This Is the Perfect Pandemic Sport to Get Into Now

Here are four ways that golf is shedding its rep as costly and difficult—plus, what you need to know before hitting the links this summer.

In early spring of 2020, as the country emerged from various levels of Covid lockdown, there was still a place you could enjoy a couple of hours together with friends – or strangers, even – have some laughs and a drink, if you chose: the golf course.

According to data from Golf Canada and the National Golf Course Owners Association of Canada, more people played more golf in Canada last year than ever before. Canada’s top golf retailer, Golf Town, saw unprecedented growth in 2020, with club sales increasing by 60 percent from 2019, the No. 1 growth category being women’s irons. The “COVID-friendly” sport is likely to be just as popular in 2021.

The mental and physical health benefits of golf have been well documented. You exceed 10,000 steps if you walk 18 holes, can burn upwards of 900 calories, and a Swedish study from 2009 found golfers have an increase in life expectancy of about five years compared to non-golfers.

A persistent myth, however, is that it’s difficult and costly to get started if you’ve never played before.

“You don’t have to be great at it” to reap its benefits, says Canada’s top golfer, Brooke Henderson. “You can still have a lot of fun with friends, build huge networks, and connect with so many people.”

Here are four ways golf is changing to be more accessible, and what you need to know if you’d like to hit the links more in 2021.

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Gear up

If you’re keen to just give golf a try, then you’re in luck: every golf course offers clubs for rent if you’d rather not invest money at the outset.

But if you’re ready to buy (or upgrade a set that’s collecting dust in the garage), plenty of brands have launched more products geared toward those new to the sport. Callaway Golf, with input from female golfers and professionals, launched a new line last year called the Big Bertha REVA, built to help novices hit the ball farther. Cobra also boasts a solid line inspired by Lexi Thompson, one of the top golfers on the LPGA Tour, which includes the super-light F-Max club series, which is great for beginners.

Just because you’re allowed to carry 14 clubs at one time doesn’t mean  you need all 14. A half-set is more than enough to start with, and would help offset costs. Make sure to include a driver, fairway wood, hybrid, 7-iron, 9-iron, wedge, and putter.

No matter where you buy your clubs, consider having them fit for you, says Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Lorie Kane. “Regardless of your skill level, take a little of your time and really invest in something you’re going to use,” says Kane. It is an investment: A full-fitting experience may be a few hundred dollars. But most places that sell clubs will allow you to test them at a driving range or in a digital simulator, and ask questions about different brands, at no charge.

The other thing you definitely need to get started is balls. Titleist’s TruFeel ball is great for beginners and has a friendly price point. Some pro shops and sporting goods stores sell lightly-used balls at a fraction of the price.

A glove isn’t essential, but can be helpful to first-timers, since it helps reduce blisters and increase grip. FootJoy has an excellent model that is just $15.

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Stuffy attire no longer required

The buttoned-up days of golf wear are also evolving — athleisure and activewear now dominate the fairways.

Rules can be loose on public courses. If you’re playing at a private club, check out the website ahead of time to see if a dress code exists. You can’t go wrong with a sporty top (a collar is often preferred) and athletic bottoms.

Running shoes are just fine for beginners — if you really get into the sport, think about investing in golf shoes with spikes, for added traction. Puma, Nike and Adidas are great brands that make golf-friendly runners and more sport-specific gear as well, for when you’re ready to level up.

Pro tips are easy to come by

You’ve got clubs and clothes, now what?

Kane suggests taking a few tips from someone you haven’t seen every day through the pandemic. “Whoever your partner is, maybe you shouldn’t listen to he or she,” says Kane, who won the LPGA Tour four times, with a laugh. “You might want to seek the advice of a professional.”

Indeed, there are more than 3,700 PGA of Canada professionals across the country trained to help golfers with the basics – from grip to stance to learning what clubs are used for which shots.

Kane says many Canadian pros are also giving group lessons these days to help drop the intimidation factor.

Those ‘Give Golf a Try’ group lessons cost as low as $20 per session. Individual coaching sessions typically cost about $100 for an hour, but lessons with 2-3 others are often cheaper, and way more fun. It’s recommended to start with series of three lessons to nail the fundamentals.

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Public courses are trending

There are a ton of great options across Canada for putting a tee in the ground – more than 2,000 courses, in fact – and they’re usually split into two categories. A private club has members who pay annual fees, and it’s closed to the public. A public course charges a green fee but is open to anyone.

Across the country there are public courses in every major city.

The City of Toronto manages five courses located close to its downtown, including Dentonia Park, which has 18 short holes, all of them par 3s. TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley is the area’s top public facility, with three 18-hole golf courses on its sprawling property.

Some other solid and affordable options include Ledgeview Golf & Country Club near Vancouver, Shaganappi Point Golf Course in Calgary and Club de Golf de l’Île de Montréal.

The average green fee in Canada is $40 for 18 holes, but there’s always the option to play nine holes instead, which saves time and money, and is becoming a very popular option.

If you’re looking for a bucket-list option to splurge on when travelling is on the table again, you won’t regret a round at the Fairmont Banff Springs golf course in Banff, Alberta, long-time RBC Canadian Open host club Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ontario, or the stunning Cabot Cliffs in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, ranked No.1 in the country by SCOREGolf Magazine.

Now that you know how to get into golf, here are 6 ways to shake up your pandemic life.

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada