Is Golf a Sport? Facts to Finally End the Debate

Updated February 18, 2022
Golfer lining up his putt
    Golfer lining up putt in sun
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Is golf a sport? People have strong opinions on both sides of the debate and over the years this question has developed into quite the argument. Weekend warriors, tour players, and accredited journalists have all gone on record with their opinions. Here are the facts and a definitive answer to one of golf’s biggest questions.

Official Definitions

For a baseline, here are the definitions of sport and golf.

Definition of Sport defines a sport as “such an activity, esp. when competitive, requiring more or less vigorous bodily exertion and carried on, sometimes as a profession, according to some traditional form or set of rules, whether outdoors..., or indoors.”

Definition of Golf

Meanwhile, defines golf as "a game played on a large outdoor course with a series of 9 or 18 holes spaced far apart, the object being to propel a small, hard ball with the use of various clubs into each hole with as few strokes as possible."


Does Golf Meet the Definition of Sport?

In looking at the definitions, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is golf an activity that involves physical exertion and skill?
  2. Is golf played as an individual and/or team competition?
  3. Is golf played sometimes as a profession?

In looking at these two definitions and three questions, you can't deny that, by definition, gof is in fact a sport. However, many people's opinions contradict the facts.

Common Arguments

Here are some common arguments and opinions that drive the debate of whether golf is a true sport.

Golf Is a Game, Not a Sport

The claim that golf is a game, not a sport, has a lot of room for interpretation. The main point one could make in support of golf being a sport is just because something is a game, doesn’t mean it isn't also a sport. Would you categorize baseball, basketball, football, and hockey as games? Of course, you do.

Michael Jordan famously stated during his first retirement press conference in 1993, “it’s time for me to step away from the game of basketball.”

NFL coach Herm Edwards had an infamous rant in 2002 where he exclaimed, “you play to win the game!”


Golf Is an Activity, Not a Sport

It is 100% true that golf is an activity for amateurs and people who don’t play it professionally. It's the same as someone who plays in a softball league with friends or a pickup game of basketball at the gym. But as we all know, that doesn't eliminate an activity from being a sport.

Tiger Woods dealing with back injury
    Tiger Woods dealing with back injury
    Michael Cohen/Getty Images Sport
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Golf Isn’t Physical Because There Aren't Injuries

Golf is, of course, not a physical sport in the sense that a player needs to worry about another golfer tackling them. Golfers don’t need to shake off a defender in order to complete their swing. That doesn’t mean the physical nature of the golf swing and the grind of actually playing 72 holes of golf in four days doesn’t take its toll on the body. Albeit, not nearly as physical as other sports.

Injuries in golf are more common than some people think. Here's a timeline of the injuries and surgeries to just one golfer, Tiger Woods.

  • 1994: Benign tumors and scar tissue removed from the knee.
  • 2002: Surgery to remove ACL fluid and cysts from the knee.
  • 2007: Ruptured ACL.
  • 2008: Surgery to repair two stress fractures in the tibia and cartilage damage.
  • 2010: Inflamed facet joints in the neck.
  • 2011: MCL and Achilles sprain.
  • 2014: Surgery for a pinched nerve.
  • 2015: Two microdiscectomy surgeries to remove bone fragments in the back.
  • 2017: Spinal fusion surgery.
  • 2021: Microdiscectomy surgery to remove a bone fragment from the back.

Golf and the NCAA

Golf is recognized as a sport by the NCAA. In fact, it has sponsored a national championship in men's golf since 1939 and a women's college golf championship since 1982.

Golf and the Olympics

Golf is also as an Olympic sport. Golf returned to the Olympics in 2016 after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reinstated the game.


Golf is, without a doubt, a sport. Just because it’s not as physical and can be more leisurely than faster, high-profile sports should not exclude it from the category. Professional golfers who have devoted their lives to the game have a body of work to prove those who say otherwise.