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Just How Much of a Workout Do You Get From Carrying Your Own Golf Clubs?


April 4, 2023

From the WSJ.

The bad news: probably not as much as you think

Most calories burned during a round of golf come from walking, whether you carry your bag or not.

By Lisa Ward

April 4, 2023 at 1:00 pm ET

Carrying a bag of golf clubs over 18 holes of golf may sound like grueling exercise, but it may not be as good of a workout as many golfers might think.

That’s according to a new study that found that the calories burned from carrying a golf bag, with 14 clubs, weighing 15 pounds, wasn’t significantly different than manually pulling a golf bag on wheels or using an electric trolley, which requires no additional effort and is very similar to using a golf caddie since the trolley can automatically follow golfers around the course.

Specifically, the authors found that the study’s participants burned 3.4 calories a minute carrying a bag, or 688 calories over the entire round of 18 holes; they burned 3.6 calories a minute from pulling a manual trolley, or 756 for the round; and they burned 3.2 calories a minute from using an electric trolley, or 663 for the round.

“There really isn’t a major difference in the energy expended,” says Graeme Close, a professor of human physiology at Liverpool John Moores University in England, head of performance nutrition for the DP World Tour Golf and European Ryder Cup team and one of the paper’s authors. The majority of calories burned during a round of golf, he says, comes from walking around the course.

To conduct the study, the authors followed 16 aspiring professional golfers over three rounds of competitive golf on the same course. Each golfer’s handicap was lower than five and each golfer wore a monitor, which measured their heart rate and activity level. During the experiment the authors accounted for various factors, including whether weather conditions were the same for each match.

While the calorie expenditures were similar regardless of how the golf clubs were transported around the course, the authors found that the study’s participants thought they were exerting more energy when they carried their golf bags over their shoulder or used a manual trolley. 

For instance, participants were asked about their perceived exertion after each round of golf they played. About 69% of participants carrying a bag described it as hard, and about 50% of participants pulling a manual trolley described it as hard. But only 12.5% of participants using an electric trolley described it as hard. In contrast, about 19% of participants using an electric trolley described the round as “very easy,” whereas no participant carrying a bag or pulling a manual trolley chose to use that adjective.

For golfers who don’t like hauling a bag, the study’s implications are pretty straightforward: Don’t bother carrying or pulling your clubs, especially if it takes away from enjoying the game. The other takeaway is that golf, even if players carry their clubs, isn’t as energy-intensive as many players and researchers may have initially thought.

“Some studies have found that players burn between 2,500 and 4,000 calories playing golf,” says Prof. Close. “That’s like running a marathon. But our numbers suggest that playing golf is much more similar to taking a brisk walk.”

Prof. Close was unable to study golf carts because he conducted his experiment during the Covid-19 pandemic, but he plans to do a follow-up study on the subject. He hypothesizes that the impact of mostly riding in a cart on energy expenditures may have a lot to do with how well a golfer plays the game.

“If a golfer hits the ball all over the course, then players will still do a lot of walking, even if they use golf carts,” he says. “But if the ball goes straight down the fairway then that could be a different story.”

Another possible factor: Players who walk may take a more direct route, which could limit their steps in comparison to players who drive a cart and need to access the course via the golf cart path. “When it comes to burning calories during golf,” Prof. Close says, “the key is to walk.”

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