How Many Calories Does Golf Burn? Including Calorie Calculator!

On any given day at your local health club, you’ll see a bunch of guys plodding away on a treadmill for mile after mile, peddling away on an indoor bike that’s not actually taking them anywhere, or taking step after step on a machine that monotonously simulates someone walking up a set of stairs. You certainly don’t want to slam anyone working hard to stay in shape, but you think to yourself: there’s got to be a way to generate that same caloric deficit within your body, without subjecting yourself to some painfully boring exercise machine, right?

You, of course, come from the school of thinking that says “work smarter, not harder.” So while those other guys are firmly glued to some exercise torture device inside a gym, you strap on your trusty wearable fitness device, pack your golf clubs in the trunk of the car, meet up with a few friends, and spend the afternoon playing 18 holes of golf while enjoying the great outdoors and getting yourself some fresh air.

Then, after spending your day in one of the most enjoyable ways possible, you sit back down in your car, press a button on your fitness tracker, and discover that you’ve burned almost a thousand calories. By comparison, those guys back at the gym would’ve had to run on a treadmill, glide on an elliptical machine, or pedal away on an exercise bike for anywhere between an hour-and-a-half to two hours to match your caloric output.

Which one sounds like a better way to burn a thousand calories to you?

It should quickly dawn on you as to why so many guys like to play golf. The fact is, the mere act of swinging the club, bending down to set and pick up your ball, walking from hole to hole (especially if you’re carrying your clubs), and even just standing there while waiting for your friends to take their swing, all burn a lot more calories than you’d think. Every one of those involves virtually your entire body, and any time your body has to make any movements, that burns calories; the more muscles involved, the more calories burned.

How many Calories burned walking 18 holes?

Let’s start off with the basics. The 180lb male would burn about 100 calories walking one mile. By itself, that doesn’t sound like a lot. But then add in the fact that the average golf course is somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 yards (just under 4 miles), give or take. In other words, if you were to just simply walk from one end to the other of a golf course at a regular pace, exerting no other physical action, you’d be burning approximately 400 calories right there.

And that also doesn’t take into consideration any additional calories you would burn by having to bring your golf clubs around with you, from hole to hole. Even if you’re transporting your clubs in a lighter carry bag, when you add in the basics of golf balls, clubs, and any other additional accessories, you’re looking at a bag that will weigh about 20lbs (and that’s a conservative estimate).

It’s estimated that the same individual carrying a 20lb weight while walking at the same rate would burn an additional 80 to 100 calories for every mile they walk

Now, how many calories does golf burn if you use a golf club push cart? Interestingly enough, the number of calories you’d burn is almost the same. In 2008, a sports scientist published research in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows that there was almost no difference in the calories burned by his test subjects when they were carrying their golf clubs, versus using a push cart to move them around. In fact, because these push carts showed no competitive advantage in less energy consumption versus carrying clubs, the American Junior Golf Association actually decided to allow players to use non-motorized carts to move their clubs around, to lower the stress and physical exertion of carrying clubs or using a push cart.

Leave that electric cart behind if you want to burn more calories!

The table below (taken from Harvard medical school data) shows the number of calories burned during 30 minutes of partaking in particular sports. This is where you start to see how golf excels, because an average round takes 3 to 4 hours. So if you carry your clubs around with you that is around 1700 calories, for a 185 pound person! When you consider that you are very unlikely to frequently partake in 3 to 4 hours of softball or running, golf stands up as what of the best things you can do for your health whilst having fun and enjoying the great outdoors.

Table showing amount of calories burned in 30 minutes (Harvard Medical School)

Training and Sports Activities

125-pound person

155-pound person 

185-pound person 

Billiards 75 93 111
 Dancing: slow, waltz, foxtrot 90 112 133
Frisbee 90 112 133
Water Volleyball 90 112 133
Golf: using powered cart 105 130  155 
Gymnastics: general 120 149 178
Horseback Riding: general 120 149 178
Softball: general play 150 186 222
Dancing: disco, ballroom, square  165 205 244
Golf: carrying clubs 165 205 244
Dancing: Fast, ballet, twist 180 223 266
Skiing: downhill 180 223 266
Football: competitive 270  335 400
Swimming: butterfly  330   409  488
Running: 10 mph (6 min/mile)  495 614 733

Keeping an accurate track of your calories burned playing golf

Just in case you want to find out the exact amount of calories you personally burn in a round here is how you do it. Bear in mind that this is still very rough, different people have different metabolisms and courses and types of shot in a round vary greatly. Nevertheless, this is the best I could do.

To find the number of calories burned during a particular exercise task you first need to work out the metabolic equivalent of task (MET). This is the energy cost of a particular activity over a specific time period. A MET of 1 is if you were to just sit in a room of average temperature and not be eating food, just sat there doing nothing.  Golf whilst walking with clubs is given a MET of 5.4.

To then get calories burned you take this MET value and multiply by the person’s weight in kg and then 3.5, this number is then divided by 200. This gives calories burned per minute which is then multiplied by the time to give total calories burned. You don’t want to do all that so here is a calculator I made to help give you a rough guide.

Calories burned playing golf at the driving range

Image: Flickr ZacKlassen cc2.0

But what about those times when you want to swing your golf club, but don’t really have anyone else to play with, or you simply don’t want to trek that handful of miles up and down a golf course? Obviously, you’d lose the caloric burn from the mere act of walking up and down the course, and whatever you burn from bringing your clubs with you.

How much of a difference is there in the total calories burned by someone who spends some quality time at the driving range?

Interestingly enough, the fact that you’re swinging your club more often, at a much greater velocity in each and every swing, adds up to a significant calorie burn as well. If you think about it, it makes sense. Every time you swing the club, you’re raising a weighted object above your head, using your arms to control it at the top of your swing, and then engaging your core, back, and upper legs to bring the swing through impact with the ball and finish the motion of the swing. Again, the more muscles you use, the more calories you burn.

If you want empirical proof, there’s that too. Neil Wolkodoff, director of the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver, stated that the actual act of swinging a golf club takes significant energy, which is the fundamental purpose of calories. The level of caloric expenditure was significant enough to where it could be concluded that the act of swinging the golf club could actually be considered a rigorous activity.

Devices that count calories burned

You are probably well aware of all the fitness watches available now on the market most famous probably being the Fitbit. This is designed mainly to measure your daily activity whether it be walking or running and keep a monitor on things such as your heart rate. But there are now watches out there specially designed for golf. And the even better news is that some give an estimate of the number of calories burned too!

Garmin Approach X40 GPS watch

This nice looking device is my pick of the bunch (as I own one). It is small and compact and more of a band than a chunky watch so it shouldn’t get in the way and annoy you when you are swinging the club.

So it will show calories burned (woo!) but will also give you loads more information including number of steps, distance walked and heart rate. But as I said it is much more than just a fitness watch its a golf watch and so it will also give you specific info on each hole, you can download course info onto it and then the built in GPS will give you distance to the green to help you pick the desired club for your next shot.

You can check the latest price on Amazon here

Now to be clear: none of this is to say that the more you golf, the more you’re going to look like the cover model of a fitness magazine. While weight loss and fat loss is, at a fundamental level, about calories consumed versus calories spent, most of the calories burnt through golf are aerobic: they’re going to raise your heart rate, thus burning calories, but they’re not necessarily going to suddenly help you pile on big slabs or rippling bulges of muscles.

So if you could stand to lose a few pounds, lower your heart pressure, or simply do a bit more exercise, a golf swing a day could definitely help keep the doctor away. And you can eat a few more cakes without feeling guilty!

Image: Flickr Christina McKenzie cc 2.0