Scottish pilot study prescribes golf for health

Golf on prescription in Scotland
Golf on prescription in Scotland

A pilot health scheme in Scotland has prescribed golf for individuals to improve physical and mental wellbeing.

‘Golf for Health’ is a social prescribing project developed by The R&A in partnership with the University of St Andrews School of Medicine.

The scheme was rolled out across Fife last year with golf clubs, GP practices, healthcare professionals, community link workers and 30 test patients.

Participants experienced golf through a six-to-eight-week free-of-charge program at one of four local clubs.

Linda Duncan, a pilot member at Cluny Clays Golf Club, said: “Golf has become something for me. It’s helped me get out in the fresh air and meet other people. The health benefits for me have been 10, 20, 30-fold.”

Previous studies have indicated a link between golf and improved health, including the Golf and Health Project, which was supported by a number of governing bodies in the sport and The World Golf Foundation.

It said that golfers live five years longer than non-golfers and that playing golf can help prevent and treat 40 major chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, breast and colon cancer, depression and dementia.

The research team highlighted the positive effects of being in the open air and among nature, citing a report by Syngenta Golf that stresses the value of golf’s green spaces.

Environmental psychologist Professor Jenny Roe, from the University of Virginia, told Syngenta Golf that golf is attractive because it is played outdoors and offers relaxation. 

“Contact with nature slows down our stress response and induces calm,” said Prof. Roe.

“There is evidence to show this is happening in our biological system. It is promoting stress resilience, it is improving our mood, it is decreasing our risk of depression, and increasing our social wellbeing, particularly on a golf course where you are interacting with other members of that community.” 

A snapshot survey conducted by Syngenta Golf previously found that 55% of new golf club members cited ‘mental wellbeing’ as their primary reason for joining. 

The partnership behind ‘Golf for Health’ included The R&A, Fife Golf Trust, NHS Fife, Scottish Golf, PGA Scotland, the European Tour Group and Ladies European Tour.

Kevin Barker, Director of Golf Development – The R&A, said: “The R&A is actively promoting the health benefits of golf to encourage more people into the sport. We see social prescription as a great way for golf to contribute to the health of communities and to provide people with opportunities to enjoy playing the sport throughout their lifetime.”

The R&A has committed further funding to the project to support research at the University and its partners' delivery of pilot golf packages.

Once pilot testing is complete, the findings will be evaluated and assessed for the feasibility of a larger-scale roll-out across Scotland and the United Kingdom.