Walking My Way to Better Health

Ditching the cart has been just the kick I needed, and the pounds keep falling off.

Thrash TalkI started off the year with a few golf resolutions, and like most people, I only had mild expectations of sticking to them. The one goal that really had the least to do with golf and the most to do with life was a commitment to walking the golf course as part of my overall plan to get into better shape.

Five months into 2011, and I can definitely declare that my resolution to ditch golf carts and become a walking golfer has been a successful mission, and the health benefits are stacking up in my support.

First, let me provide some background. At 5-foot-6, I’ve never been skinny, and I’ve constantly been on a diet. Truth be told, the thinnest I’ve ever been was my senior year of high school, when I was walking the golf course every day and actively paying attention to my weight. That was 1995 and I weighed 150 pounds. Fast forward to 2010, a pretty sedentary lifestyle, a complete misunderstanding of food bred by several relatively successful stints of low-carb dieting, and an insane reliance on fast food as a staple, and I’d ballooned to 230.

My golf game was as good as it’s been since my first few years of college when I worked at a local golf club, could play six days a week, was on my feet constantly and I was quite fit. But even 80 pounds hadn’t stolen my ability to hit the ball and my handicap landed in the mid single digits. Then I realized how much better it could be.

Through the dog days of summer, my scores resembled my scale, constantly rising. The nice consistent rounds in the 70s early in May were replaced by roller coaster rides that nearly all ended with a crash landing. One round in particular, I was even par through 15 holes. I can remember vividly thinking how tired I was but needed to gut it out. Sure enough I finished double-triple-double to turn what should have been the rest round of my life into just another 18 where I faded horribly.

It was so obvious, especially when the heat cranked up that my 230-pound body just couldn’t handle 18 holes of golf, even when I was riding in a cart.

It wasn’t just about my golf scores. My pants didn’t fit. I would only wear shirts I didn’t need to tuck into my too-tight pants. Getting on the scale each morning fueled the depression and with every bad meal eaten to soothe the pain, the spiral spun faster. The only joy was that I could play a pretty convincing Santa for all my friends’ kids at our Christmas party. But when I asked my wife if I needed a pillow or anything for padding, she didn’t need to say a word. Her look said it all: the suit fit.

Luckily, New Year’s, and the requisite resolutions had arrived, and an opportunity at my day job arose. A local restaurant focused on healthy options wanted to put someone on a diet, make a one-month menu and deliver food to the office each day. I signed up within a minute of the email landing in my inbox, knowing I’d have to chronicle the ordeal. Over the course of January, I learned just how far off I’d been. It turns out, to lose weight, I’d eat 1,800 calories a day. When I estimated what I had been eating, there were plenty of days I’d have eaten 1,800 calories in one meal! Having an idea of what proper portion size is, and how far you can stretch 1,800 calories when eating properly and I was on my way.

By the time March arrived, I’d already seen 20 pounds pour off, but I knew that diet alone wasn’t enough. I needed to introduce exercise, and what better way than through golf. Some research supported my idea that golf could play a solid role in my fitness regimen. Walking 18 holes of golf adds up to about 16,000 steps, or about eight miles. It’s possible to burn 2,000 calories carrying your bag, which means one round of golf a week would wipe up an entire’s day’s worth of food for me.

With the help of Sun Mountain, Ecco and Kentwool, all of whom enthusiastically wanted to help my efforts, I began the 2011 golf season as a walker.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. Even having lost some weight, at my height, 210 pounds isn’t svelte. And given I could barely make it through 18 holes last year, trying to walk was tough. I knew I had to build up my endurance.

I began carrying my new Sun Mountain Superlight 3.5 and loved how a properly designed carry bag made a world of difference compared to the run-of-the-mill bag I had in the past. With excellent balance, straps that really distribute the weight nicely and a stand that feels nearly indestructible (as does the rest of the bag), I couldn’t be happier. Little touches like a pocket for a water bottle have been around for years, but to someone new to walking, it was really a step up from my previous bag.

The first week or two, carrying the bag proved to be a lot. My game was suffering, which I didn’t mind at all. I was approaching this as a process. But more troubling was some knee pain that threatened to put an end to the experiment.

I decided to try a push cart, and put a Sun Mountain MicroCart in play. Now, I’m not afraid to admit, I felt like a little old lady the first time I unfolded the thing and walked to the first tee. But I just so happened to get paired with a friend of our club champ, both of whom are in their mid-30s, like me. I mentioned my insecurity, and he laughed, saying that both he and the club champ showed up one day last year, each mortified to trot out a pushcart, until seeing the other’s.

Let me say, this cart has really changed how I look at walking. The combination of more repetition and building more stamina, along with taking the stress off my already-overburdened knees made a world of difference. Suddenly I wasn’t struggling to finish 18. I was trying to decide if I could walk another nine holes in the afternoon.

I’d always thought of a push cart (back then it would have been a pull cart) as the rickety thing on the side of the cart barn at the local muni. Not this sleek Micro Cart. It incredibly light and folds down so tiny it fits into my junk-filled trunk. It’s also got a cool attachment for an umbrella that proved its worth during a recent rainy day I’d have certainly ruled a washout in the past. It’s really changed my mind from dreading walking to really enjoying it. I think my mental game has improved, as well, with the added time to relax after a poor shot, enjoy a good one, or strategize about what I’ve got ahead. People talk about the “flow” of the game while walking, and I now get it.

While I can’t deny I’ve taken a cart a few times this season, I’ve walked at least 18 holes a week, and the difference is amazing. Several months in, and simply finishing the 18th hole is no longer the goal. The focus is back on my golf game, not the walk. I’ve got to give some love to the pair of Ecco Biom shoes I’ve been wearing. They felt great right out of the box, and are showing me how much better your feet can feel when wearing premium shoes. There’s nothing like foot trouble, when every 100 yards feels like a 100 miles, and my old pair of big-name shoes was great at giving me blisters and extremely sore calves, even when playing in a cart. The Bioms have been great, nice and light, and designed specifically for walking. Paired up with my Kentwool socks and I’ve been blister-free and the cramping and soreness I’d regularly experienced previously are now a thing of the past.

So where does that leave me? As we wrap up May, I’ve finally cracked back into the 190s, and the 32 pounds I’ve lost is only the start. Aside from feeling like a new person, with clothes that fit, and a face I don’t hate seeing in the mirror, my doctor is thoroughly impressed. Just this week I had a follow-up appointment. My blood pressure has dropped from an eyebrow-raising 150-over-110 to right-on 115-over-75. Funny when your doc does a double take when reading the chart. My cholesterol has also improved significantly, from “one more bad test and you’re going on pills” to “everything is normal.”

Now all that’s left is a breakthrough in the golf game. So far my endurance has improved, but my game hasn’t. However, I’m blaming my short game for that, and now that I can spend more than 10 minutes on the putting green without crippling back pain, I know where to focus my attention. If nothing else, I enter the summer – and tournament season – with the foundation in shape to have a great run.

And more importantly than anything that happens on the course, I’ll know life as a walking golfer has improved my life as a whole.

17 thoughts on “Walking My Way to Better Health”

  1. Thanks for the article and encouragement to walk!

    While I haven’t ditched the cart altogether, after 30+ years of almost exclusive riding, I am trying to walk at least nine holes a week(sometimes that is all I play) and hoping to workup to 18 by the end of the season. The first couple of times were a bit of a struggle, but now I miss it if I don’t do it.

  2. I look at it like this: golf is something I love to do and exercise is something I need, so combining the two just makes sense. Couple with this the innovations in bag and push cart design, and walking the course is in all ways preferable. The only drawback that exists is what to me amounts to poor course design that makes walking onerously long (i.e. typical residential course design where the distance between greens and the next tees can be measured in fractions of a mile!), so some coursesaren’t conducive to walking (or worse don’t allow it).

  3. As a cyclist who’s been off the bike for two years and trying to get back in shape, and as a brand-spanking-new golfer (I use that term loosely) I found that I could empathize with this post. I live in Central Florida amid a dozen or so affordable golf course and am even in a summer league (though I have no business being there) but it seems all courses are for carts. Will courses with carts allow you to walk? So much to learn for this noob.

  4. Congratulations, Ron, great article. I, too, am a walker with a push cart, have been for almost 2 years. Never liked riding for multiple reasons. Anyhow, I also needed to lose weight but walking alone wasn’t doing it for me. I had to make other changes, mainly with what I ate. Like you, I found my caloric intake was insanely higher than what I should have been taking in. Now that I’ve focused on that, and incorporated exercising daily (even light workouts), the weight is falling. Two days ago I was able to play 18 and then play 9 again – all walking – and felt great! Good luck to you and hope the game comes around!

  5. Forgot to add: at 30 years-old, I never really worried about the push-cart “look” but I did have trouble convincing my golf buddies that it was the way to go. Now? All but one of my friends uses a cart or carries – and the one who doesn’t only plays about once a month anyway. There are courses in my area who are promoting walking by letting you play another 18 for free, which is awesome.

  6. Awesome article!!

    I also have dedicated my 2011 season to walk more rounds then I ever thought of in the past…Thus far 8 out of the 9 rounds I’ve been blessed enough to play I have walked them and I can surely attest walking does make your health better not alone slows down the game from shot to shot…Just like the article I have gone out and invested in premium Adidas “tour” shoes knowing I was committed to walking. I feel so much better at the end of each round and the score doesn’t even matter…

  7. Congrats on your progress. I have undergone a big weight loss and one of the secrets I had that goes against what most would tell you is I did not get on the scale hardly at all. I would go weeks, even months between getting on the scale. Scale watching can drive you crazy. The whole watched pot never boils thing. I simply dedicated myself to keep moving and eat better. I could feel the progress. And when I did get on the scale I saw marked improvement. It was an overall better experience that way. Just wanted to share that with others that may read this who need to shed some pounds and get healthy.

  8. Congrats man, and keep it up. I’ve experienced the same thing. I initially started to walk more, since my only round under 100 I walked, so I figured it would help my game (no real noticeable impact to be honest), but I’ve lost at least 20 lbs. within 2-3 months. I now don’t even think of riding unless it’s a course where it’s required or I’m with my buddy who rides all the time. I’ve never been one for excercise, so walking has been a godsend for my health!

  9. Ive recently bought a push cart myself, a bag boy sc 180 from rockbottomgolf as I wanted my own cart and have decided to walk almost exclusively when playing alone to supplement my current exercise routine and save a few bucks from not using a riding cart so even financially it makes sense as well. Im looking to just maintain my current weight, possibly lose maybe 10 pounds or so if i can(im 5’11”, 195 lbs and in decent shape but 180 would probably we the perfect weight for me). So far ive only attempted to play 9 as most of my walking is during the week and 9 holes is all i have time to play each day. I think i actually play better when walking, i think i focus more and being able to walk directly to my next shot seems more efficient than driving a cart along the cart path and then having to walk over, especially around the green.

  10. Congratulations Ron. Best of luck the rest of the way reaching your goals.

    I also decided to walk this year and so far it has been fantastic. By watching what I have been eating and adding a little exercise I have shed 15 lbs so far and I am very close to being on the short side of 200 for the first time in a very long time.

    After the first few rounds that I walked this year I was really stiff and sore but with lots of stretching and staying at it I now am able to make it through 18 still feeling strong and not feeling lousy the next couple of days.

    Keep up the great work!

  11. That’s a fairly common story to me. I am 6’4″, and started out May at around 300lbs. I am a member of a golf course that doesn’t allow individually owned golf carts, and charges out the wazzoo for cart rentals. My $100/mo membership fee would easily hit $300/mo after all the cart fees added up. It was just ridiculous. After I bought a new set of wedges in April, my $1000 bill drove me to want to do something differently.

    Unlike the OP, I don’t have a sedentary job. I manage a sporting goods store. On an average 8 hour day, I walk around 15,000 steps, even in my small store. I manage to lose weight on a 2500 calorie diet, and like he said, if you space it out properly, you can eat a ton. When I dedicate myself to it, it’s hard to eat enough food to actually get 2500 calories in.

    Like the OP, I was in my best shape in high school. My sophomore year, when I was on the golf team, I was still 6’3″, and weighed in at 265. I was still overweight, but I felt good about myself. I wore a 38 jean, an XL shirt, and was dating a hottie on the dance team, LOL. Now, my wife is still a beautiful woman (I’m an overachiever, I guess!), but I’m not so much. I was wearing a 42 pant, and popped a couple buttons occasionally, a probably too tight XXL shirt, and I ballooned up to 315 at one point, and was there right before I started playing golf again early last year.

    However, riding in carts doesn’t get it done in the exercise department. I would walk occasionally, but with my current level of walking at work, and the high stress nature of being the head honcho working nearly 50 hours every week, I was too exhausted when I was finished carrying my bag to finish up my game on a strong note, as well as being worn out the next day I worked, which was ALWAYS a 12-13 hour shift.

    So, for my birthday, May 7th, I asked for a push cart. I found one on TGW that was nice enough for me, with all of the features mentioned by the OP. The size was a HUGE consideration for me, as even at 6’4″, I drive a Mini Cooper. Yeah, go ahead and chuckle, but be sure you sit in one at least once in your life and be amazed at how much room is in the front seats. But the cargo area is small. I can fit 2 golf bags or my bag and my folded up push cart in the back with the seats laid forward.

    My results, however, are astounding. I play at least twice a week, and walk all 18 holes now. I’m 3 week in to walking with my push cart as my only exercise outside of work, and I’m down to 285. That’s 10-15lbs lost in THREE WEEKS. It’s helping my golf game by helping me forget the bad shots, plan the next shot, and making my swing more powerful through the added strength in my legs. The success I’m feeling from my weight loss is manifesting itself in the rest of my life, making me think about how much I’m eating again. I feel like a completely different person. And from the aspect of being tired, I feel more energetic now than I did when I’d ride, even the next day at work. Gotta love that cardio.

    So, to reitterate his point, if you’re considering taking up walking the course as a means to both improve your health and your game, go ahead and get a push cart. I’m 27 years old, and don’t feel embarassed at all about walking with a push cart. Some of them even look cool *shock!*.

  12. Congrats to everyone who has become a walker!! I have been a militant walker for my whole career, for one at 6-7 getting in and out of carts and banging my head everytime a bump is hit is no fun. I joined a private club a year ago which is a very tough walk and the last four holes are very difficult so the combination of being tired at the end of the round and then the stern test of the 15-18 holes I have yet to break 80 on this course ( I have shot 80 6 times 81 10 times ) as an 8.1 index it is getting frustrating to not break 80 and with it being only $14 to rent a cart it is tempting to ride but I still hardly ever do. I will break 80 soon.

  13. I totally agree about S Florida and carts, but there are some courses that do let you walk but not enough. If more and more people walked, maybe more courses would allow walking. Arizona and South Carolina (M Beach) are the absolute worst for walking. It’s a shame, because there’s such a variety of courses.

  14. Like you I lost some weight by walking the course with a carrybag, even sometimes 27 holes a day, but actually not on purpose to loose weight, just to move better around the course.

    But I went into an ankle problem, so I gave up the carrybag ….

    I still walk, but I get less worn out at the last holes, keep my focus better and play better, by using a 3 wheel push cart now.

    Besides that it is not chosing between carrying 1 or 2 bottles of water with me, etc….. I was always leaving out the umbrella, rainsuit, even some seldom used clubs etc. to keep the carrybag as light as possible.

  15. I suffer from psoriatic arthritis and had been riding a cart the last few years. A year ago, I got put on an amazing drug that finally got it under control. I finally started walking and carrying this season. Yesterday I walked 27 holes and felt great!

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