The University of Edinburgh in conjunction with the Golf & Health Project have released new research into the health benefits of golf spectating, showing those who attend golf events could potentially gain benefits similar to those playing in them.
The study, released at the beginning of the RICOH Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns Golf Links, Scotland, is the first to assess spectator physical activity while watching golf, showing that of the 339 spectators surveyed, 82.9% met the recommended daily step-count levels achieving on average 11,589 steps.
Conducted at the European Tour’s 2016 Paul Lawrie Match Play, the study suggests that golf spectating can provide health enhancing physical activity; whilst also allowing spectators to spend time in green space, socialise with friends and family, and watch their sporting heroes compete in real life.
Surveyed spectators rated obtaining exercise/physical activity as an important reason for attending golf events, equal to their rating of seeing star players, being part of the ‘atmosphere’ around an event, and getting fresh air. 60% also said they would like to be more physically active after the tournament.
These benefits and reasons for attending events could have benefits for event promoters in terms of engagement with spectators, local communities and funding organisations, along with wider public health implications in encouraging people to be more active more often.
The studies, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and BMJ Open Sports and Exercise Medicine are part of the Golf & Health Project, which is led by the World Golf Foundation. The initiative aims to increase the understanding of golf in health and wellbeing.
Researcher, Dr Andrew Murray, from the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, urges golf chiefs to emphasise the physical benefits of golf spectating:
“Walking is one of the best things you can do for you health, adding years to life, and increasing health and happiness. These pilot findings show that golf spectators can gain physical activity that could benefit their health – while watching top quality sport at close quarters. This is something that could have huge implications in terms of event attendance and encouraging more people to get interested in the sport.”
Further research could include assessing how best to provide physical activity information to spectators at events, larger and more representative samples allowing for a better estimation of accrued physical activity and potential gender and age differences, along with whether golf events could be used as ‘teachable moments’ to help educate and inform people on the benefits of physical activity in general.
Golf playing and spectating is particularly popular in middle aged and older adults in North America, Europe and Asia. This demographic typically has lower levels of physical activity compared with younger adults and children.
Anecdotal evidence found that spectators at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles collectively walked a distance equal to four times around the world, while fans at China’s Shenzhen International in 2016 collectively walked the equivalent length of the Great Wall seven times.
The health benefits for spectators at tournaments may vary depending on weather conditions, culture, types of tournament and golf course terrain.