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Golf isn't just a 'sport,' it's the hardest of them

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Tiger WoodsThe question - or declaration - pops up every now and then, and it never fails to irritate me, more so than most pompous statements that irritate me.

"Golf isn't a sport."

For those slightly less golf-phobic, it's sometimes framed as a question: "Is golf really a sport?"

The question should be: Which sport is the most difficult?

The answer: golf.

The question usually comes from a sportswriter who has athletically cultural blinders on, which limit his field of vision to three things and three things only: baseball, football and basketball. I've worked in many sports departments. I know the type.

They spend most of their working hours honing their fantasy league team in one of the three major sports, at the expense of whatever newspaper is overpaying them. They spend most of their off-hours watching ESPN Alternate reruns of the 1987 regular season matchup between Southwest Louisiana and Florida A&M.

Sometimes, it comes from regular Joes who have never been to a driving range or putt-putt course. I heard it again just the other day from such a person.

The problem with the question is one of presumption. Those who question whether golf is a real sport presume that a sport requires only the physical abilities of one who plays one of the three majors.

Run, jump, bust heads.

It depends on how you define a sport. If you define a sport as only running fast, jumping high and butting heads, then no, golf isn't a sport, unless you're talking about Tiger Woods' caddie.

But, if you believe a sport requires eye-hand coordination, intense focus, stamina and a cut-throat sense of competition, you cannot help but call golf a sport.

The hardest of them. If it isn't difficult, then why do so many, even the pros, have such a devil of a time hitting a ball straight that isn't moving? The last time I looked, golf doesn't throw high and tight sliders at you.

There are countless ways of striking a golf ball, even with the pros. The trick is to find the most effective swing and repeat it over and over. That takes unbelievable mental discipline, a symbiotic waltz between brain and muscle.

Larry BirdThat's where the stamina part comes into play. Golf is much more physical than, say, softball or bowling, and you never hear those sports' legitimacy being questioned. Or at least you hear them questioned less often.

Still, you don't have to be superbly conditioned to excel at golf, though it helps. But you do have to have a ton of mental discipline to be good at it.

Think of it: you see more tantrums in golf than any other sport, and it usually involves the breakdown of the mental process.

The question brings up the idea of what makes an athlete. You used to hear the same sort of drivel about Larry Bird not being a true athlete, when measured against Michael Jordan, Julius Erving and the like.

Bird was not only an athlete, but one of the best, maybe the best ever in basketball. He couldn't sky with Jordan or Erving, but he had court vision that was unequaled, except maybe by Magic Johnson.

Though he wasn't particularly fast or high-jumping, he had quick hands, feet and eyes. And ,of course, he wanted to win more than most anybody who ever played.

There are golfers like that. Vijay Singh has a quiet intensity to go with his remarkable talent. Ernie Els has more pure talent than anyone on tour with the possible exception of Tiger Woods. And, of course, Woods has toned down those derisive descriptions of golf as a leisure activity dominated by fat, middle-aged white guys.

Hitting a golf ball straight and true is a science and an art. Just because there are more people out there willing to show you how to do it for a fat fee, more so than any other sport, doesn't make it any easier.

I played all three major sports growing up; they all came naturally to me. I tried golf at about the same age; it did not come naturally to me.

Does that mean it isn't a sport, because it doesn't come naturally to most people. No, it just means it's a sport that's a little more subtle and complicated - and a hell of a lot harder.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • funny you call this a sport

    max wrote on: Aug 3, 2014

    Just go play singles Tennis and win a grand slam event and tell me if Golf is a sport.
    Big belly old people don't even carry their equipment. It promotes slavery. Have knee surgery and still can play this so called sport! come on. Shame to call it a sport.

    Reply

  • golf the hardest

    jaked wrote on: Aug 15, 2013

    this simply is not even close to true dude get real. baseball you have to hit a ball not even that big going one hundred miles an hour sometimes and un like golf the ball moves when you are trying to hit it. for football you actually have people trying to stop you from getting the ball to the designated area. have people in front of the hole then try to take ur shot and maybe id consider for half a second. but the biggest jokes in golf are a they dont carry their own stuff. b they do not have thousands of fans yellin g its like oh im taking a shot be quiet or leave like if u cant focus with noise get of the field or wht ever u gamers not athletes call it

    Reply

    • RE: golf the hardest

      Rob wrote on: Feb 27, 2014

      I also think it's funny that he said that it's more physical than bowling, and that isn't questioned. 2 wrongs there.
      1. Bowling uses more muscles than most sports, and dormant muscles that aren't even really used for anything else in life.
      2. Bowling isn't questioned? Really? That is the most attacked sport. Golf is watched all the time on tv and recognized by almost everyone as a sport. Many people think bowling is just a fun game you can play with your friends on rock n bowl night at an alley.

      Reply

      • RE: RE: golf the hardest

        Jason wrote on: Jul 6, 2014

        Are you kidding? Golf requires more hand eye coordination than any other sport or else there would be a 100 fat people playing golf and making millions. John daily has a gut but can strike the ball almost as hard as tiger woods because he hits 200 plus balls a day farther than most golfers dream of. And golf uses way more "un-known" muscles than bowling(a one armed sport that lasts all of 40 minutes). Get your stamina together and try to play 36 holes and hit the ball 350 plus yards off the tee box 9 times out of 10 and still hit a 200 yard iron shot you prick!

        Reply

  • the hardest of them ?

    Jeremy wrote on: Apr 15, 2013

    golf the hardest sport ? as a competitive boxer, I find this a bit offensive !
    there are tons of sports that require much more hand-eye coordination, physical and mental abilities than golf.
    And about the 60lbs+ bag that golfers need to carry, it'll be a good argument if professional golfers did actually carry the bag and not let a "caddie" do it for them...

    Reply

  • Golf is the hardest sport?

    Anjali Dhillon wrote on: Jan 29, 2013

    I agree that golf is a sport. But the claim that golf is the hardest sport is ludicrous.
    Sure, golf may be harder than softball. But harder than track and field? Harder than basketball? Harder than swimming (which in my opinion is the hardest sport. Try not breathing while playing whatever sport you think is the hardest.)

    Reply

    • RE: Golf is the hardest sport?

      Anna wrote on: Jul 19, 2013

      Golf isn't harder than softball.

      Reply

    • RE: Golf is the hardest sport?

      Evan Lewis wrote on: Mar 12, 2013

      Claiming that golf isn't a difficult sport is proposed by those who haven't tried for themselves. Take someone who has never played a sport, and take them on a test ride. Throwing one out of five footballs straight is easy. Hit a soccerball into a goal, no problem. Hit a golf ball straight. MAYBE 1/20 of the time. It takes a hell of a lot of mental concentration to play golf and very little to run around a track.

      Reply

      • RE: RE: Golf is the hardest sport?

        biff Johnson wrote on: Sep 3, 2014

        Let them throw a football with a 350 lb man smashing them as they let the ball go

        Reply

      • RE: RE: Golf is the hardest sport?

        Nevets95 wrote on: Aug 6, 2014

        Thank god, somebody here who isn't mentally ill.

        Reply

  • Golf is not a sport.

    Roy McClanahan wrote on: Jul 11, 2010

    First of all, I hate Golf. Playing it makes me feel like I'm 150 years old. Plus, it's the most boring thing to watch. But that's beside the point.
    Golf is not a sport. It is a difficult skill, like Poker. Golf's not a sport because it doesn't require any conditioning of the body or, for that matter, any athleticism at all. Even though Tiger Woods may be in great shape, the skill does not require him to be. If you need more evidence that Golf isn't a sport, just look at John Daly, Monty, Mickelson, etc... yeah, they look ripped alright. Ripped their pants bending over to pick up a ball.
    Now, I suppose if you were required to sprint to each hole and get there before your opponent, then maybe it would be considered a sport. But you can take your sweet, lazy time walking to a hole... or climb into one of those little carts and ride their with even less effort.
    So let's all take a deep breath and call it what it truly is... Golf is a skill.

    Reply

    • RE: Golf is not a sport.

      Quincy Pick wrote on: Mar 24, 2011

      Ive seen all of those players in person and none of them are really all that fat, the tv just makes them appear that way like mickleson hes not fat hes a little thick but definatly ripping out of his pants.

      Reply

    • RE: Golf is not a sport.

      Austin wrote on: Jul 12, 2010

      Thank you so much for writing this article. This is a very good example of summing up why golf is the hardest sport that there is. I am 15 years old and have been playing golf for only two years.
      Believe me that it is a lot harder than most people say it is! Like the writer said, you may not have to be in the best shape for it and the carts are just because those courses are so long and it is a bit more convenient, but you sure do have to have some mental determination in order to play this sport.
      But, the reason why it is such a good sport is that it is very addicting to play. Once you make a good shot, then you feel like the greatest person ever and you just want to continue that. When you make a bad shot, you either may want to quit or just keep improving until you make a great shot!
      I feel that golf makes you a lot smarter as a person as well. You do not have to be in the best condition to play a sport, but you certainly have to have the mental capacity for it.
      Like any sport, you have to keep practicing and practicing with it. There were so many times where I threw my clubs and had some very bad tantrums on the course and I just felt like absolute crap. But, I had my friends and family and they kept urging me not to give up.
      That was a little over a year ago when I shot in the high 90s. Now, I'm in the high 40's and low 50's and I won the Most Improved Player award at my school. I still have quite a lot to do, but I am happy to know that I did not give up and that I will lead a successful career with the sport.
      Those that say that golf is not a sport have most likely never played it before, or they have, but got a bad shot or two, and walked away from it. You cannot do that. You will get a lot of bad shots, but that is just the way that golf is. It is completely unpredicatable and you have to be willing to work at it.
      I do understand why some people may think that it is boring, but again, that all depends on how much you want to improve and how much you enjoy the game. If you want to define a sport as physical labor and getting in better shape, then go for it.
      But, please hear me when I say that golf is a sport!

      Reply

      • RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

        Nevets95 wrote on: Aug 6, 2014

        I too am a 15 year old golfer! And I must say that you brought up some great points that some people seem oblivious to.

        Reply

      • RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

        Arman Aloyan wrote on: Dec 12, 2012

        Hay Austin I'm also a golfer that's 15 years old and I completely agree with you. I was wondering which golf courses you play at?

        Reply

      • RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

        Roy McClanahan wrote on: Aug 16, 2010

        Ok, ok.... you've got some good points there. Everyone is entitled to like any activity they want... including one of the most boring ones. But I, and most others I know, still feel very strongly that GOLF is not a sport, but is a highly acquired skill... I do give it that. But if it is a sport, why hasn't the Olympic committee included it in their line-up? Hmmmm... because, I believe, they, too, consider it a skill. But, keep doing what you love, kid... makes your life so much better!

        Reply

        • RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

          John wrote on: Apr 4, 2013

          Hahaha it is in the olympics now

          Reply

        • RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

          Evan Lewis wrote on: Mar 12, 2013

          Claiming that Golf dosn't require any athleticism is a complete lie. Some golf bags are topping 60 pounds and can easilly go up. Carts are stereotypical and in tournaments no carts are used. And you don't usually golf in poor weather conditions, so it is usually very hot, so try carrying a heavy golf bag on your shoulders for a full 18 and then tell me how un-athletic golf is. Ps. 15

          Reply

        • RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

          Anders Olsson wrote on: Nov 17, 2010

          Okay Roy, here is a real answer for you. Golf IS a sport. I am currently trying to be recruited to play college golf, and let me tell you, the work out level and practice time that I have to put into this is incredible. They have workouts for golf, just like they do for football, basketball, or any other sport. In golf, the muscles that you have to use are your hips, shoulders, forearms, legs, and most importantly, YOUR BRAIN. It's people like you that get me fired up over this situation.
          Now, about your comment on golf being not included into the Olympics. Actually, they are very well considering it. If another sport was to be added to the Olympics, it would be golf. And guess what? You will most likely be seeing it in 2016.
          Now listen here Roy, I challenge you. And in return, I challenge you to challenge me in any sport that you play (even though I doubt it's anything more than sitting on the couch). I challenge you to go out to a FULL LENGTH course (6400 yards or more) and break 100. Futhermore, you mast walk. I walk everyday. I play almost every day of the week, and let me tell you, your body won't be used to it. A full length golf course will make you walk usually about 5 miles. You WILL be sore (not from walking). There is the athletic ability you have been criticizing.
          The score that is expected in a round of golf is 72. Even pro's sometimes struggle to shoot that score. I know I do. that just shows how difficult the sport is. Moreover, the sport CANT be mastered! Never in your life will you beat the game. You can only beat your competitors.
          In conclusion, Golf is a sport, and no matter what anyone tells me, I will tell them to go break 100. Simple as that.

          Reply

          • RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

            Roy McClanahan wrote on: Sep 9, 2012

            Well, well well... you sure got fired up over a little skill, Anders. No one can convince me that walking a golf course and trying to get a little ball in a hole is a sport. Now, I will say that Golf is a great challenge... yes it is... but so is trying to learn a new language or cooking a spaghetti casserole for the first time. And you say walking a Golf course is like walking 5 miles??? , huh? Well.. whatever... I happen to live and work in China where I walk, maybe, 5 - 7 miles a day easy. It's really no big deal. There's billions here that do the same thing. And if you think swinging a little golf club a few times takes athletic ability... God help ya. How about try swinging a sledge hammer all day on the job like some of these poor souls do... now THAT'S athletic ability! Walking "5 miles" on a Golf course may make it a sport more than anything... but then I guess that would make me a full-fledge Olympian, now, wouldn't it.

            Reply

            • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

              Cam wrote on: Nov 13, 2012

              If you think that hitting a sledgehammer all day takes athletic ability then your retarded. Hitting a golf ball straight is harder that you think and walking five miles while thinking hard about everything that you could do with your next shot and all the environmental factors incuding takes way more ability then gitting a stupid sledgehammer all day. Hitting a sledgehammer all day could be done by anyone that has muscles, anyone can do it. and by the way, golf is an olymic sport next summer olympics.

              Reply

          • RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

            Hunter McSwain wrote on: Nov 22, 2010

            I firmly believe golf challenges you more than baseball, football, and basketball, and how i know this because i'm a 16 year old growing up where those 3 sports is what my town revolves around, so everyone plays those sports including me. I picked up a golf club about a year ago, and i must say that my first 18 hole round i had to walk, i woke up more sore than i ever have been from playing baseball, basketball, and football. And golf does have a little olympic event of its own, anyone ever heard of the Ryder Cup??

            Reply

            • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

              Erik Nilsson wrote on: Jun 3, 2011

              For that idiot Roy who thinks he knows something we don't. Sport is defined as a physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.
              Unlike basketball or baseball .. golf is constantly changing. 10 years ago, golf was played differently to how its done today. those guys on tour are fit as can be. have you ever tried to play 4 rounds of golf in a row? i bet your feet will fall off my day 3. Hence the physicality. And now your thinking mickleson and daly and calcavecchia all played years ago.. but those guys are committed mentally to the task ahead regardless of their ability. what swing is the same? tigers is arguably the most athletic looking.... and thats clearly reflected in todays game.

              Reply

              • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

                Roy McClanahan wrote on: Sep 9, 2012

                I'm the idiot, huh? Well, maybe... but you're the one that thinks a fat lazy activity like Golf is a sport... just look at some of the players. Looks like most of them need a good dose of liposuction. And, by the way, Golf has not changed that much at all... it's still pretty much the same damn boring game those drunk Scots came up with 400 hundred years ago. (I can say that because I have Scottish ancestors) And like I told Anders, no one can convince me that walking a golf course and trying to get a little ball in a hole is a sport. Now, I will say that Golf is a great challenge... yes it is... but so is trying to learn a new language or learning how to play a piano. If you think Golf's a sport... okay, okay... that's fantastic! I don't. So have a nice time and chew your gum.

                Reply

                • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

                  Roy 2 wrote on: Oct 18, 2012

                  Hey, dimwit. Is football included in the olympics? Baseball? Didn't think so. I thought those were sports? And as a matter of fact, golf will be in the Olympics in 2014. Shows how much you know, you ignorant, close minded fool.

                  Reply

                  • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

                    Golf is gay wrote on: Jul 20, 2013

                    O my god Roy 2 u r retarded. First off golf is a game and is no where near the same intensity as basketball, football, swimming,soccer, or tennis it i a hobby for unathletic people. And Roy 2 in 2014 that is the Winter Olympics not summer so golf would not be included. Get ur facts straight....

                    Reply

                  • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

                    travis wrote on: Oct 19, 2012

                    hahaha lolz Roy. You dont know what your talking about. yeah... maybe it isnt a sport if you want to stay the most phisicly fit as possible just form playing a sport. i will agree that watching golf can be very boring, but if you accually try playing a round it is awsome because it takes so much mental skill which you obviosly dont have. lolz. It might not be the super energetic always moving sport that everyone likes to watch, but who says you always have to be moving in a sport. The google definition is as follows. "An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others." That definition says that golf is more of a sport than any other because you said it yourself, golf takes a heck of a lot of skill. And im sure if you find other definitions they would say almost the same exact thing.

                    Reply

                    • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

                      Nolan Cull wrote on: Feb 4, 2013

                      Okay listen Roy. You have good reasoning for the points you have stated about golf. But GOLF IS A SPORT. Okay walking 5 miles doesn't require tremendous athletic ability, I get that. But golf is much more than just walking 5 miles and getting a ball is a hole. If golf was that simple, then tell me why the greatest, what you would consider, "athletes" in the world cannot play the game of golf?
                      There is a huge mental toughness level that is needed to play golf. If you read the main article, the author uses Larry Bird as an example of not needing TREMENDOUS athletic ability to play basketball. Im guessing you would consider basketball a sport, so tell me why a mediocre athlete like Larry can be one of the greatest in the game? The answer is: He had more basketball knowledge and mental toughness than anyone on the court. It's as simple as that.
                      Baseball is a great game and does require athletic ability. But 70% of baseball requires mental toughness, hand-eye coordination, patience, and a very unique skill. Guess what?!? Golf requires all of those! The only difference between the two is golf doesn't have to run 60-240ft and stop. My father is a perfect example. He was not tremendously athletic, but he was athletic enough. He struck out once is his 4 years of high school ball and held the Washington State batting record with a .480 batting average for 4 years. He went on to play ball at Bellevue College and later stopped playing to move on with his life. He had more baseball knowledge than everyone he played against, and that's why he was so good. If you consider baseball a sport then there is no reason why you can say golf ISN'T a sport.
                      It's funny how you used John Daly, Monty, and Micklson as example of "un-athletic" golfers.
                      "John Daly, Monty, Mickelson, etc... yeah, they look ripped alright. Ripped their pants bending over to pick up a ball." Hahaha nice joke by the way! Prince Fielder, Vince Wilfork, and Pablo Sandoval (who all play what are considered sports) sure are ripped up like Rambo! I'm sure they're ripping their pants more often than 200 pound Phil Mickleson and 198 pound Colin Montgomerie are.
                      But do you even realize that those three players came out on tour before the "Tiger Woods Era"? Tiger changed the game of golf. He brought a former Moto X pro named Rickie Fowler to the game of golf. And you can't say that a guy by the name of Dustin Johnson isn't an athlete. Before Tiger came along your argument, that golf is an un-athletic sport, can hold some good facts. But now n days if your not a good athlete, you're going to have one hell of a time competing at a high level.
                      Things you probably didn't know:
                      Golf is a $176.8 billion industry in America alone
                      The first athlete to reach $1 billion in earnings was a golfer
                      4 years ago, the top two wealthiest atheletes were golfers
                      Nike and Adidas are apart of the golf industry!
                      Most Univeristies have golf listed under "sports"
                      Bo Jackson, which was one of the world greatest athletes, could never play golf. But I thought Bo Knows everything?!?
                      You're argument has no in depth facts stating that golf ISN'T a sport. Don't jump into this debate if all you can say is:
                      " I happen to live and work in China where I walk, maybe, 5 - 7 miles a day easy. It's really no big deal."
                      "How about try swinging a sledge hammer all day on the job like some of these poor souls do... now THAT'S athletic ability!"
                      If you believe that, you probably have the IQ of a sledge hammer!
                      You brought a dull knife to a gun fight bud.
                      Golf IS a sport!!!

                      Reply

                      • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

                        Roy McClanahan wrote on: Sep 8, 2013

                        So... golf is in the Olympics now?.... that's great! Actually, folks... since I've been in investments I've started playing it more to chum up... and you know what? I was wrong. It is definitely a sport. I stand corrected. Takes a lot of patience and control... but still not much athleticism is required. I have renewed respect for you guys and gals trying to compete in this extremely difficult sport. Sorry about all the snide remarks... but I did have a right to my opinion.

                        Reply

                      • RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Golf is not a sport.

                        bob wrote on: Jun 10, 2013

                        Its a sport

                        Reply

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