Six Factors that Make a Game a Sport – and why Golf is NOT a Sport!

There is a great confusion about what makes a game into a “sport”. Part of the problem of determining what is or isn’t a sport is that there is perhaps no clear definition as to what actually makes a “game” into a sport. Allow me to help! IMALTHO (in my admittedly less than humble opinion…), there are six major criteria that separate a mere “game” from an actual sport. I’ve listed them in order of importance. As a means of explaining why certain games are indeed not a sport, we can take golf as an example when applied to these criteria.

1. Athleticism

The most important element of a true sport is athleticism, which revolves around movement. The mantra of every coach is “move your feet”. Not only do golfers not move their feet, they try to limit all bodily movement. Athleticism involves instantaneous physical reaction to changing conditions. For example, a luger may seem to lie quietly on a sled, but he or she is reacting constantly with their entire body to the physics of the turns and the imperfections of the ice. Golf seems to be the antithesis to athleticism in that it involves the refinement of extremely limited, repetitive movement. When have you ever heard or read, “Wow! That was a really athletic shot or move” about a golfer? Never. This is not to say that golfers can’t be athletes, it’s just the game itself doesn’t require it.

2. Speed and Strength

In all real sports, speed and strength give great advantages. Even driving off the tee, strength does not play a major role, and being quick or strong never won a golfer a match. Technique, including leverage and timing, are much more important in generating club head speed and driving the ball a long way. Otherwise, the biggest players would always have the longest drives. But just look at how many small baseball players are on the leader board of homeruns. In tennis, it’s the same: the biggest servers are almost invariably the tallest players.

3. Injury

In any real sport, sad but true that the higher level you play at the more at-risk you become for injury. Not just the “major” sports: field hockey, tennis, soccer, ice skating, equestrienne, etc., all produce their share of directly related injuries, from sprained ankles to deaths. Other than perhaps some back injury or getting conked in the head from another golfer, there are not many injuries directly related to playing golf.

4. The Impact of Others

In a real sport, you are directly impacted by others and by your environment. In golf, there is no one hitting or throwing a ball at you. There is no one sticking a hand in your face or some fifteen-hundred pound horse ignoring your commands. Forget the elements as an adversary; you could be taking a walk in the park (without the bother to hit a motionless little ball) and be bothered by rain and wind, perhaps even to the point of slipping and hurting yourself. Taking a stroll is not considered a sport. In fact, many duffers don’t even bother to walk the course, they drive carts.

5. Conditioning

Not that every athlete is in top-notch condition–even if they should be!–but even the most well-conditioned golfer is not going to improve his or her game because of her conditioning. There are many top-level golfers who lost the battle of the bulge long ago. In highly competitive sports, great conditioning often makes the difference over skill. Although many golfers work out these days, there are still many successful professionals who do not.

6. Age and gender

In any real sport, 45 is ancient. Most professional athletes are retired long before the age of 40. Because speed and strength are important, women cannot compete directly with men, although in many sports the defining qualities are agility and grace. In golf, teenage girls have competed in the same field as men with some success, and former great males have made semi-successful comebacks in their mid-fifties. They may not have won those tournaments, but the fact that they could even be competitive shows how unimportant the criteria of a sport are to playing golf.


Other than President Eisenhower’s passion that initially catapulted the game into the public eye, what makes golf so popular is that virtually anyone, regardless of age, physical condition, or lack of coordination, can play the game. The game is you against the course, so skill and success become quite relative. Some years ago the IOC actually considered contract bridge as a possible Olympic “sport”. Bridge is highly complicated, mentally challenging, and requires great concentration and a sort of endurance. That also describes golf. Neither one are sports.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “Six Factors that Make a Game a Sport – and why Golf is NOT a Sport!”

  1. Ron Celano Says:

    You could not be more wrong. Maybe someday I will address your 7 criteria on my blog.

    • Don Maker Says:

      Ron, you’re killing me! I have to wait until you remember to make time to get your reasons? And you only have to do 6, not 7. By the way, I love guitar (per your gravatar), but nowadays play mostly Jesse Cook, Govi, Armik, Michaud, Nova Menco, et alia. Used to love Liebert and the Gypsy Kings, but they kind of got stale. I’ll bet you’re into classical Spanish, but even the great ones like Segovia, Williams and Zanabili play all the same tunes; kind of repetitive. I look forward to your critticisms about my guitar list as well! Cheers, Don

  2. Ron Celano Says:

    Reblogged this on Ron Celano's Blog.

  3. Ron Celano Says:

    I have responded to this post. You can find it here:
    Hope I have changed your mind just a little. 🙂

    • Don Maker Says:

      Ron, with your permission, I will post your responses (minus my blog; I’ll just refer readers to it) after I have finished posting these two “mini-series” currently underway. Cheers, Don

  4. Don Maker Says:

    Yes, reasoned dialog with an intelligent person is always fun. Differing opinions can lead to war or to progress; it’s all up to us!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: