A pioneering health initiative has been piloted in Fife with golf ‘prescribed’ for individuals to encourage a more active lifestyle.

The R&A and the University of St Andrews School of Medicine have collaborated with partner organisations to develop ‘Golf for Health’ – a pilot social prescribing project that aims to connect eligible primary care patients with appropriate golf activities in Fife.

Researchers in the School have developed a model in partnership with The R&A, Fife Golf Trust, NHS Fife, Scottish Golf, PGA Scotland, the European Tour Group and Ladies European Tour to enable primary care professionals and community link workers to prescribe golf for eligible patients. Respected medical professional Dr Andrew Murray has also been involved.

With the region staging The 150th Open in St Andrews last July, the initiative has been rolled out over recent months by golf clubs through healthcare professionals to allow patients to experience the widespread physical, mental and social benefits that the sport offers.

GP practices in Fife were invited to take part in the pilot study, with participating practices linked with initially four local golf clubs offering a six-to-eight week, free-of-charge programme. The clubs running the programme are Cluny Clays, Dunfermline, Dunnikier Park and Elmwood.

Around 30 participants were involved last year with more programmes planned for this spring.

Frank Sullivan, Professor of Primary Care Medicine and Medical School Director of Research at the University of St Andrews, leads a team of expert academics in the School of Medicine to support the activity.

“This pilot initiative has been carefully designed to offer an accessible and social introduction to golf and to provide long-term health and wellbeing benefits for patients across Fife,” said Sullivan.

“Our focus on developing connection pathways that are acceptable and feasible to implement for all involved is crucial. The most effective intervention in the world will not achieve its intended outcomes if patients are not connected with it.”

Linda Duncan, one of the participants at Cluny, said, “Golf has become something for me. It’s helped me get out in the fresh air and meet other people. The health benefits for me have been ten, 20, 30-fold.”

The R&A has committed funding to the ‘Golf for Health’ project to support research at the University and the delivery of pilot golf packages by golf partners. The project has also been supported by founding partner ISPS Handa through their work with the University.

Physical inactivity is associated with one in six deaths in the UK and costs the nation’s economy £7.4 billion per year. Inactivity levels in the UK increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, with participation in golf known to increase physical activity levels and improve physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Once pilot testing of the model has taken place in Fife, the findings will be evaluated and assessed for the feasibility of a larger-scale roll-out across Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Kevin Barker, Director of Golf Development – The R&A, added, “The R&A is actively promoting the health benefits of golf to encourage more people into the sport. We see social prescription as a great way for golf to contribute to the health of communities and to provide people with opportunities to enjoy playing the sport throughout their lifetime.”

In recent years, The R&A has strived to communicate golf’s health benefits to a global audience and underline the role the sport plays in health and social well-being.

Research has revealed that, on average, golfers live five years longer than non-golfers while golf, as a physical activity, can help prevent and treat 40 major chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, breast and colon cancer, depression and dementia.

For more information on ‘Golf for Health’, please email [email protected]

Top image: Partner organisations have come together to work on 'Golf for Health' in Fife. From left to right: Karin Sharp, Chief Operating Officer, Scottish Golf, Paul Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, Fife Golf Trust, Alasdair McDonald, PGA Professional, Dunnikier Park GC, Gregor MacDonald, PGA Professional, Cluny Clays GC, Lynsey Brown, Research Fellow, School of Medicine, University of St Andrews, Kevin Barker, Director – Golf Development at The R&A.