I’ve managed to squeeze in quite a number of rounds of golf over the last couple of weeks – making the most of the soon-to-be-over holidays.  In fact, over the last 16 days I’ve played 12 rounds in nine different clubs, spanning six counties.  Not bad going!  Looking back, I realised that I played with 13 different people, only two of whom I’d known before I took up golf, and that bought home to me the fact that golf is much more than just a sport.  Whilst we’re all aware of the physical benefits of golf, it’s only relatively recently that golf is being lauded for its benefits to mental health.

Playing golf releases endorphins, hormones that act as the human body’s natural mood booster, hence playing golf helps put you in a good mood, directly lowering stress and anxiety.  When you’re playing golf you’re often playing in hundreds of acres of natural beauty and that outdoor natural aspect of the sport provides direct mental health benefits also.  The idea that natural and green landscapes lower stress and offer therapeutics goes back to ancient Roman times and more recent studies have pointed to the fact that being in these environments lowers stress and anxiety.  What happens when your drive ricochets off a tree or you mis-hit a pitch?  Surely that is stressful?  Well, if you’re playing with my usual four-ball they’ll make you laugh – and laughing also releases endorphins.

Golf is usually an individual sport however I relish the opportunity to play team events and last week I managed to fit in three: one four-ball Texas scramble, one three-ball Texas scramble and finally a three-ball Florida scramble.  I loved being able to learn from my team mates and to discuss strategies.  All three competitions were great fun, however I enjoyed the first the most, as we had four goes at each shot and therefore managed to accumulate more birdies!  Also, it was in Castlerock where there was an incredible amount of run and the views were stunning.  Although the sun was blazing there was a refreshing sea breeze to ensure we didn’t overheat and the craic was 90!

The Florida scramble (similar to a normal (Texas) scramble except the person whose shot is chosen cannot hit the next shot) required a lot more thinking.  The sun was still blazing but as we were in Portadown there wasn’t a sea breeze so it was stifling.  Factor in the fact that this was our fourth round in four days (in a heatwave) so we found the going tough at times.  Nevertheless, we had many laughs and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

In almost all of the clubhouses I entered over the past 16 days I bumped into people I knew.  Golf can be a very social sport.  Through golf I’ve made friends with people across the Province but more importantly I’ve formed lasting friendships with members of my own club.

Golf focuses the mind.  As Arnold Palmer said “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated”.  From reading greens and estimating distances, golf requires you to concentrate, however a good golfer can switch off between shots, getting back into the zone as he/she approaches the ball.  A round of golf can bring a roller coaster of emotions, from extreme highs when you hit the perfect pitch or sink a tough putt, to frustration when you hit a poor shot or miss a sitter of a putt. It takes fortitude and perseverance to keep practising and being patient with yourself.  Alice Cooper stated, “Mistakes are part of the game. It’s how well you recover from them, that’s the mark of a great player.”  And that’s what life is like!  If we can develop resilience on the golf course surely that should help us cope when things don’t go our way in life.