national golf day: a healthy hobby

David Frickman
May 07, 2024

You don’t have to play like professionals Scottie Scheffler or Nelly Korda to enjoy a round or two of golf.

Just ask Leighton Hara from Manoa. He laughingly says he’s a “hacker” on the course like many golfers. But he enjoys playing not just to get a low score, but for the many benefits golfing brings.

“I liken it to going on a hike,” says Hara, the managing partner at Ota & Hara. “You’re around nature, there’s blue skies, hopefully. It’s just nice to detach, unplug, and do something outside.”

Leighton Hara in the zone.

Hara and thousands of other recreational golfers may find themselves outside at a nearby course on May 10, which is National Golf Day. The day was created in an effort to lobby for the golf industry in the halls of Congress. Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, tells Golf Digest that the golf industry was left out of a federal disaster relief bill passed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He says that was a wake-up call for the industry to do a better job educating lawmakers.

Hara began playing golf in law school. “I would play between classes,” he says. “I never really had the time to get really good at it. But it wasn’t until my in-laws started taking my oldest son golfing on a regular basis and signed him up for junior golf that we started going out as a family.”

Today, he heads to the course at least once a month with his wife and three children. “It keeps us active,” Hara says. “But most importantly for my family, it keeps the kids off of video games and electronics. It puts them out in nature, around scenery and fresh air.”

Hara (left), with 12-year-old Cade, 14-year-old Leland, 12-year-old Colton, and his wife, Cori.

The Golf & Health Project, supported by the World Golf Foundation, says “golfers live longer, have better overall physical health, and gain wellness/mental health benefits. These associations are likely due to the golden combination of walking, muscular activity, and social interaction (amongst other factors).” It cites a number of studies that show the benefits of playing the game:

  • Physical benefits, including improved cardio, improved blood-glucose levels, and increased life expectancy. “Even though we ride most of the time,” says Hara, who uses a golf cart because of an ankle injury, “going to and from your cart to the ball and chasing things down is physically taxing in the sense that there’s a lot of steps involved. My wife and I usually meet our minimum daily step goals when we take the kids out on the greens.”
  • Psychological benefits, including improved self-esteem, improved confidence, and reduced anxiety. “There’s something to be said about tearing yourself away from the screen, putting your phone in your golf bag and zipping it up, and just making sure you’re hitting the ball,” says Hara. “For me, the golf course is way better than sitting behind a screen stressing out about trial.”
  • Social benefits, including a great opportunity to develop interpersonal skills and emotional control, and enhance social connections. “I’m there with my sons and we’re not just talking about golf,” he says. “There’s a lot of downtime, so we get to talk about their schoolwork and how they’re doing. It provides the opportunity to have quality time with your family where otherwise, if we’re at the house, certain kids will be on their computer, others will be looking at TikTok, and everyone’s split up. This way they’re forced to be together.”

Leland Hara is on the junior varsity golf team as a freshman at Iolani.

Even spectators can realize health benefits from golf. A 2016 study from what is now the DP World Tour shows that fans attending a professional tournament walk “significantly further than the 7,500 to 10,000 steps recommended daily for health.” That’s something to keep in mind when the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, or Champions Tour visit Hawaii.

For many, the most fun comes from actually playing the game yourself. If you’re thinking about learning golf, Hara suggests heading to your local municipal course or driving range with a friend and giving it a try. “The staff is generally friendly and can point you in the right direction,” he says. “And you can always take any club and pay $8.50 for a half-bucket of balls and go out there and hit.

“Golf is one of those activities that you can do as a child and go all the way until you’re in your 80s or 90s. You can only play football or basketball for so many years, but golf is one of those few sports activities that you can do for a long time. And it’s never too late to start.”

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