U.S. Golfers an Unhealthy Bunch, Survey Finds

No one would mistake David Voekel's body for that of Tiger Woods.

When Voekel, 71, teed off recently at the Grapevine Golf Course in suburban Dallas-Fort Worth, the retired insurance agent wasn't trying to build a body like the pros. His goal was strengthening relationships with a group of old friends who share a love of the game.

"Fellowship," Voekel said, "and the cheeseburger afterward."

America's amateur golfers are an unhealthy group, according to an unscientific online survey published in the August issue of Golf Digest. Among the results from the 514 mostly male subscribers who responded, 66 percent are overweight.

"I'd go along with that," said Voekel, patting his round belly before heading for the fairways. "Can't you tell?"

Golfers streamed onto the course as the sun rose, attempting to beat the triple-digit temperatures promised later in the day. While some walked, hoisting a big bag of clubs, most hopped into golf carts. Meanwhile, two workers loaded a snack cart filled with pretzels, potato chips, beer and whiskey.

Whatever their physical condition, golfers seem to be enjoying themselves. Among survey respondents, 76 percent consume an average of 6.8 alcoholic drinks per week. Nine percent admitted to drinking 10 or more beers during a round of golf.

The results are published in the "Golf and Health" package of Golf Digest, which has nearly 1.5 million subscribers. Senior editor Craig Bestrom said the issue was an effort to raise golfers' awareness of health care and disease prevention, and he found many of the results surprising.

"Fifty-four percent consider themselves overweight, and the fact is that 66 percent are overweight, so some are in touch with reality, and others are not," he said. "I also thought it was really interesting that 80 percent suffer from some sort of pain, injury or illness but continue to play. They're still out there because they love the game."

Thirty percent said they were unable to finish a round because of an ailment.

"I shouldn't even be here," said Homer Bullock, 71, of Farmers Branch, scars visible on each knee as he lounged in his golf cart in front of the pro shop. "I've had both knees replaced, a shoulder replaced ..."

"And three stents," added longtime golfing buddy Glen Sullivan, 70, of Lewisville.

Bullock, Sullivan and another friend, all General Motors retirees, travel Texas and Louisiana to play two golf courses a week.

"You take the three of us, we're all in our 70s," said Sullivan as he lit up a cigarette. "We're all pretty trim and we don't do a whole lot of exercise. But we do stuff."

Bestrom said he believes the survey results reflect the general population and show that golf can be enjoyed on any level — whether among seasoned competitors or couch potatoes.

"It has been proven by the top tour players that being fit and in good health certainly helps," he said. "You and I both know plenty of people playing golf are not healthy, and doctors would tell them they're not healthy. I think it [the survey] certainly mirrors society as a whole, that we are not that healthy."