Is Golf a Sport?
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Is Golf a Sport?
Golf - is it a Sport?
Golf in the United States is a $76 billion annual industry with 25.7 million players. Thirty-eight percent of Americans call themselves golf fans. The debate over whether or not golf is a sport wages on the internet, in bars, amongst sportswriters, and even on the golf course.

Proponents say that golf meets the definition of "sport" found in the dictionary, requires physical exertion and coordination, and is recognized as a sport by sporting goods companies, athletic associations, fans, the media, and more. They point to golf's inclusion in the Olympics starting in 2016 as further evidence of its qualification as a sport.

Opponents say that golf better meets the definition of "game" than "sport," does not require rigorous physical activity, and can be played professionally by people who are overweight, injured, or non-athletic. They argue that golf is a game or leisure activity, and they cite golf's 112-year absence from the Olympics as proof that it is not a sport. Read more...


Did You Know?

Pro & Con Arguments

Top Pro & Con Quotes


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Did You Know?
  1. Golf was banned in Scotland in 1457 because King James II worried that people were too distracted by the game to develop archery skills needed to protect the country from the English. [1]

  2. Golf was included in the 1900 and 1904 Olympics, then removed for 112 years until its return at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. [2]

  3. Golfer Tiger Woods in 2009 became the first athlete to surpass one billion dollars in career earnings (prize money and endorsements), making him the richest athlete of all time. [3]

  4. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in PGA Tour v. Martin (2001) that allowing a golfer to use a cart instead of walking the course would not "fundamentally alter the nature" of the game. [4]

  5. The Associated Press has named a golfer its "Female Athlete of the Year" 24 times (30% of honorees) since the award began in 1931; a golfer has been named "Male Athlete of the Year" nine times (11% of honorees). [5]
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Pro & Con Arguments: "Is Golf a Sport?"
PRO Golf Is a Sport
  1. Golf meets the definition of the word "sport" found in many dictionaries. Merriam-Webster defines sport as "physical activity engaged in for pleasure: a particular activity (as an athletic game)." [6] says a sport is "an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc." [7]

  2. Like all sports, golf requires physical exertion. Golfers who play a nine-hole course (2-2.5 miles [8]) without a cart while carrying their own clubs burn 721 calories (613 calories if a caddie carries the bag of clubs which weighs 30-50 pounds on average). [9] [10] Professional tournaments have four rounds of 18 holes, which would be 4,904 calories burned over four days. Golfing without a cart burns an average of 360 calories per hour (306 with a caddie), compared to about 364 per hour spent curling, 345 doing gymnastics, and 273 bowling. [11] [29]

  3. Sports require coordinated muscle use, and the golf swing uses at least 17 muscle groups in the coordinated movement of the hands, wrists, arms, abdomen, and legs according to a study in the BMJ (British Medical Journal). [13] Playing golf on a professional level requires athletic ability to walk long distances (4-5 miles per 18-hole course [8]) and hit long drives with consistent depth and aim. [14]

  4. The Olympics are the ultimate worldwide sporting event, and golf was selected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for inclusion starting in 2016. It had been included in two prior Olympics, 1900 and 1904. [2]

  5. Golf falls under the purview of the athletic departments of colleges and universities, and is subject to the authority of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). [15] Golf athletic scholarships are offered for men at 294 Division I schools and for women at 238 Division I schools. [16]

  6. Professional golfers are considered athletes by mainstream media. The Associated Press has named a golfer as its Female Athlete of the Year 24 times since the award began in 1931, meaning golfers account for 30 percent of the honorees. The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year has been a golfer nine times, or 11 percent of the honorees. [5]

  7. Sports agents, sponsors, and sporting goods manufacturers consider golf to be a sport. Nike's website calls golf a "great sport" and makes products to help "athletes to perform at their physical and mental peak." [17] Golfer Tiger Woods is the richest athlete in history and was the first athlete to surpass one billion dollars in career earnings (prize money and endorsements). [3] Woods has many sponsorships in common with athletes from other sports, including Gillette, Rolex, and NetJets. Golfers are often represented by agents from major sports management companies. [18] [19]

  8. In golf, like in other sports, there is a correlation between physical training and improved performance. A 2009 peer-reviewed study found that golfers who focus on balance, flexibility, posture, core stability, strength, power, and cardiovascular training have better results. [8] Rory McIlroy, World No.1 as of May 23, 2012, credits his training regimen with helping him reach the top spot. Tiger Woods has reportedly bench pressed as much as 315 pounds. [20]

  9. Golf is so physically demanding that up to 62 percent of amateur golfers and approximately 88 percent of professional golfers suffer injuries each year. Playing golf can lead to problems in the lower back, elbow, wrist, hand, shoulder, or head. [21] More than half of professional golfers have had to stop playing because of their injuries. [22] One-third of PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) players have experienced lower back injuries that lasted more than two weeks. [23]

  10. Golf has an anti-doping policy and conducts drug tests on the players because performance enhancing drugs could improve a player's results. In 2009, American Doug Barron became the first player to be suspended by the PGA Tour for testing positive for an unnamed performance-enhancing drug. [24]

  11. A June 2011 peer-reviewed study categorized 159 sports as one of three types: combat, independent, or object. Golf is one of 74 independent sports, along with others such as gymnastics, track and field, swimming, speed skating, and surfing. Not all sports have to be object (like football and baseball), or combat (like boxing and karate). [25]

  12. Golf has many things in common with other sports, including: professional men's and women's tours with rankings, tournaments all over the world, millions of fans, television coverage, scoring, and winners. The TV guide lists golf events under sports programs. [26]
CON Golf Is a Sport
  1. Golf better matches the defintion of a game than a sport. Merriam-Webster defines a game as an "activity engaged in for diversion or amusement." [27] says a game is "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." [28]

  2. Unlike a sport, golf is not a rigorous physical activity. Burning 360 calories per hour playing golf without a cart or caddie is far less than the number of calories burned per hour in competitive sports: 900 in soccer, and 727 in football, basketball, and tennis. [9] [29]

  3. Golfers are not athletes. Professional golfers are sometimes overweight, old, or out of shape, and their caddies carry the equipment for them. There is no running, jumping, or cardiovascular activity in golf. If an activity does not make you break a sweat, or if it can be done while drinking and smoking, then it is not a sport.

  4. The fact that golf can be difficult and requires practice and skill to achieve proficiency does not mean it qualifies as a sport. Brain surgery, chess, and computer programming are difficult tasks that also require practice and mental acuity, but they are clearly not sports.

  5. Golf involves competition, keeping score, and declaring a winner, but those qualities alone do not make it a sport. Spelling bees, poker, and darts are competitions with scores and winners, which are sometimes broadcast on the sports network ESPN, but one would not consider those activities to be sports. [30]

  6. Athletic experts agree that golf lacks the athletic rigor needed to be a real sport. Golf was ranked 51 out of 60 activities by a panel of sports scientists, athletes, and journalists assembled by ESPN. They ranked the athletic difficulty of 60 activities based on ten categories such as endurance, agility, and strength. The panel determined that the level of athleticism in golf ranked lower than ping pong and just ahead of roller skating. [31]

  7. Nearly half of the maximum calories burned while playing golf are from walking the course and carrying the clubs, but the US Supreme Court ruled that walking is not an essential aspect of golf. In PGA Tour v. Martin (2001), the justices ruled 7-2 that the pro tour had to allow a golfer with a disability to use a golf cart because it would not "fundamentally alter the nature" of the activity. [4] Using a cart while playing golf reduces the number of calories burned by 42% percent (from 721 to 411 for nine holes). [9]

  8. The fact that golfers are able to be competitive professionally so far past the age of peak athleticism -- age 26 according to a June 2011 peer-reviewed study -- shows that golf is not a sport. For example, Tom Watson nearly won one of the biggest tournaments in professional golf, the British Open, at age 59 in 2009. Jack Nicklaus won 11 of his 18 majors after turning 30. [32] [33]

  9. If you can compete in a professional tournament with a broken leg, it is not a sport. Tiger Woods not only played the 2008 US Open with two stress fractures in his left tibia, he actually won the whole event. Woods even played an additional 18 holes to break a tie score following the first four rounds. [34]

  10. The possibility of getting injured while playing golf does not make it a sport because many non-sport activities, such as sitting at a desk and typing all day, lifting a heavy box, or sleeping in the wrong position, also commonly lead to injuries. [35] [36]

  11. Golf has been excluded from the Olympics for more than a century, as have other non-sports, including croquet (last included in 1900), motorboat racing (last competition in 1908), and tug of war (last done in 1920), After being included in the 1900 and 1904 Olympic games, golf was removed for what will have been a 112-year absence before returning in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Race walking, pistol shooting, and rhythmic gymnastics have been in the Olympics longer than golf. [2] Some people believe the decision to allow golf in the Olympics was a political move based not on its merit as a sport, but as a game that attracts lucrative financial sponsorships. [37] [38]

  12. Some people think that if an activity does not involve defense or an opponent trying to affect your performance, then it is not a sport. In hockey, a player can steal the puck and a goalie can block a shot. In football, a pass can be intercepted and someone can be tackled to prevent him from scoring. There is no defense in golf, and participants are unable to impact the outcome of their opponents' scores.
Comment Comment
Background: "Is Golf a Sport?"
Golf in the United States is a $76 billion annual industry with 25.7 million players. Thirty-eight percent of Americans call themselves golf fans. [39] [40] [41]The debate over whether or not golf is a sport wages on the internet, in bars, amongst sportswriters, and even on the golf course.

Proponents say that golf meets the definition of "sport" found in the dictionary, requires physical exertion and coordination, and is recognized as a sport by sporting goods companies, athletic associations, fans, the media, and more. They point to golf's inclusion in the Olympics starting in 2016 as further evidence of its qualification as a sport.

Opponents say that golf better meets the definition of "game" than "sport," does not require rigorous physical activity, and can be played professionally by people who are overweight, injured, or non-athletic. They argue that golf is a game or leisure activity, and they cite golf's 112-year absence from the Olympics as proof that it is not a sport.

(Click to enlarge image)
Painting from around 1740 by an unknown artist, "Golfers on the links at St Andrews," thought to be the earliest depiction of golf in Britain.
Source: National Library of Scotland, (accessed May 22, 2012)
Early History of Golf

The origins of golf remain somewhat murky because several countries invented games that involved hitting a ball with a club at a target. The 11th century French game "palle-mail" or "jeu de mail," and the 13th century Dutch game "kolven" are arguably predecessors to golf. [42] A claim has even been made that the Chinese recorded a description of the game in a text written during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). [43]

The invention of golf as we know it today, with the crucial aspect of hitting a ball into a hole, is generally credited to Scotland in the 1300s. [43] Historians say that golf was played at St. Andrews in Scotland even before the university was founded in 1411. [42]

In the Middle Ages, the Scots were so captivated by golf that King James II feared it was interfering with the archery practice needed to help protect Scotland against the English. [1] On Mar. 6, 1457, the Scottish Parliament banned golf with a decree that read, "...[I]t is ordained and the decreed that the lords and barons both spiritual and temporal should organise archery displays four times in the year. And that football and golf should be utterly condemned and stopped... [W]e ordain that [those found playing these games] be punished by the local barons and, failing them, by the King's officers." [44] The ban was lifted in 1502 when the Treaty of Glasgow temporarily ended the wars between Scotland and England. King James IV made the first recorded purchase of golf equipment in that same year and became an avid golfer. [45]

St. Andrews, the home of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A), originated the 18-hole golf course in 1764 when golfers felt that some of the holes on the then-22-hole course should be consolidated. To this day, 18 holes remains the standard for a round of golf. [1]

In 1897, the R&A was recognized by existing golf organizations as having the authority to determine the rules of golf. [1] According to the official rulebook: "The Game of Golf consists of playing a ball with a club from the teeing ground into the hole by a stroke or successive strokes in accordance with the Rules." [46] The first golf club in America was St. Andrew’s Golf Course in Yonkers, NY, built in 1888. [47] The Amateur Golf Association of the United States (now called United States Golf Association, or USGA) was formed on Dec. 22, 1894. [46]

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Fans watch Tiger Woods tee off on the first hole of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Source: "Tiger Woods' Return to the Masters Was Must-see TV, Even for Non-golf Fans," New York Daily News, Apr. 9, 2010
Definition of Sport

The question of whether golf is a sport hinges on the definition of "sport." The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sport as "physical activity engaged in for pleasure; a particular activity (as an athletic game) so engaged in." [6] defines it as "an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc." [7]

John C. Phillips, Professor of Sociology at the University of the Pacific, asserted that people have an instinctual idea about what "sport" means: "[I]n one sense the word sport need not be analyzed. Anyone who speaks English knows what sport is and is not." [48] The topic has nonetheless been subject to significant analysis. A Google search for "definition of sport" produces more than 200,000 results.

Sports philosopher Bernard Suits named four elements that distinguish sports from games. "First, it is a game of skill, which marks it off from games of chance... Second, it is a game of physical skill... Third, a sport is a game that has a wide following... Fourth, and last, a sport is a game that has achieved institutional stability..." [49]

Sociologists Tim Delaney and Tim Madigan defined sport as "institutionalized, structured, and sanctioned competitive activity beyond the realm of play that involves physical exertion and the use of relatively complex athletic skills." [48]

Lincoln Allison, Founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Sport in Society at Warwick University, noted that the definition has shifted over time. "In English, the primary meaning of the word 'sport' changed dramatically in the period after 1880. Before that date, if you picked up a book on sport... it would certainly have been about some combination of hunting, shooting or fishing..." According to Allison, the modern concept of sport began to solidify around 1930. "And yet, for all that sport can mean... the core of what people understand by sport in its serious and interesting sense can be defined briefly: sport is the institutionalisation of skill and prowess." [50]

Golf in the Olympics

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Female golfers at the 1900 Paris Olympics, the first year in which women competed in the Olympics and the only year women's golf was included.
Source: "Moments in Olympics History Photos," (accessed May 22, 2012)

For many, the Olympics serve as a barometer for whether an activity should be viewed as a sport. [51] Golf was included in the Olympics in 1900 (men and women) and 1904 (men only) before being removed. The golf events in the 1904 Olympics, held in St. Louis, Missouri, consisted of 74 American and three Canadian men. [52] In 1908, the golf events were canceled reportedly because of a lack of international entries and a conflict with the R&A. Subsequent years also saw a dearth of competitors that resulted in the game's continued absence from the Summer Olympic Games. [53]

The first major push to return golf to the international sporting competition did not come until 1992, when the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee announced its intent to get golf approved for the 1996 Games. The proposal was met with opposition from major golf organizations, who were reportedly concerned about having their regular tour events overshadowed. The Committee's plan to hold the event at Augusta National Golf Club prompted concern because at the time the club had a male-only membership and just one black member, and so the proposal was withdrawn. [53] [Editor's Note: On Aug. 20, 2012, Augusta announced that two women, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and businesswoman Darla Moore, have been accepted as members for the first time in the 80-year history of the club. [67]]

Another bid to include golf was rejected in 2005, reportedly due to lack of support from the professional golf tours. [54] A Sports Illustrated poll conducted in May 2005 found that 29 percent of respondents thought golf should be added to the Olympics, second to rugby, favored by 38 percent. [55]

In 2009, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members voted 63-27 to return golf to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rugby was also voted in for the first time since it was removed in 1924. [2] [56] IOC President Jacques Rogge voiced his support for the decision, saying "Both golf and rugby are very popular sports with global appeal and a strong ethic. They will be great additions to the Games." [57]

Some people who opposed including golf said that the vote was neither a reflection of golf's merit nor an endorsement that it is a sport, but rather that the IOC wished to add golf because of megastar golfer Tiger Woods and golf’s potential for increased sponsorships and television earnings. [37] [38]

Golf Industry

PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) of America Chief Executive Officer Joe Steranka estimated that golf’s $76 billion annual industry provides more than two million jobs and raises more than $3.5 billion for charity each year. "We are bigger than the motion picture and video recording industry, we're bigger than the newspaper publishing industry… That rolls up into 61 billion dollars of wages, makes our induced economic impact 195 billion dollars." [39]

The PGA of America is composed of 27,000 male and female professional golfers. [66] Since the Official World Golf Ranking system was established in 1986, 16 different men have held the number one spot. [58] Tiger Woods has been the world number one for a record total of 623 weeks in his career. [58] The women's comprehensive "Rolex Rankings" system has been in place since Feb. 2006, when Annika Sörenstam was named as the first female world number one. [59]

The winners of the men’s four Major Championships each took home more than $1.4 million in prize money last year. [60] About 8.1 percent of households in the top 56 US television markets watched the April 2012 Master’s Tournament on television (compared to 10.4 percent in 2011). [61]

As of Jan. 1, 2012, there were 15,751 golf facilities (complexes containing at least one course) in the US. Florida and California have the largest number of facilities, with 1,051 and 921, respectively. [62] The number of golf courses closing began to outpace the number of new courses in 2007, and 2011 saw 19 new golf course openings but 157.5 closures. [63] [62]


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Professional golfer John Daly, winner of 1991 PGA Championship and 1995 British Open, smoking a cigarette while playing golf.
Source: "Golfers with Girth," (accessed May 23, 2012)
Golf in the Supreme Court

On May 29, 2001, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin (100 KB) that the PGA Tour had to allow disabled golfer Casey Martin to use a golf cart, despite the PGA's claim that "the condition of walking is a substantive rule of competition" in professional tournaments. Martin was born with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a degenerative disease that caused Martin's right leg to atrophy and made him unable to walk across a golf course. The Court noted that Martin was a "talented golfer" who won his state high school golf championship and captained the 1994 Stanford University NCAA champion golf team.

The decision, delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, said in part "…we observe that the use of carts is not itself inconsistent with the fundamental character of the game of golf. From early on, the essence of the game has been shotmaking—using clubs to cause a ball to progress from the teeing ground to a hole some distance away with as few strokes as possible." The decision further stated that "golf is a game in which it is impossible to guarantee that… an individual's ability will be the sole determinant of the outcome. For example, changes in the weather may produce harder greens and more head winds for the tournament leader than for his closest pursuers. A lucky bounce may save a shot or two."

In the dissenting opinion [68], Justice Antonin Scalia asserted that the issue of whether walking is essential to the game of golf was irrelevant, but noted that "Many, indeed, consider walking to be the central feature of the game of golf hence Mark Twain’s classic criticism of the sport: 'a good walk spoiled.'" [4]

Casey Martin earned $206,874 over the course of his career as a professional golfer and is now the golf coach for the University of Oregon. [64] The debate over the fitness level required to succeed as a professional golfer continues, however. Those who say golf is a sport point to the athleticism of top golfers such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Woods has reportedly bench pressed 315 pounds, and much has been made of McIlroy’s improved results following his commitment to become more muscular. [20] [65] Those who say golf is not a sport point to the example of John Daly, a professional golfer who won two Majors even though he once weighed as much as 285 pounds and struggled with alcoholism.

Popular Science asked the question, "Is Tiger Woods proof that golf is a sport, or is John Daly confirmation to the contrary?" and determined that the answer "probably depends on whether you've got a set of clubs in the garage." [7]
Video Gallery  

According to the R&A, the oldest known golf footage dates back to 1898, but is not available online. This video shows golfers Harry Vardon and James Braid competing at the Murrayfield Golf Club in Edinburgh, Scotland on July 30, 1904.
Source: British Golf Museum, (accessed May 16, 2012) 
MSNBC report on the announcement by Tiger Woods that he won the 2008 US Open while injured.
Source: (accessed May 24, 2012) 

Professional golfers discuss how golf evolved from a game into a sport.
Source: PGA, "Golf as a Sport,", July 10, 2012
Comedian Patrice O'Neal explains why golf is not a sport, on the radio program The Opie & Anthony Show.
Source: YouTube, "O&A - Patrice O'Neal - Golf Is Not A Sport", (accessed May 17, 2012) 

Notices for Is Golf a Sport and Other Information (archived after 30 days)

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