Cycling vs. Golf. Which activity is better for the body, soul, and wallet?
Having just completed a 62 mile cycling event yesterday, I’m ready to write. And otherwise not move. Let’s explore the merits of a couple of popular outdoor activities, now that it’s finally summertime.
I’d argue that cycling wins, hands-down. I’ll explain why in more depth, but just so you know, I’ve spent many hours on both activities over the years. My basis for comparison is pretty solid.
Cycling vs. Golf: Why Cycling Wins
Since this blog masquerades as a personal finance site, let’s cover the money side first. With golf, there’s a healthy list of things you need before you arrive at the tee-box:
- Golf clubs, golf bag: $220
- Balls: $35 (for 24 middle of the road Bridgestones)
- Glove, tees, towel: $25
- Pull-cart (serviceable model, nothing fancy): $50
- Golf clothes (slacks or shorts, polo shirt, cap): $100
- Golf shoes: $75
Total: $505 (we’ll assume sales tax is included, frugal shoppers)
Note: The used marketplace is highly recommended for a lot of this crap. Towards the end of my playing days, I wised-up and only purchased used Titleist Pro V1s in bulk off eBay.
To be fair, you could probably find some clothes in your closet that’d be just fine for getting started. But if you play golf consistently, you wind up shopping for golf specific shirts and slacks. It happens. And besides, you want to look like Tiger Woods on the 18th green, not at the office.
For comparison, let’s go get outfitted for a day of cycling!
- Decent hybrid bicycle: $500
- Helmet: $50
- Lock: $20
- Tire pump (with PSI gauge – a MUST): $30
- Rack and pannier (we’re stopping for a picnic!): $90
- Lights for safety (nothing fancy): $20
- Bike shorts (good idea for any ride over 10-15 miles): $40
- Wind at your back: Priceless
Total: $750 (sales tax included)
Now that we have the upfront costs, let’s compare the ongoing cost
Golf is a wallet-drainer. This is why, more often than not, the sport is associated with wealthy retired white men. By this stage of life, your average retired middle manager is ready to consume his office-free days by chasing small white balls around manicured lawns. It’s something to aspire to, apparently.
The average greens-fee for 18 holes of golf on a municipal course is ~$40 per person. Want a cart? Add another $25. For now, let’s assume you’re ready to walk the course and use that pull-cart. Hey, the pros walk 18 for several days in a row. We can do this!
Assuming you golf once a week from May through October, after six months you’ve plunked down $960 for the privilege of yelling “FORE!”, among other choice curse words. I’m not even including the cost of gas and automobile wear-and-tear. Throw that in, and you’re well over $1,000 for the season.
Cycling, in contrast, is pretty cheap. In most metro areas, there are trails and paved path networks aplenty to explore. You might have to occasionally (once a year?) replace a flat inner-tube, but the cost is $7 for a decent Continental tube.
In the final analysis, the 20 year opportunity cost comparison between golf and cycling looks like this:
(let’s assume we replace our gear after 10 years of wear and tear, and strong marketing influences.)
Cost of a 20 year golf habit: $44,998
Cost of a 20 year cycling habit: $4,684
Damn! Golf is about 10x pricier than cycling, and that assumes you’re sticking exclusively with mediocre municipal courses. For a couple, your investment for two is nearly $90,000 vs. about $9,000 for cycling. D’oh.
Cycling 1. Golf 0.
The mental game
But how does cycling compare to golf in the mental game? Does the monotony of pedaling along in the beautiful outdoors with friends hold up to the glory of making a string of birdies on national television (or in front of the strangers you’ve been paired-up with?)
My personal experience has been that golf is frustrating as hell. Rare is the round that I golf well enough to feel satisfied with my game, and so does Mrs. Cubert too. Generally, one of us has a better round than the other, and it’s usually her over me. She’s pretty good at not gloating, and that almost hurts the author’s pride that much more.
Regardless, I can admit that golf lessons ($$$) helped settle me in, at least to the point I was no longer throwing a club in rage once per round. Golf teases you. You make several good shots and even drop a few long putts. But never in the same round. You could argue that golf is a form of mental torture, and I’d agree with your argument.
Just go ahead and Google “Is Golf Bad for Stress?” and you’ll find a laundry list of how to manage golf-induced stress. If you then Google “Is Cycling Bad for Stress?” you’ll get a laundry list of how cycling is one of the best ways to reduce your stress. Thank you, Google, for settling this aspect of the contest.
Cycling 2. Golf 0.
How about physical health?
Golf can be a physically rewarding activity. Assuming you’re not buzzing around in an annoying golf cart, there’s a fair amount of walking involved. If you’re like me, chasing the ball into the rough, you can easily trek 6 miles in a day’s worth of golf. It gets to be even more of a hike, if you carry your clubs over the shoulder.
Cycling has the advantage of tailoring the intensity level to your fitness goals. Want to sprint up and down hills? Groovy. Take a nice and easy stroll for 50 miles? Also an option. In some respects, golf and cycling make for an interesting cross-training pair-up. Though if you like to go for a hike, the untamed wilderness is much more affordable, and less frustrating.
When I played regularly, my golf game was more consistent when I got around the course in a golf cart. If I went the full 18 on my feet, I’d be dog-tired those last four holes, and practically mailing it in, just to get to the clubhouse and beer-30 PM. If I had the power to change the sport, I’d make it a 14 hole affair. Save some land, some time, and four more holes of frustration.
Even in the boardroom, executives are increasingly ditching the links for cycling. The crazy part about this Business Insider article is the idea that your bike and gear are a new status symbol. Even with the best of intent to find a more egalitarian venue for deal-making, executives just can’t seem to avoid vanity spending.
Is a carbon-fiber bicycle, $20,000, a new form of “jewelry?” Blimey.
We’ll grudgingly give the win to cycling, since you can adapt your bike workout in more ways than you can with golf. And some courses don’t even allow walkers!
Cycling 3. Golf 0.
Which activity is better for the environment?
Golf has traditionally been a thorn in environmentalists’ sides. And for good reason. New courses require clear-cutting of trees and displacement of wildlife habitat. Water consumption is off the charts, just to keep fairways and greens in good shape. Pumping of excess water to keep courses dry (ironically) affects water tables and municipal drinking sources.
Pesticides and herbicides? Gallons and gallons of it. And then, there’s those little golf-carts whizzing by all day. Most new carts are thankfully electronic, but it takes the burning of fossil fuels to charge those batteries.
Golf will have little choice but to evolve as the ecosystem around us changes. Fortunately, some are getting the message. Yes, it is possible to create a more sustainable course, but the footprint is still quite invasive.
Contrast all of THAT with cycling. When I ride my bike to work, there’s very little impact to the environment. Sure, I may occasionally take out a daredevil squirrel or squash a few bugs, but I’m otherwise pretty harmless.
Producing the materials to create bicycles and bicycle-related equipment is no less environmentally impactful than it is for the production of golf equipment. Nevertheless, the beauty of cycling is you can ride almost anywhere a trail or roadway exists.
Cycling 4. Golf 0.
In fairness to golf
There are some aspect of the grand old game that cycling cannot match. The feeling of squarely hitting a ball off the tee and watching it sail true to the green is incredibly rewarding. Golf is a sport that can be played at any stage of life (a tie with cycling) and it’s a fun outlet for competitive types.
Unlike pro cycling, professional golf isn’t a sport riddled with doping issues. Not that golf isn’t without its scandals, but at least the athletes are pretty much relying on pure skill rather than skill plus chemistry.
Golf is a more social affair. You can hold conversations a little easier on the course, as opposed to riding.
Ultimately though, I’m content with my transition from golf to cycling over the last five years. I simply can’t pretend to ignore how costly the game of golf is, when I’m trying to avoid working until I’m 72.
Our kids started pedaling on big kid bikes just this spring, giving cycling another leg up for family bonding. Golf would simply be too hectic for five-year-old kiddos (and their parents!)