Golf is often described as ‘the greatest game in the world’, especially by those who play it.
But there is often debate about whether golf is a sport, or instead just a hobby due to the fact it’s not perceived to be as physically taxing as sports such as tennis, basketball, soccer or football.
So, then, which is it? Is golf a sport or a hobby?
Golf is categorised as a sport because it requires players – either individually or as part of a team – to physically exert themselves and use skill when competing. This meets the Oxford dictionary definition of ‘sport’. It’s also why elite golfers are referred to as athletes.
The key factors that differentiate sports from mere games or hobbies is ‘physical exertion’ and ‘skill’ when competing.
Golf requires both in order to play it well. By comparison, a game like chess requires skill but can be played without physically exerting oneself – hence why by definition it’s a game, rather than a sport.
During a competition round of golf, players must walk 18 holes – which can take upwards of four hours and span more than 7 kilometres – with the aim of completing the course in as fewer strokes as possible than their opponents.
This alone can be physically taxing when also factoring in the number of times you swing the club during a standard round (which can be anywhere from 58-140 depending on if you’re an elite or beginner player).
It is this endurance element that makes golf so challenging.
While weekend warriors typically only need to complete one set of 18 holes in competition, some professional tournaments – such as the PGA and European Tours – are played over four consecutive days, constituting 72 holes in total.
Finally, golf is a sport that requires incredible skill – anyone who plays will tell you how difficult it is.
You need to learn driving, iron play, chipping and putting, all of which can take years, or even decades, of practice to master.
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The key things that make golf a sport, not a game
Below are 11 reasons why golf is clearly a sport, rather than simply a game or hobby.
1. It requires physical exertion and skill
This is the essential factor that makes golf a sport, not a game. It’s also why the best players in the world are considered to be athletes.
As mentioned above, golf is physically taxing.
It requires you to swing a club dozens of times each round, along with walk many kilometres along sometimes hilly or undulating terrain (often carrying or pushing your golf bag and clubs at the same time).
In addition to the physical requirements, golf is also a game of immense skill.
Getting a tiny ball into a hole hundreds of metres away is incredibly difficult and requires you to get the swing mechanics – such as your grip, backswing, weight transfer and downswing – exactly right.
2. It requires hand-eye coordination
If you have poor hand-eye coordination, then you’ll likely struggle to play golf.
The best players in the world make it look incredibly easy due to their athleticism, but striking a tiny, dimpled ball with a long, steel club – and getting it to travel in the direction you want it to – requires extreme precision.
Opening or closing your clubface only a few degrees at impact can send your ball hooking or slicing way off target, leading to many wasted shots.
3. It requires precision and accuracy
As mentioned above, golf is a sport built on precision and accuracy.
Whether it’s driving the ball into a narrow fairway, chipping over a bunker or water hazard, or lining up a 30-foot putt, there is very little room error in the game of golf.
Slicing a tee shot out of bounds or completely misreading a putt can lead to huge scores if you’re not careful. This is what sets golf apart from many other sports.
4. It’s competitive
While it’s not a contact sport, golf is extremely competitive.
Whether you play at a social, amateur or professional level, golf finds a way of bringing out the competitiveness in people.
There’s something satisfying about sinking a long putt to win a game against a mate, or seeing your name atop the leaderboard in your regular weekend club competition.
Similarly, we’ve all seen just how pumped up and animated Tiger Woods used to get in his prime – something many modern-day pros such as Justin Thomas or Rory McIlroy have continued to do in tournaments.
5. It requires mental toughness
Golf requires mental fortitude if you wish to play well.
There is no sport on earth that is more frustrating and requires you to concentrate on every single shot more than golf.
Hitting a ball out of bounds can be infuriating. Missing a one-foot putt can be demoralising.
However, the best players put their bad shots behind them and focus on the next one.
Gaining control over your emotions is essential if you want to do well.
6. It requires you to keep score
Like all the best sports in the world, golf requires you to keep score in competition.
There are many formats in which you can play golf including stroke, stableford or par.
In each of these formats you must count the number of strokes you take to complete each hole and mark your scorecard accordingly.
One of the best things about golf is that players of any age and ability can compete against each other using a handicap system, which levels the field based on each player’s ability.
This is often the case in club-level competition, where 36-handicappers can play against scratch golfers in the same tournament.
7. It involves strategy
Golf is a very strategic sport where course management and proper club selection can be the difference between winning and losing.
Selecting the wrong club could result in your ball flying way past the green, or pulling up short and landing in the water.
Similarly, trying to split a gap in the trees rather than safely punching out onto the fairway can destroy your round in seconds.
The best golfers, such as those who regularly break 80, know how to think their way around the course and execute their plans.
8. It can be played in teams
Most people think golf is an individual sport.
While that’s true, there are also team formats that can add an extra competitive layer to things.
Foursomes and Ambrose are two popular formats that see golfers paired with playing partners and do battle as teams.
This can create a whole different dynamic and atmosphere to tournament play, which is evident in the President’s Cup and Ryder Cup team events featuring the best American, International and European players in the world.
9. It’s played in front of crowds
This usually only applies the higher the level of competition, but it’s still a relevant point.
Thousands of paying spectators attend the four majors each year – The Open, The Masters, The US Open and The PGA Championship – and I can guarantee you the players aren’t just having a social hit for the amusement of onlookers.
The stakes cannot be higher in these tournaments, which are the pinnacle of the sport.
You may not draw any crowds to your local weekend competition round, but the pros certainly do.
10. It’s entertaining
Sport is entertaining. Golf is entertaining. Therefore, golf is a sport.
Of course, this will depend on who you ask.
Golf, like all sports, isn’t for some people. However, passionate fans absolutely love it and will pay good money to watch it live or on TV.
There have been few greater moments of sports entertainment and theatre than when Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters after no-one ever thought he would compete at the elite level again due to serious back injuries.
The scenes on the 18th green after he holed the winning putt will forever be etched in sporting folklore.
11. It can be played for money
Professional golfers earn millions of dollars for winning tournaments on the PGA and European Tours. This only happens in sport.
While amateur golfers may struggle to earn a living – or any money at all – by playing competitive golf, the real bucks are made at the elite level.
You don’t see hobbies net participants this kind of money.
In summary, yes, golf is a sport because it requires physical exertion and skill from participants and is played for entertainment.
However, many people still refer to it as a ‘game’, which is a common reference used for many other sports too (think football game, or game of tennis).
If you’re looking to take up a new sport – especially one that doesn’t involve physical contact with opponents – then golf is the perfect competitive outlet for you.