Golf is a game for life

By Duncan Simpson
New Zealand PGA Secretary


A recent report from England Golf and the PGA of Great Britain and  Ireland has calculated that golf in England has a “social value” (based on enhancements to health, enhanced wellbeing and so on) of around £1.8 billion, with every £1 spent on golf generating £1.17 in benefits.
These figures look impressive on the face of it, but I’m surprised they are so low.  Given the well known Swedish research which demonstrates that golfers live on average five years longer than non-golfers, I would have thought the extra economic contribution from golfers over that period alone might have come up with a higher figure.  In addition, golfers are less of a burden on the health system — the report comments on reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, cancers and type 2 diabetes amongst golfers — but again, the benefits calculated seem to be on the low side.
The English report also does not seem to consider the potential additional benefits generated by the life skills that golf teaches.  This includes the values taught in The First Tee programme: courtesy, perseverance, responsibility, confidence, judgement, honesty, respect, integrity and sportsmanship.  Sadly, the programme — aimed at teaching life skills to children in lower decile areas — is not currently active in New Zealand, but anyone taking up golf will soon be exposed to all of these values.  They will also learn another hugely important skill: relationship building.
“Doing business on the golf course” is generally viewed by non-golfers as an excuse for avoiding real work, but all business revolves around successful and sustainable relationships, and four hours or so on a golf course will tell you a lot about whether a prospective business partner has the sort of attributes that you can build a relationship from.  The same applies in reverse, of course.
I have travelled a lot on business, and have played golf as part of the relationship building process, often when there was a language barrier.  We may not have finished up by signing contracts on the back of a golf cart, but without golf it would have been much harder (if not impossible) to start a business relationship.  It’s perhaps no coincidence that every US president since Eisenhower has played golf — if the world’s most demanding job has a place for golf, there must be some beneficial contribution from it, and no doubt our former prime minister Sir John Key would also endorse this.  Calculating a dollar value from the additional business created directly or indirectly by golf might be problematical, but perhaps not impossible.
It does help if you can play golf to a reasonable standard, otherwise your patience and values will be severely tested, as illustrated by any random sample of club golfers.  A little professional help can go a long way to fixing this.  My English grandson’s school provides a short course of PGA-delivered lessons as a curriculum option, and already at the age of 13 he has a good appreciation of the basics and a sound foundation to build on.
At the other end of the scale, a German friend of mine in his early 70s, who has now retired and found the time to play more golf, has gone through 10 hours of lessons with his local PGA professional, and is highly enthusiastic about the resultant reduction in his handicap.  Which other sport can achieve similarly positive results across such a wide age range?
Perhaps the lesson from all of this is that the PGA/England Golf Report is a good start, pointing the way for more detailed research (not least in New Zealand) to reinforce the health, social and economic benefits of golf, and to help get external funding agencies seriously involved in programmes that leverage these.
Is it too much to hope that golf might become a compulsory part of the school curriculum, or that doctors might start prescribing golf as a means of tackling the massive health problems caused by obesity and its associated side effects?  It might seem far-fetched, but currently throwing more money at the health system or the socially deprived doesn’t seem to be successful in any country I can think of.
It’s surely time for a more lateral approach, and golf needs to go out and promote itself more widely outside the industry to play its part in this, and start achieving its true potential.