The sun is shining from directly above your head. Your only shade is the hat on your head and sparsely set trees on your left and right bordering the strip of short grass on which you stand. You pick up a club from your golf bag to hit your 75th shot of the day, noting how much heavier the club feels now compared to when you started, five hours ago.
Most rounds of golf will feel just like this as they reach their conclusion. Even after five hours of walking in the sun and swinging a medley of meddlesome clubs, your average golfer is questioned, queried and sometimes even downright accused: “Golf isn’t even a sport!”
According to the Oxford dictionary, a sport can be easily defined as an “activity that you do for pleasure and that needs physical effort or skill, usually done in a special area and according to fixed rules.” This definition would qualify golf as a sport alongside the usual suspects like football, soccer, hockey and the more contentious contenders like chess and bowling.
Where chess meets the mental quota of activity for a sport, it does not align with what we have traditionally known to be a sport: contact and sweat.
Golf might lack the contact, but the sweat remains with the avid golfer. This is known well by those who have tried.
Accompanied by Brandon Vachon, a car salesman from Glens Falls, New York, this writer, 24, went to Bluff Point Golf Resort, Plattsburgh, New York, to see just how much sweat a round of golf could rouse. Both golfers would play this round nursing hangovers from the night before as golfers often do.
Vachon, 24, no stranger to golf, chose to ride a golf cart filled with 12 Stella Artois for the round, where this writer chose to walk with his bag on his back. Both players’ wrists bore Apple Watches with the health application open to track biometrics during the round.
The two golfers chose a round in the morning to capitalize on the smell of the dew on the fresh grass and the position of the sun, still far from its peak at noon. The latter being of more importance to this writer as he lugged his 10-pound golf bag meandering the undulation of the North Country.
By the sixth hole of 18, this writer began to feel fatigue in his shoulders and legs mainly, both from the weight of carrying his bag, while Vachon said, “I could do this all day.”
This statement would remain true for him until the end of the ninth hole and the start of the tenth, also known as the turn, marking the halfway point where Vachon would complain about a slight strain in his back and accumulating calluses on his hands.
The time the pair had reached the 18 holes, both 24-year-olds had, as their primary complaints, a catalog of calluses and muscle discomforts.
By the end of the round, Vachon, in the golf cart, had registered an average of 400 calories burnt per hour for 5 hours. This caloric deficit of 2000 calories his body might have seen was undoubtedly instantly replenished by the Stella Artois.
This writer would burn somewhere near 700 calories on average per hour during the round of golf, a total of 3340 calories in total.
For the sake of comparison, if a person of average weight were to walk for the five miles golfers would, they would only see themselves burning between 65-100 calories per mile.
As a matter of fact, per hour, one can potentially burn more calories playing golf than they could playing soccer or football.
That difference in calories between these other sports, say going on an equidistant walk, and golf, is the swing.
The golf swing is of intricate design; however, the key details are often overlooked. The athleticism of golf can only truly be seen when one is swinging the club properly.
The golf swing is a full body movement, meant to focus on the muscles in your core, hips, back and wrists, more than the ones in your arms.
The true difficulty in golf is remembering how a good swing feels and repeating as often as possible to get the ball in the hole with as few shots as possible.
“Golf is actually one of the most difficult sports to be good at in the world,” said Brandom Lendrum, a golf training professional.
“Hitting the ball is your first big challenge,” said Lendrum, who received his qualifications in Cape Town. “But once that’s done, you realize the difference between good and great golfers is all in the mind.”
The physical part of golf is demanding, but the mental aspect of the sport is one of the truest and oldest challenges in the history of sport itself.
Just at par value, the idea of hitting an ice-cube sized white sphere, with a surface the size of your hand, attached to a long metal stick to within a few inches of your target, from outside of 150 yards sounds ridiculous.
But that’s golf.
The adrenaline rush felt by a golfer, achieving the magnificent while in the melancholy of the migration that is a round of golf, is sensational. Rolling a putt in from outside of 10 feet feels like god’s hand on your shoulder, steadying you; while slamming a ball 300 yards down the short grass feels like the devil in your hands, beaten blue as the ball splits the air.
The adrenaline rush can only be bested by the crippling feelings of self-doubt with which golf can infect you. Standing over a putt, knock kneed, you might shiver from the nerves, but rest assured, that the ball will not go straight.
Put pressure on yourself or go out there and ignore the score and have a good time. It’s up to you. Out on the course, you might just find a new and interesting way to work off those pesky calories you have been glancing at through your side-eye in the mirror.
Just watch out you do not get bitten by the golf bug – I have heard he is highly infectious.