Is Golf A Sport?: Top 4 Arguments For And Against

is golf a sport

Meet Jake

Jake was a competitive golfer for over a decade dating back to the days of being the Captain of his high school golf team. He has played more than 200 courses across 32 different states in the US. Now semi-retired, Jake continues to golf 3-4 days a week with a current 2 handicap, gives golf lessons to his friends and family, and provides a wealth of knowledge to Golf Circuit from his competitive playing days. Jake combines practical expertise with technical knowledge to create golfing strategies and training techniques for both beginners and scratch golfers.

This article dives into the question: Is golf a sport?

A barbecue is a great place to spend some quality time with friends and family, but the fact that you’re pretty much stuck in the proximity of the grill means it’s not an ideal place to start an unwinnable argument.

There’s nowhere to hide, and the heat of the ‘discussion’ can rival that of the grill. It all started when someone asked a keen golfer if golf ‘was really a sport’?!

Golf is a sport because it fits the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition perfectly: It is ‘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.’ Golf is also included in the Olympics.

Thankfully I had a mouthful of ribs when the subject came up, and I was able to keep a low profile from where I could honestly evaluate both sides of the issue.

Having played golf for many years, I had some strong thoughts on the subject but managed to keep my mouth full and my ears open for ninety extremely entertaining minutes.

Is Golf A Sport Or A Game?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is clearly a sport. Yet, the same dictionary defines a game as ‘an activity that you do to have fun, often one that has rules and that you can win or…lose!

These two definitions both describe golf rather well.

Since many people – usually, those that don’t play golf – consider golf a ‘pastime’ or ‘game’ at best, this argument is hard to shake when the dictionary seemingly agrees.

Yet proponents of golf being a sport can use the same dictionary to back up their convictions. See why our debate lasted 90 minutes?

With almost 25 million people in the US alone believed to play golf regularly, the topic of sport vs. game/pastime crops up regularly in bars, restaurants, seminars, and even on the golf course. Rarely is anyone swayed by the opposing opinion…

Golf As A Sport Vs. Golf As A Game

From my research, it seems that the most common reaction from golfers is that it is a sport, and the most common explanation offered is that it is challenging, tiring, and competitive.

Non-golfers who feel golf is not a sports focus mainly on the lack of speed in golf, stating that it is just a question of hitting a ball with a stick. Not an easy thing to do correctly, but still not a sport.

Here are some of the common arguments both for and against golf being a sport

Golf Defined As A Sport

  • defines sport as: An individual or group activity pursued exercise or pleasure, often involving the testing of physical capabilities and taking the form of a competitive game such as football, tennis, etc., such activities considered collectively.
  • Merriam Webster defines a sport as Physical activity (such as running or an athletic game) engaged in for pleasure or exercise.
  • Collins English Dictionary defines a sport as A game such as football and basketball and other competitive leisure activities which need physical effort and skill.

Golf Defined As A Game

  • defines a game as ‘An amusement or pastime; diversion. A contest with rules, the result being determined by skill, strength, or chance.’
  • Merriam Webster defines a game as ‘A mental or physical competition conducted with rules and the participants in direct opposition.’
  • Collins English Dictionary defines a game as ‘An activity or sport usually involving skill, knowledge, or chance, in which you follow fixed rules and try to win against an opponent or to solve a puzzle.’

Reading these definitions, it seems to me that golf is both a sport and a game/pastime. Is that possible?

At present, I’m leaning towards Sport, since it’s included in the Olympics. That said, aren’t they called the Olympic Games?

Pros For Golf As A Sport

1. The Associated Press has awarded the Athlete of the Year title to a golfer no fewer than 33 times since its inception.

Counter Point – The media is considered by many to be slanted in much of what it does.

2. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the ruling body for Sports in colleges and universities. It has golf under its purview in these institutions, whose departments all consider golf a sport.

Counter Point – The NCAA considering golf to be a sport doesn’t make it so. It is simply a body of several members who have voted golf in.

3. WorldAtlas notes that golf is in the top 10 sports worldwide.

Counter Point – The word sport has recently become a watchword for many activities and is misused occasionally.

4. Sport’s definition allows for competition between individuals and teams. Golf is one of 74 different individual sports (which can also be played in teams) like swimming, cycling, track and field, and gymnastics. All of which are Olympic events.

Counter PointI’ll get back to you on this one!

Cons For Golf As A Sport

1. Since poker and darts are shown on the sports channel ESPN, and these are not sports, the inclusion of golf has no significance to this subject.

Counter PointDarts is a sport. England, United States, Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium have recognized darts as an official sport. The jury is out on poker.

2. ESPN assembled a panel of athletes, sports scientists, and journalists to determine the athletic difficulty of 60 activities using agility, strength, and endurance as criteria. This panel determined that the average level of athleticism in golf ranked lower than that of ping pong.

Counter Point – Sure, but ping pong is correctly named Table Tennis and is also an Olympic sport, notes

3. Although golf is competitive, the players cannot influence one another directly and tend to do their own thing to get the best score, which means it is not a sport.

Counter Point – If that is true, downhill skiing is no longer a sport.

4. You can play golf when injured. It’s claimed that in no sport can an injured player continue to compete seriously.

Counter Point – In Super Bowl XXXIX, Terrell Owens did precisely that by playing with a broken leg and torn ankle ligament. Is football no longer a sport? Motorcyclists racing in the MotoGP events regularly ride with broken limbs, and boxers have fought on with a fractured jaw. Britain’s The Sun newspaper reported on this example.

5. Lack of Speed. Many believe that a real sport has no downtime, and golfers standing around waiting to hit balls has been cited as a prime example.

Counter Point – A rugby fan watching gridiron would consider the continual changes from offensive to defensive moves and the constant time-outs to be a killer to the game’s flow.

6. Age. It is felt that players who can still play into their fifties and sixties cannot be called sportsmen and women (yet no definition of sport makes an age reference of any kind.)

Counter Point – Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn – according to Wikipedia –  won the Silver medal at the 1920 Olympics at the age of 72.

7. Golfers are not athletes – see John Daly puffing, smoking, and chewing while playing the game.

Counter Point – The speed at which the round of golf is played does not require athleticism.

8. Golf does require skill and practice, but that does not make it a sport any more than chess or brain surgery, neither of which is a sport.

Counter Point – Archers require skill and practice and are far more sedentary than golfers. They’re at every Summer Olympics.

9. Golf has too much walking involved for it to be a sport.

Counter Point – I cite the archers who do no walking at all, yet archery is a recognized sport.

10. Golfers experience no physical exertion. There is no running and, in some cases (John Daly), no walking.

Counter Point – There is minimal physical exertion during a round of golf because most of the exertion is mental.

Like archery and shooting, there is no need for physical exertion. On the contrary, calm and relaxed movements are vital in all three sports.

The debate on whether or not golf is a sport or not rages on.

Put several people together in a room, and they will leave exhausted but undecided. News8 Sports View posted the video below more than a decade ago, and as you will see, each person is left unaffected by the opposing argument.

A deep-rooted belief in something is not easily transplanted into an opposing field, regardless of clear evidence.

Who should we believe? Mom and Dad? Newsreaders? Dictionaries? The internet?

All of these will have variations of the truth, as seen by whoever compiled the research. Who decides the criteria for a part of society’s fabric that we call ‘sport’?

Find them, and you have your answer.

Having chewed over this conundrum – and the ribs – I can only side with the dictionaries until more evidence is presented.

Golf does meet the requirements of each of these respected dictionaries to be termed a sport.

Golf also meets their collective requirements on what makes something a game, which muddies the waters even more. Dare I suggest that it is both game and sport..?

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