Dec 28, 2022
POSTED BY: Nicholas Venditti

Is Golf a Sport?

Golf is a game you can play competitively or not, by yourself or with others, by following all the rules or not. It may be the openness that makes some pause when you say that golf is a sport.

But when you examine the definition of a sport and appreciate the skill, equipment, strategy, and strength golf takes to play well, there's only one answer to this question.

Is Golf a Sport or a Hobby?

There's no doubt the game that roughly 13 million Americans play regularly, which brings in $20 billion annually through the travel industry alone and has proven exercise-based health benefits, is a sport.

But for those who want evidence to persuade them, there are many facts to back that claim up.

Golf Fulfills the Definition of a Sport

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “sport” as any activity that requires physical exertion and skill, whether a game or competition. This activity also must have rules governing the game and can be an activity taken up for enjoyment or professional reasons. 

That's certainly a broad definition that can encompass many different activities. However, most would agree these characteristics reasonably describe sports. 

If you can believe it, Merriam-Webster defines “sport” even more broadly, simply as “a source of diversion.” In that case, shopping, snacking, and watching cartoons could all be sports. But to stick to the more principled definition, a sport requires:

  • - Competition
  • - Physical effort
  • - Skill
  • - Rules

We'll dive into all of these in more depth, but there's no doubt that golf would be considered a sport at a quick glance. It's competitive enough to have one of the most elite and illustrious leagues among all sports. It certainly requires a ton of effort and physical exertion, especially at the professional level. And rules? If you've ever even played a little putt-putt, you know that all golf is rules. But what about skill?

Golf Requires Skill to Play

Golf requires skill to play, and it is arguably one of the most skill-intensive sports out there. Even to play a single, casual round, you are tapping into mental skills and physical techniques that take years to master. Golf isn't a particularly athletic sport, so what it lacks in brawn, it makes up for in brain.

Everything from the golfer’s stance to their swing requires physical and cognitive skills. There are fundamental skills like posture, grip, aim, and setup. Then there is the swing, the follow-through, club face control, striking, and learning how not to scoop. 

Those are just the physical skills. Just like basketball, football, or baseball, golfers also have to make quick assessments of the lay of the land and the techniques that will allow them to get a hole-in-one. And they also have to measure those skills against the par rating for the hole, which measures the ideal score for a proficient golfer. It’s a sport of technique and critical thinking.

As you play golf more, you only learn more skills and techniques that other, more seasoned players employ to edge their game up. So just like any other sport, there’s always room for improvement and mastery. 

Golf Requires Equipment

If there's one thing about golf that marks it at a slight disadvantage from traditional “ball” sports like basketball, baseball, and football, it is all the gear you need to play it. With those three sports, all you need is a ball, though, in the case of baseball, you also need the bat. 

But when it comes to golf, equipment is everything. And that's precisely what makes it a sport. Just as you can say games like football and basketball are sports by virtue of their simplicity, you can say that golf is a sport by virtue of its complexity. Would a mere “hobby” require you to collect at minimum $1000 worth of specially designed gear? All of which you need to train on to know how to use?

From clubs (irons, wedges, putters, and drivers) to the golf bag (hard shell? or soft shell?), you need a lot of equipment to play the game. Then there’s the specialized apparel (most golf courses have dress codes, after all), the tees, rangefinders, towels, and clubhead sleeves. There is so much equipment and gear you practically need an entire closet devoted to it! Such is the commitment the sport requires.

Golf Is a Competitive Game

Perhaps most important of all, golf is competitive. Sure, many golfers opt out of the competitive style of playing. Some prefer leisurely hitting the links every so often, sipping a cocktail from the clubhouse, and barely bothering to keep score. But that sense of leisure and casual play is no different from shooting a few hoops or playing a game of pickup at the local basketball court.

For your average golfer, the sport is a competitive one. Golfers derive motivation and pleasure from playing against others in the sport.

At the professional level, the competitive nature of golf is unmistakable. Players like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are among the world's most skilled and respected athletes. The golf tournaments they compete in are tough to win, combining the hardships of weather, endurance, and fierce competition.

There Is a Professional League System Around Golf

The PGA of America and the PGA Tour are two organizations that make up golf's highest echelon of the professional league system. The PGA of America has many tournaments that rival the prestigious PGA Tour, including the PGA Championship, the Senior PGA Championship, and the Women's PGA Championship.

Stretching back to 1895, when the first U.S. Open first took place in Newport, Rhode Island, golf has been as competitive as it has been serious in the United States. Any seriously competitive sport needs a centralized and neutral body to certify players, declare rules, and organize tournaments. Golf is just as serious in its organization system as the NBA or NFL.

There are Rules Which Govern Game Play

Though it too often seems they were made to be broken, rules are the essence of sports. There would be no points, no out-of-bounds, nothing to tell you who hits first or why, and so on without them.

Rules do more than just make the game competitive and winnable. Rules make the game playable by defining what plays, what doesn't, how to earn points and more. 

Golf Is Physically Strenuous

Contrary to common jokes about golf being a “lazy” activity where all people do is “stand around, drink, and talk,” it is a physically strenuous sport. The average speed PGA players hit the ball with their driver is 168 mph. You can't get to those kinds of speeds without some serious strength. Even with a pitching wedge, the club head speed comes in at an average of 72 mph. That's cooking with serious gas.

Golfing without a cart is one of the best ways to burn calories. Without a cart, the average player burns 396 calories per hour carrying golf clubs around. Compare that to an hour of gymnastics, only burning 288 calories per hour, and an hour of Hatha yoga burning the same amount.

Golfers Old and Young Can Play

Some people see the fact that the old and the young can play golf as a sign that golf is merely a hobby. If anyone can play, it doesn't rise to the seriousness of a sport. But in fact, that just shows the democratic openness of the game, that you can modify your performance to work for any age or ability range. Golf is an especially popular sport with those who are differently abled, as well.

Besides, many other sports have professional-level players that remain in the game until old age. Take Saoul Mamby, who kept on boxing professionally until he was 61!

Defining Your Own Game

You can't let anyone define golf for you. All that matters is what happens on the course. So get all your gear and supplies together and get sporty.

Sports often require supplies, after all, and golf is no exception. Shop Stitch Golf for all your gear and apparel needs.