Like many young professionals, Tiffany Fitzgerald followed advice to go to college and land a good job. But no one told her she’d also need to pick up a set of golf clubs to move up the company ladder.
“I found out pretty quickly once I entered corporate America that golf was the one thing that other people were doing that I wasn’t doing, and I learned how to play because of that,” she says.
It was not exactly love at first putt for Fitzgerald. She found the steep learning curve “embarrassing and intimidating.” But once she got better, she enjoyed it more – so much she turned golf into her full-time career.
In 2013, Fitzgerald founded Black Girls Golf to create a safe space for women and girls to learn, play, and connect at all skill levels. She says participation “skyrocketed” in the pandemic as more people sought safer activities to enjoy outdoors. The Atlanta-based organization now counts more than 4,000 members in chapters across the United States, a sign of growing inclusion in a sport traditionally dominated by affluent White men.
“Black women make up less than one percent of the golf industry’s workforce, so a huge part of our mission is introducing girls to the career opportunities that are available in golf. And for professional women, there’s so many benefits, including health and wellness,” Fitzgerald says.
Teeing up a longer, healthier life
A 2009 Swedish study suggests golfers may live longer than nongolfers – as much as five extra years. Playing at least once a month may also lower older adult’s risk of early death.
There are several physical health benefits to routinely playing golf, according to Dr. Jacquelyn Turner, an assistant professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine. A golfer herself, she says golfing can burn up to 2,000 calories walking 18 holes, the equivalent of five miles, depending on the course.
Burning so many calories “gives you a lot of aerobic exercise that can decrease a lot of comorbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol,” Dr. Turner says.
She also points out other benefits of golf including higher HDL levels – “good” cholesterol – and stronger core muscles, which are especially important to prevent falls later in life. Being outside in the sun also helps with vitamin D exposure.
And playing golf might make you a better candidate for surgery if you need it. As a colorectal surgeon, Dr. Turner has to evaluate patients’ health before scheduling operations. “If I know a patient has been on the golf course and walks 18 holes of golf, guess what? They probably have a good indication of a healthy cardiac and lung system,” she says.
Beyond physical benefits
As a busy working mom, Fitzgerald views golf as a healthy way to unplug and unwind in the great outdoors.
“For me, it’s been a huge stress relief, which helps my mental health so much,” Fitzgerald says. “You kind of forget what’s happening in day-to-day life because most golf courses are so beautiful. And nature sometimes can be really serene, and it helps calm you and reduce your stress levels.”
Fitzgerald says golf also teaches important skills that transfer to everyday life, such as discipline and self-acceptance. “There’s so many parallels with golf in life, you know, hitting a bad shot and being able to let it go,” Fitzgerald adds. “Golf forces you to forgive yourself, to be patient and certainly focus on the task at hand.”
Playing golf releases hormones that lower stress and anxiety and can also improve memory, according to Dr. Turner. Research suggests the sport’s social nature may also contribute to golfers’ longer life spans.
As Fitzgerald can attest, golf might also boost your career. “Golf can put you in situations where you would never find yourself and next to people that you would never ever have met,” she says, adding networking on the course could lead to future professional opportunities off the course.
A lifelong sport
Low-impact and easy on the joints, golf can be played at any age.
“It is more about mental endurance and finesse and skill than it is strength and force, so you can play golf for a lifetime,” Fitzgerald says.
Dr. Turner agrees. “Golf is good activity for all segments of the population, from children to seniors,” adding that everyone can benefit from improved balance and eye coordination. But before playing, she advises consulting your doctor, especially if you have prior medical problems like cardiovascular disease.
Once you’re medically cleared, Fitzgerald recommends seeking other people who play. Not only will they hold you accountable, but you’ll also find a community you can have fun with – important for a long, healthy life.