Does walking the course really burn more calories than riding? We all know that it does. The better question is how many more calories does walking burn? For some of us, this is an important question because we are trying to be more active. Most MyGolfSpy readers will agree that the ideal fitness plan for summer 2022 involves playing more golf.
Could getting fit this season be as simple as bypassing the cart barn?
Research Shows …
As I said, most of us know that walking 18 holes requires more energy than riding in a cart. Scientists have published peer-reviewed articles proving just that.
The graphic above comes from an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (Murray, et al, October 2017). You can see how the various forms of golf are ranked by Metabolic Equivalency of Task (MET) score. As expected, riding in a cart is an easier task than walking with your bag on your back or pulling/pushing a cart. Surprisingly, the study reported that using a pull cart required more effort than carrying the clubs on the back.
I would not have predicted that. How could pulling the bag take more energy than carrying it? After digging a bit into the reference papers, I discovered that previous research reported that the golfer’s heart rate was higher when pulling the clubs than when carrying them.
Riding, Pushing and Remote Controlling
After reading those papers, I wanted to explore the calories/golfing value myself. Obviously, riding would burn the fewest calories. That wasn’t the source of my curiosity. The genesis of wonder was the Motocaddy M7 remote control cart that had recently arrived in my garage. Its arrival begged two questions.
First, how would the calories burned using a remote-controlled cart compare to a riding cart? Second—and less obvious—how would the calories expended using a remote-controlled cart compare to using a traditional push cart?
Data Collection: Whoop 4.0
The final piece of the puzzle was realizing that my Whoop 4.0 strap could record heart rate-based calories during play. Unfortunately, completing this project would also require me to play golf. The sacrifices I make for science …
Data was collected during three rounds of golf in November 2021. All three rounds were played at the same course. Weather and course conditions were similar. The same equipment, including clothing, was used during all rounds. No, I didn’t even switch out my putter. I even drank the same amount of water and ate the same snacks. Sadly, I also abstained from beer and bourbon during play.
As I mentioned above, calorie data was recorded using the Whoop 4.0 strap. Before each round, I made sure the sensor was fully charged and that my Readiness score was in the optimal green range. Check out my review of the Whoop 4.0 to find out more about how Readiness is calculated.
The Whoop sensor uses your heart rate to calculate calories. This personalizes the calorie count based upon your actual exertion. Many fitness apps just use a height/weight/age-based algorithm to calculate calories.
Whoop Data: Riding Cart
I walk most of my rounds so riding in a cart was a treat. Due to continuing COVID protocols, I was alone in the cart. Again, what a treat. Since I was by myself, it was easy to zip from shot to shot. Like I said, I usually walk this course so it was fun to see how it plays from a cart.
Subjectively, I had a feeling that the calories-spent number would be low. The feeling of fatigue that I feel after walking 18 holes wasn’t there. I wouldn’t say that I felt fresh but I could have driven to the first tee and given another round a go.
Whoop Data: Walking – Motocaddy Remote-Control Cart
For the remote-controlled round, my clubs traversed the course on a Motocaddy M7 remote control cart. My initial hypothesis was that using the remote-controlled cart would be a combination of riding and pushing. I was very curious about the calorie output as none of the fitness apps that I use has a remote-controlled cart as a play option.
Truth be told, I think I had more fun with the Motocaddy than I did than my riding round. It’s been a while since I’ve used a remote-controlled cart and I’d forgotten how satisfying it is to just send the cart down the fairway and then stroll unencumbered behind it. My stride was longer and more balanced when I no longer needed to push the cart. My guess is that this is how the pros—and fiscally fortunate amateurs—feel when they have a human caddie.
That round really felt like the proverbial walk in the park. The fact that zipping the cart into the tee box area elicited giggles from my group was an enjoyable bonus.
Whoop Data: Walking – Clicgear Push Cart
Pushing my clubs in my usual style of play. My Clicgear 3.5+ probably has 300 rounds of wear on its three tires. I have the pushing-my-clubs situation all dialed in. Nothing is unexpected or surprising. It’s golf as usual.
As such, playing this round did not elicit a feeling of “fun” but I would say I was more relaxed. Having everything “normal” in terms of transporting my clubs allowed me to essentially ignore that part of the round and focus on my shots. Yes, this can be a bad thing, depending upon the flavor of the swing that round.
Post-round fatigue was normal. Shot range between birdie and triple was normal. Nothing unusual to report.
Confirmed: Walking Uses More Calories
Unsurprisingly, riding in the cart required fewer calories than either walking-based strategy. I think we all knew that was going to be the case. That said, I did find the difference between walking and riding, and Whoop’s reported calorie numbers, surprising.
When we compare the walking and riding numbers, we see that walking the course requires about 30 percent more calories per hour. I expected this number to be much higher, especially since it was closer to a 50-percent difference in expenditure in the paper I cited above.
Riding in the cart required more calories than I thought. Thinking it through, we all know that driving a car for a long time can be tiring. Go ask a FedEx driver how fresh and lively they feel at the end of their route. Driving takes energy. So does driving the golf cart.
I was also surprised to see that using the Motocaddy remote-controlled cart burned seven percent more calories per hour than the push cart. This seemed impossible until I remembered Whoop uses a heart rate-based calorie measurement.
Though I don’t have the data, I would bet that my walking pace was faster using the remote-controlled cart. As I walk quicker, heart rate elevates a bit so more calories are burned. Pace quickens when pushing is not requires. Admittedly, this is speculation that requires further exploration.
I feel like this could be a “reps versus amount of weight” situation. Do you burn more calories lifting 10 pounds five times or 50 pounds once? As I said, this is something worth exploring. More data is needed.
Whoop Data Versus Other Apps
Though I should have expected it, I was surprised to see the low calories-spent values reported by Whoop. I’ve used the fitness/diet tracking app Lose It!™ for a few years and one of the best things about entering golf as an activity is that it is worth a bunch of calories. For example, when I enter the push cart round into Lose It!™, it says that I burned 346 kcal/hour. That is roughly triple what Whoop reported.
As the Whoop also reports lower calories-burned than my Peloton does, I was not surprised that the number for golf was lower than the app. To have it be only one-third of the calories was shocking. So much for a round of golf nullifying the round’s liquid calories.
The Lose It™ app did have one other data story worth reporting. When comparing the walk versus ride values in the Lose It!™ app, the difference was once again about 30 percent. The overall calories-burned values may be way higher in the app but the walk/ride differential is similar to what I found when measured with the Whoop.
Walking Burns More Than Riding
Walking the course with a push cart or a remote-control cart will burn about 20 to 30 more kcal per hour than riding in a cart. While this is not as large of a difference as I expected, the calories will add up quickly. The difference per round will be more than 100 calories and would end up in the thousands over the course of a year.
If you are really looking to make a difference in your fitness this year, it’s these little gains that make the big gains possible. If that’s not enough to motivate you, most courses charge walkers less to play. At my course, the riding fee is $18 a round. For the avid golfer, even an expensive walking option like a Motocaddy remote-controlled cart will essentially pay itself off in a season without cart fees.