lord mayor Clover Moore proposed halving one of the country’s most popular courses to provide more parklands for locals.
The pandemic however has provided a hole-in-one for the game. Being one of the few sports permitted to continue during lockdown,golf is enjoying its first uptick in numbers since Greg Norman gave Australians someone to swing for, with a quarter of a million more people playing in the last year.
Swinging into golf: more people are playing the game.Credit:Illustration by Dionne Gain
And despite its undeniable image problem in recent years – which stems partly from the perception that the vast swathes of green space are elitist sanctuaries for wealthy, mostly male, toffs – Golf Australia chief executive officer, James Sutherland, insists it’s changing and that it is a game for everyone.
“You could play with four generations of your family,” he says. “It is for all ages, all backgrounds, all demographics and all abilities.”
In fact, children as young as 10 and adults as old as 100 are among those hitting the greens, while Golf Australia’s Vision 2025 campaign aims to address imbalances and attract more girls and women to the game. (Men make up about 80 per cent of club members).
So what’s the attraction?
“It’s sport, it’s exercise and it’s social. Those things make for a magical combination,” Sutherland says.
It’s also out in nature, naturally lends itself to social distancing and has a game element, all of which adds to its appeal and provide benefits to mental wellbeing.
“It’s exercise with a bit of pleasure,” says Dr Rene Ferdinands, a biomechanics expert in cricket, tennis and golf at the University of Sydney. “And you derive the health benefits you get from a light to moderate walking exercise.”
These can include weight-reduction along with improved cholesterol, respiratory and cardiovascular health.
Playing 18 holes, which works out to be somewhere between six and 11.5 kilometres and takes an average of 4 hours and 17 minutes, has other benefits too.
Golf improves balance, flexibility and muscle strength. One study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, even found a 40 per cent reduction in premature mortality rates among 300,000 golfers, corresponding to an increase in life expectancy of about five years.
Sadly, Ferdinands says, if you eat snacks and drink beer while playing “the health benefits disappear”.
OK, no drinking and driving. But with all the sticks and swings, am I likely to get injured?
About 15 per cent of golfers sustain injuries, most commonly to their wrist, elbow or back, though there is the odd case of “swing ding” from standing too close to the golfer.
Ferdinands assures that most injuries are preventable through good technique.
He suggests a narrow stance and turning your shoulders and hips to check your natural rotation. Match your backswing to that rotation and, using an arm-based swing, take the golf club up and down the swing plane. As you move, raise the front heel off the ground, transferring the weight to the back leg.
“You don’t lose any distance yet it takes the strain off the back,” he says of this approach, adding: “You don’t need a full backswing. Up to 95 per cent of the golf club speed can be retained with a three-quarter swing but you do away with a lot of the strain and the lumbar loads.”
Finally, Ferdinands, who is developing a 3D swing model to help professional and amateur golfers, says trying to buy the same clubs as top amateurs or professionals can harm more than help too.
Ah yes, the gear. What do I need exactly?
Women’s clubs for a start. Seriously. Ferdinands says they tend to be better for both men and women who are starting out in the sport.
This is because they have more flex and are more likely to be shorter, lighter graphite clubs.
They will “absolutely” help to prevent injury and make beginners play better, he says.
He also suggests one length shaft golf clubs (he recommends the Cobra golf set), which make learning easier, and a low compression ratio ball: “The ladies one is probably the best one. It’s essentially a softer ball.”
Michael Button, the managing director of House of Golf, says you can get a decent beginners package (which includes a driver, a fairway wood, a full set of irons and a putter) for about $600.
Grab some balls, a pair of shoes and a collared shirt and “you’re pretty much ready to go,” says Button.
Fashion on the course has changed significantly in the last decade, he says: “Ten years ago Tiger wore a shirt at The Masters that didn’t have a collar and no one could believe it.”
Now, a mock shirt or non-collared shirt is an acceptable part of golfing attire at many courses.
“It needs to be more relaxed,” says Button, who adds that the most popular brands are TaylorMade, Callaway, Ping and Titleist. “The next generation don’t want to be told they have to do this or that. I think that shift has been good.”
And etiquette and golf lingo?
While the dress code, particularly at public courses has become more relaxed, etiquette at private courses remains strict. For instance collared shirts, no hats in the club, tailored pants (no jeans) and logoless socks are among the regulations.
In terms of play, the furthest away from the hole usually plays first and one of the biggest no-nos is walking on the line of someone else’s putt.
As for lingo, golf like other sports, has some crackers:
- Par: The number of strokes a good golfer should play to complete one hole
- Birdie: A score of one under par on a hole
- Eagle: A score of two under par
- Double Eagle or Albatross: Three strokes under par on a hole
- Bogey: One stroke over par on a hole
- Double Bogey: Two strokes over par on a hole
- Triple Bogey: You get the picture
- Ace: Hole in one
What will it cost me for a stroll on the links?
It depends. Membership at a private course costs between $1500 and $6000 a year plus a joining fee that can be upwards of $20,000 depending on where you play.
At a public golf course which, as the name suggests, you don’t need to be a member to play, 18 holes starts at about $40, plus club hire. But golf, according to James Sutherland, also includes putt-putt, driving ranges and simulated golf, all of which provide a pathway to the full game and all of which are more affordable: “All golf is golf,” he says.
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