Can You Lose Weight Playing Golf?

Golf is a long walk and great exercise, but you need to make smart choices if the sport is part of your weight loss programme

Lexi Thompson snacking
Lexi Thompson snacking
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Golf should be a huge fitness benefit and see you in fine shape following a year of playing. Why? We know how beneficial walking is for our health and wow, it is a long way round a golf course. You can walk up to 5 miles on heavy terrain that fires up your muscle groups both between shots and during them.

But not all golfers see themselves lose pounds - often golf comes with some naughty habits that have a negative impact on your health. The social element of the game can lead to a huge increase in calories and suddenly the workout on the course is wasted.

So if you are looking to shed a few pounds whilst playing this game then you need to do it the right way. Be smart and you’ll reap the benefits.

Carry your bag and you'll up your calorie burn

Carry your bag and you'll up your calorie burn

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cart Vs Carry

Playing a round of golf it is all too simple to take the easy options. By taking a golf cart you could be losing out big time on the health benefits associated with the game. 

Often golf carts are a necessity on medical grounds, but if you opt for one because it’s there, you’ll miss a golden opportunity to up those steps. A round of 18 holes can be 4 miles and that equals a chunk of calorie burn (approximately 1,200). When sat in a cart, it’s all too easy to scoff the bacon roll at halfway and sip on frothy coffees from the cup holders as the round meanders on. 

When I played in the States the courses are often stretched over 100s of acres of land. Many are super challenging and stunning walks. Walking for weight loss is one of the simplest ways to lose weight. I think the cardio workout you get from golf is one of the biggest benefits both physically and mentally. Forget a good walk spoiled - the walk is often what makes the round.

We talk about going on walking holidays, add the trek element into your next golf holiday and pop these notable tracks onto a bucket list that will make you puff and fit beautifully into those new skinny pants.

Erin Hills golf course pictured

Erin Hills is a long "walk only" course and will test the fittest golfer's stamina

(Image credit: Getty Images)

• Ko'olau Golf Club in Hawaii, USA, add wind into the equation and you’ll feel like you’ve done an endurance walk at the end.

• Erin Hills in Wisconsin is nestled in over 650 acres of beautiful land and it's a walk only course. This comes the warning of a round that will take you just shy of 5 hours amounting to 16,000 steps!

• I’ve played Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays in Queensland, Australia. At points you’re 100m above sea level as the course is set on a monolith rising out of the coral seas.

• Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand is set amongst 800 acres of fern forest-lined fairways and cliff top views to die for. This is a spectacular cardio challenge.

• Castle Stuart in Scotland has some serious climbs between holes and up to greens - be it a shorter walk the undulating terrain offers great interval training which we all know boosts out fitness.

If you want to maximise health benefits, then ideally carry a lightweight bag. This will load your muscles - especially on those slopes - and challenge your fitness, increased heart rate equals calorie burn. If your body makes a lot of grumbling sounds and the load is too much then I find a push trolley a brilliant option. There are some outstanding models on the market - check out our guide on the best push trolleys

Cabot Highlands - Castle Stuart - Hole 11

Add wind into the equation on a hilly course and you'll burn even more calories!

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Flat Vs Hilly Course

If you play on a flat course then maybe begin to make a few more fitness based decisions. Load up by carrying to up your calorie burn. If one of your motivating reasons for playing more golf is to lose weight and you’re in that decision-making window of joining a new club, opt for a hillier course with walks between the green and the next tee. 

Some cart focused courses will offer a brilliant workout thanks to being stretched out over a larger area. Bear this in mind. Join a challenging course walk wise, but ensure the tees are fair relative to how far you hit the ball.

Warm Up With A Workout

Add a quick blast of squats, lunges and hinges into your warm-up on the tee and you’ll reap yet another fitness benefit. It is so important to engage your core and glutes before a round. Switching glutes on by doing a set of 10 squats on the tee will ensure you swing at your most powerful and you do a mini gym visit every time you play. Bonus! Muscle building will also help you to lose weight, so get with the squats.

Getting into social habits and drinking every round will have an adverse affect on your weight loss mission

Getting into social habits and drinking every round will have an adverse affect on your weight loss mission

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Water Vs Wine

What you choose to hydrate yourself with during a round is super important. Not much beats water, but a coffee before you head out will kick your adrenals into gear and awaken your metabolism. If you consume a load of sugary drinks or milky coffee with syrup then your calorie counter will begin to tip towards weight gain. High sugar drinks should also be ditched in favour of nourishing options.

Avoid drinking alcohol during the round if you play golf more than once a week, it’s a habit that you can fall into and it will cost you on the calorie front. A one-off social blast on the golfing calendar is fine, we play for fun right? But if golf is on your list to help you lose the pounds, perhaps choose non-alcoholic drinks on those occasions. But beware as some of these are often loaded with sugars.

Post-round drinks are a wonderful way to recap your wondrous shots with pals. Again this is a danger zone for the waistline and again non-alcoholic isn’t always the best option. 

Opt for a pint of water or a herbal tea often enough and your playing partners will soon make that healthy and hydrating decision for you. Always go with a small Sauvignon and you’ll find one waiting for you after you’ve nipped in to wash hands, its so easy then to just quaff it. So make smart nutritional choices.

Are you making the right choices to fuel your round?

Are you making the right choices to fuel your round?

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Banana Vs Bacon Roll

The snack options at many halfway houses are often laden with saturated fat and sugar. Prepare to fuel your ‘hike’ with decent snacks. If you reach for a banana, add some protein with this to avoid sugar spikes (yes, even a banana can play havoc with your blood sugar levels - one bite and your body doesn’t know if that’s a Twix or fruit) so add a handful of nuts into the mix to level everything out. Have a nutritional breakfast (think eggs and avocados etc) and you’ll find your energy levels last, so there won’t be a need to snack too much.

Let’s face it, loos are few and far between at most golf courses. If you’re sipping water to constantly hydrate thanks to the major power walk, then the choice of course you play needs decent facilities. These also class as trees and bushes. Playing an exposed links course with nowhere to hide and you’ll find you don’t take on as much water. Hydrate way before a game and especially after. Often there’s not a lot of choice on this one. Watch the black coffee mentioned previously as it’s a diuretic. 

Golf is a super healthy sport and will see your waistline shrink, but only if you make super healthy choices. These only need to be small tweaks and you’ll soon reap the benefits.

Katie Dawkins
Advanced PGA Professional and freelance contributor

Katie is an Advanced PGA professional with over 20 years of coaching experience. She helps golfers of every age and ability to be the best versions of themselves. In January 2022 she was named as one of Golf Monthly's Top 50 Coaches.

Katie coaches the individual and uses her vast experience in technique, psychology and golf fitness to fix problems in a logical manner that is effective - she makes golf simple. Katie is now based on the edge of the New Forest. An experienced club coach, she developed GardenGOLF during lockdown and as well as coaching at Hamptworth Golf Club she freelances, operating via pop-up clinics and travelling to clients homes to help them use their space to improve. 

She has coached tour pros on both LET tour and the Challenge Tour as well as introduced many a beginner to the game. 

Katie has been writing instructional content for magazines for 20 years. Her creative approach to writing is fuelled by her sideline as an artist.