Top 5 Reasons a Golf Membership is Better Than a Gym Membership

By Rory Hughes

(from Golf Chicago Magazine, May 2015)

It’s spring cleaning for the house, the car, and
more importantly, the finances. Time to review
discretionary spending and start making choices.
Must you eat at McDonald’s twice a day? Is NFL
Redzone a necessity? Aside from the bacon-cooking
alarm clock, can you reduce the Skymall purchases?
Finally…gulp…golf membership or gym membership?
On the surface it’s an easy decision. The aver-
age gym membership costs $800 per year. Let’s say
the average golf membership is five times that, or
$4,000. Bump that to $5,000 to account for inci-
dentals. Huge margin, right? And the gym is a great
place to “get your heart rate up,” and “build core
strength” blah blah.

Well, if you’ve canceled your membership at your
club, there’d better be a grace period, because after
much careful, totally biased research, I’ve come up
with the Top 5 Reasons a Golf Membership Beats
a Gym Membership. If you’re not the CFO of your
household, make sure he or she reads this.

#1 It’s Social
Meeting new people at the gym is at best pathetic, at
worst creepy (see John Travolta). Those troglodytes
chatting next to the weight bench didn’t just begin a
lifelong friendship; they’re buddies who are Googling
pickup lines for the bombshell on the treadmill.
Not only is a golf course void of the gym’s predato-
rial climate, you can meet a friend for life; perhaps
even more remarkable is that you can spend four
hours and say nothing and not feel awkward. Golf
provides a natural rhythm, a give and take with an
implicit understanding that you can reveal as much
or as little as you like; over time this can lead to real
relationships.

#2 It’s an Escape From the Onslaught of Digital
Technology

Notice that, increasingly, gyms are feeding our screen
addiction. First there was one TV, then there were 30,
now every machine has one. We can hook up our cell
phone so we can listen to our music but watch their
TV. We’re distracting ourselves from ourselves. We’re
doing something we hate, so we trick our brains into
thinking we’re elsewhere. As we agonize toward the
30-minute mark on an elliptical, we jump between
Dr. Phil, TMZ, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Weber
State. The golf course, on other hand, is nature plus
play. No screens necessary (shame on those of you
who use a phone app for your rangefinder. Sacrilege!)
Even when we’re playing poorly, we’ve walked several
miles in a natural, serene environment, mimicking
the hunter-gatherers of yesteryear (some hunt more
than others).

#3 It’s Food-friendly
I don’t mean energy bars and “juices” with unpro-
nounceable ingredients. I mean real food and drink:
bacon-egg-cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers,
coffee, Pepsi, beer. Some guys have a system. My uncle
starts every round with a full house (three Advil, two
beers), then a Red Bull and vodka at the turn. I only
drink water until I know I won’t break 80. Can you
imagine drinking a beer on the treadmill? I don’t
think the software can add calories.

#4 It’s a Game
We say “I’m playing golf today.” versus “I’m going to
the gym today” in the same way we might say “I’m
going to the doctor for a prostate check today.” These
poor souls schlep around the gym with a clipboard,
tick-marking every lift, tracking progress — they’ve
added three pounds in two weeks — hooray! What
they’re trying to do is turn the gym experience
into a game. But it’s not a game. It’s an obligation,
the same way taking the trash out or flossing is an
obligation. I’m going to modify Joan Rivers’ famous
quote about jogging: “The first time I see (someone
at the gym) smiling, I’ll consider trying it.” Even
during my worst round of golf my face does not
show the pure anguish of a gym rat. Fine, there’s a
brief “workout high” for 15 minutes afterward, but
how about a “golfer’s high” for four hours during?

#5 It’s Story-worthy
“I had just hit 3,346 steps on the treadmill. Cavuto
barked on one TV, Van Susteren on the other. The
manager was interviewing a prospective personal
trainer…” Gripping, right? Dying to read on? Nothing
great ever happens at the gym. Conversely, things
happen on the course that you can’t help sharing,
even with people who don’t care. When my wife asks,
“how was golf?” I tell her about the hook 8-iron on 5
that I stuffed to two feet for a double save. She doesn’t
care per se, but I still want to relive it. When she asks,
“how was the gym?” I either change the subject or
lie about how long I was on the Stairmaster.

Remember, I’m not talking about tour players — they
play golf for a living, so this meathead fad — sorry
Rory, I preferred you doughier — is for the world-
class golfer who wants to hit it 325 instead of 320.
We mortals simply want to play as much as possible;
if you’re like me, you’re dividing your membership
fees by the number of times you play in order to
justify the cost. Make this the year you stop doing
that. Acknowledge the gym as an unnecessary evil,
the course as much more than a line item on your
budget — as your beacon of physical, mental, social,
emotional and spiritual health.


Compilation of 45 anonymous responses to “What comes to mind when you think of the gym?” and “What comes to mind when you think of the golf course?”

Cabin Fever North of the Inferno

from Golf Chicago Magazine (March 2015)

For months you’ve longed for respite from the
stifling, omni-gray winter drudgery. Whether
it’s Derrick Rose’s knee, Jay Cutler’s pouty-face, your
boss’s snicker while you scan the Fantasy waiver-
wire (no, Odell Beckham is not available), in the
winter you’re a bit more agitated and depressed,
hopeless and dark. And cold. Damned cold.

But the Midwest ethic is hardy — it’s hearty. You
wake neighbors at 5 a.m. with guttural, scraped-
windshield sounds, then drive to work in darkness,
then drive home in darkness, then try to avoid an
ankle sprain as you scale the icy steps into your
high-energy-bill home. Chicago winter means ten
extra pounds, three more inches on the beard,
two shots of whiskey neat instead of vodka on
the rocks. You quickly transition from basking in
leaf-crunching, pumpkin-patching, autumn glow
to wondering what it feels like to open your front
door without swearing.

What kept you going? Maybe your screensaver
is the 12th at Augusta, the 7th at Pebble, or some
nondescript “hidden gem” resort course in St. Lucia
(it’s actually a goat track but your colleagues will
never know). Maybe it’s the R15 waiting on a rack at
the golf show, like a frightened puppy at the humane
society, eager to join a loyal and loving master.
And the transition from not golfing to golfing
for a Midwesterner is more dramatic than that of
our southern and western counterparts. My uncle
in Tennessee and my brother in Colorado often
gloat, “Yeah, it’s crazy. Sometimes we’ll just get a
70 degree day out of nowhere.” Hell hath no fury
like a dormant golfer scorned.

But in the final analysis, we might just have it better.
During premarital counseling my wife and I read
a book based on the central question, “What if there
is no such thing as heaven or hell?” In other words,
what if here, on earth, some of us are actually living
in heaven and some are living in hell? That there is
nothing “after” this; it’s all happening here and now.
The Chicago golfer experiences both, every year,
at their extremes. So we’re the Yin and the Yang,
the “it’s always darkest before the dawn” and “no
joy without pain” cliches. We embody the death
and rebirth archetype.

Frozen, barren, dead ground is replaced by lush,
vibrant, green blankets of rolling hills and fertile
plains, dotted with 4¼ inch holes, in which our
climactic winter dreams are realized: a steaming
nature-pool of pars and birdies and eagles, of won
skins and dragged in five-footers, of rounds with
your dad and a cool drink in the sun afterward.
In the winter, we turn to Guinness or Italian beef
sandwiches or Breaking Bad reruns, but as the sun stays
out a little longer, and the snow-covered ground turns
to green-mud slop, our souls swell with excitement. We
sneak a quick nine at the muni-down-the-street with our
daughter, skip the beef sandwich, and fire up the grill
for chicken or a salad. Hope replaces cynicism. Activity
supplants sloth. And now, instead of every decision beg-
ging the question, “will this help me endure the winter?”
it becomes “will this help my golf game?” which can be
directly translated to “will this help my soul?”

And besides, we “figured something out” in our
swings last year. That statement is in quotations
because it’s not my original thought; it’s plagiarized
from everyone who has ever gripped a club. The inevi-
table statement to follow in May: “What happened? I
thought I figured something out in my swing.”

I really did figure something out. I saw it in an
insomniatic Golf Channel blur with Michael Breed and
Paul Azinger. It was something so simple that I hadn’t
internalized in 25 years of playing: release the club at
impact. I wrote it on my hand, then on my scorecard,
then typed it in my iPhone, where it now looks exactly
like this: “Swing thoughts loose grip release club finish
forward posted August 30th at 3:21 pm.” Those three
simple thoughts changed my ball flight from weakish
old-man push slice to pro-style draw. It got me to a 5.9
index. And yet, I want to go lower.

In philosophy, the Hedonic Treadmill refers to
our human nature to always want more, no matter
how much we have. Think John Daly with chicken
wings and Budweiser or Tiger Woods with Perkins
waitresses. We’re like this with cutting strokes.
Golf equipment sales are predicated on this idea,
and though we know rationally that a ball or iron
or driver will only mask a weakness, we keep buy-
ing. You, my friend, are hereby permitted to jump
on that “treadmill” — goodness knows it’s better for
your soul than a real treadmill. It is time for rebirth.
So as the chill subsides, Derrick Rose plays two games
in a row, Cubs hope replaces Bears hate, and your boss
lets you out early for a quick nine, appreciate the privilege
of the yearly winter of discontent. I read a newspaper
headline in January, “Kitten freezes to death, stuck to
the front porch.” I mean really, how much less would I
appreciate a round at Cog Hill without that image seared
into my brain? I doubt some guy in L.A. or Phoenix
would. For us, that first round will be sweeter, the first
dig into turf more precious. So as soon as a flag goes up
within 30 miles, head out and play. Buy the new driver.
Pay for a lesson. Re-up at your club. You lived through hell. You deserve it.