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What Happened to Doctors and Golf?

Holmsvollur Golf Course

A common stereotype of the anesthesiologist (which both Passive Income MD and I happen to be) is that we like to end our days early to hit the golf course before the rest of the physicians finish clinic and crowd the links.

I’m being truthful when I say that I’ve never canceled a case in order to make a tee time. I did, however, make a 1 p.m. tee time on the day I took my USMLE Step 3 test as an intern, a test that was scheduled to last until 5 p.m.

I made the tee time; I’m a fast test taker. The $2,100 “8 hour” ABA Recertification exam took me an hour and 40 minutes. I’ve got better things to do than hem and haw over the answers to computerized tests.

I’m getting off-topic, but today’s Saturday Selection is rather off-topic for a personal finance site. Or is it? Golf is a great way to network. How much business takes place on a golf course? Plenty.

This post was written by Dr. Peter Kim and originally appeared at Passive Income MD.


What Happened to Doctors and Golf?


“Doctors love to golf.”


It’s a stereotype we’ve all heard. In fact, for a lot of people, it seems that doctors go through life with a stethoscope in one hand and a golf club in the other. It never seems to die.

Unfortunately, this stereotype carries a somewhat negative connotation. Golf is thought of as a wealthy person’s sport and physicians are thought to fit the demographic. It makes us seem almost elitist.



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Doctors and Golf in Film and Media


Of course, it doesn’t help that time after time, this idea of doctors and golf continues to be reinforced in the media. One of the most famous of the golfing doctors is Dr. Beeper from the movie Caddyshack.

I remember Dr. Beeper for two reasons. First, for wearing one of the best golf hats of all time, and second, for uttering what is, in my opinion, one of the most memorable quotes in the movie:



“We’re about to tee off now, so call the hospital and move my appointment with Mrs. Bellows back 90 minutes… Just snake a tube down her nose and I’ll be there… in four or five hours.” – Dr. Beeper


But the media’s love affair with doctors and golf doesn’t end there. Golf Digest actually used to run a ranking of the “Top 250 Golfer Doctors in America.” In one of the most telling quotes from this list, the author stated that “when they’re not busy saving lives, doctors love to play golf.”


Holmsvollur Golf Course
doctors welcome


Do Doctors These Days Have the Time?


In reality, I find that very few physicians find the time to be able to hit the golf course these days, especially young ones.

According to the AMA, more than 50% of physicians say they work more than 50 hours a week, while 25% say they work more than 60 hours. Considering a typical round of golf takes nearly 4.5 hours (never mind the time driving to the course and back, plus the time it takes to warm up and practice), you could be looking at a six-hour time commitment just to play a single round of golf.

Unfortunately, most physicians simply cannot find that much time in their busy week. You might find some physicians at the end of their careers who are able to take a day off for golf, but not those whose careers are just beginning.

Given the demands of building and sustaining a practice, or the fact that many of us find ourselves employees of hospitals or health systems, taking an afternoon off just isn’t a realistic possibility. Waiting until the weekend is no better because we’re then forced to decide between a round of golf and precious time with family.

Why I Enjoy Golf


So the stereotype just doesn’t seem to ring true today, but could golf actually serve a purpose to us as physicians? When I was in medical school, I was under the impression that knowing how to play golf could lead to some great networking opportunities. Through golf, I thought I might even land residency spot or a job. Unfortunately, this really hasn’t been the case.

Still, I have to admit…I love playing golf. It helps that as an anesthesiologist, I work long shifts, which allows me some time during the week to play. The reason I play is simple: I honestly feel that there’s no better stress relief. Yes, there’s the occasional frustration with a bad shot, but there’s just something about being out in the open air and enjoying the company of friends for a few hours.

Unfortunately, burnout amongst physicians is a growing epidemic. Many of us deal with daily decisions that could make or break someone’s life. These things tend to accumulate. We should all find something that provides a healthy outlet for this pent-up stress and make it a priority.

My outlet just happens coincidentally to be golf… and I’m a doctor.


[PoF: Now you’ve got me wondering what happened to golf and this doctor. I grew up within walking distance of a golf course and we used our neighbor’s field as a driving range until we got big enough for our drives to reach the road… then things really got interesting!

Where I grew up, an annual pass to the course was under $100 for a kid. In my early teenage years, I would sometimes play 27 or 36 holes in a day. Or sneak out to the 10th hole (closest to our house) after dinner to get in a quick 9 as twilight set in and the course was nearly empty. 

I was only marginally good enough to make the high school team, but I did get to the point where I could consistently break 100 and occasionally break 90. I was happy with bogie golf.

Once I started college, there wasn’t much time for golf and a dorm room doesn’t have much room for a set of golf clubs. Not that it mattered much in Minnesota, where we started school in late September in those days. In the spring, there was too much other fun stuff going on, and in the summers, I worked a lot.

I played rarely as a medical student and my interest tapered off. The last time I picked up a club was probably in a scramble tournament 7 or 8 years ago. 

For me, the biggest deterrent is the time commitment. Like you say, it’s 4+ hours on the golf course. Then there’s the commute and the 19th hole. 

I am about to have quite a bit more time on my hands and I’ve got kids who are old enough to learn the game. Maybe we’ll introduce them to the game with some group lessons in the relatively near future.

If they show a real interest and want to be avid golfers, perhaps I’ll join them on the links. Unlike PIMD, I don’t know that I find golf to be all that relaxing, though. Frustrating? Yes. Perplexing? Constantly. That doesn’t sound like stress relief to me, but that’s just me.]



What’s your outlet for stress? Think golf is a waste of time? Whatever the case, let me know…

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17 thoughts on “What Happened to Doctors and Golf?”

  1. I wonder what the stats are on age groups of people who play golf. I’m in my 30’s and know very few people around my age who play. I’ve read articles regarding the decline of golf, the tactics they’re using to save it etc. I’ve never gotten into golf but it seems to take so much time. I’ve gone to the driving range a few times and had a blast, it’s a pretty good stress relief just whacking balls. Unrelated to the actual play of golf, but I’ve always felt golf courses to use huge amounts of resources: land, water, etc.

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  3. My husband taught me to play as a medical student, then I took lessons and began to play more as an attending. The women in my ER group play more often than the men. We enjoy getting together for a quick round walking 9 holes as most of us also have families and taking 5+ hours to golf isn’t feasible. A couple times a year we will golf as a big group with our spouses for charity scramble events which are so fun! It is great to be outside and active, plus it builds great camaraderie. We usually play at the smaller local courses to support them plus its cheaper. I agree golf seems to be on the decline, and I think there has been an active push in golf marketing to include women and make it less of a snobby sport. My husband’s grandparents golfed into their 80’s and I hope to enjoy it for a long time as well!

  4. Golfing in the US has been in decline for many years. In my opinion, it just takes too long to play a round. I played as a young Doc , then got into fly fishing. I couldn’t do both on a weekend day, so I dropped golf. I also found it to be a frustrating sport and not relaxing as I always hated having another group coming up behind me and watching my inevitable slice.

    I will say my partners golf and definitely use it as a networking tool. I have no administrative ambitions and am about 5 yrs away from winding down clinical practice so I have no need for such activities. My wife and I may consider it as a retirement activity that we can do together. My parents did that, picking up golf in their 60’s and still play in their 80’s. Kind of cool.

  5. POF, don’t know if you have The First Tee program in your area, but that is nice program for kids and golf that has a reasonable price, at least in our area.

    I agree that golf does take too long, but I still play some with kids and b/c my dad likes golf.

  6. When I started my anesthesia career it was common to have elective cases done by noon or one. The call boys picked up the slack as we winnowed down to 1 or 2 rooms. Surgeons were fast and efficient and had to get to the office. We called em Halothane surgeons as they got in and out so the patient wasn’t under forever. One of my friends did triple A’s skin to skin in an hour 20 and carotids in 20 min. One gyn surgeon would do 6 belly scopes, tubals etc by 1 pm. As time went on, 1 pm turned to 2 turned to 3 turned to 4. The surgeons had become Fentanyl surgeons guys who could dick around forever and the MBA’s who paid them encouraged that because OR time paid the bills by the minute, so the anesthetic became more narcotic based. At some point I added a pain practice which went daily from 3 to 5. That’s what happened to golf.

  7. Disclaimer: I am not a physician but i work with thousands of them. I get home from work by 4pm on most days so I can play a lot of golf. I am making this post because of the negative comments regarding golf above. Believe me, I get it — golf can be very frustrating.

    My wife and I play *every* evening, weather permitting. We play over 250 times per year. We live on the golf course at a country club in central Texas. Golf is meditative for us. It’s a great stress reliever at the end of a day that we enjoy together. Here is why: we don’t keep score. Even though I can shoot upper 70s, low 80s, it’s still more fun for me to not keep score. And it’s essential for my wife’s enjoyment as she would probably score 100-110 if she kept score. By not recording your score you just focus on the next good shot, the next par, the next birdie — and not how many strokes over par you are. It’s great. Give it a try.

  8. As a former avid golfer, my last round was in 2008. I realized the truth to the saying that there are only two kinds of golfers; those with back problems and those who will have back problems. I was getting stingers down my arm with each full swing so I consulted my friendly neurosurgeon colleague. Nothing surgical but did offer me the choice of a foraminal steroid injection or a medrol dose pack. I took the dose pack and haven’t had a problem since quitting. No wonder the routine of a fellow physician golfer was 800 mg of Motrin before the round. I miss it a little but not enough to deal with or exacerbate any spine issues.

  9. Just hated golf when I tried to learn it in college. And as a life long tennis player I’m glad because I much prefer a sport with a lot of aerobic benefit to a game that does not involve much exercise, even if you walk it. I found it very stressful but competitive tennis takes you to your physical limits and to me that’s cathartic. But to each their own, many prefer games to sports because they are generally more social with lots of talk time interspersed in with the action. Not much talking in tennis except before and after the match.

  10. I golfed as a kid. As an adult physician, I’d rather spend that time with family. I just couldn’t justify 4 hours out of my Saturday. I picked stress relieving hobbies I could do at home or with the kids.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  11. I gave golf a try in residency and found it was not my cup of tea. I was told I did have a natural swing by others and did well on the driving range but never took it too far beyond that, even though I was gifted with a nice set of golf clubs which currently sits in my side store room.

    Granted golf can be a great place to network if you are a business owner. Not sure really how much you achieve networking as a doctor (and definitely could not see utility in this as a radiologist). Maybe you might get a slightly higher referral pattern but I find that it usually is the quality of care that drives referrals and not what you do outside of the hospital.

  12. I used to enjoy MMORPGs but gave them up when I started blogging and having a baby. In terms of a time commitment they pretty much beat any other hobby/addiction….

    Nowadays rock climbing and writing seems to be how I spend most of my non work and non family time.

    I never got into golf as a kid and I have no interest in it now. I definitely see the allure of hanging around outside drinking with some buddies while hitting balls with sticks though.

  13. I prefer disk golf. It is all the good thing minus some of the bad. Most courses are free or very low charge. Equipment only is 2-3 disks which you can get for $25. (Be prepared to lose one). It is quick and easy to learn as apposed to golf which I feel takes a ton of time and money in lessons and practice before you can have a fun time.
    It is in no way prestigious and rarely catch other white collars out there but what do I care. I feel that networking is overrated these days in medicine. Unless you are gunning for a high up academic position or administrative role it probably would not help much.
    Don’t knock it until you try.

    • I actually started disc golfing late in medical school because I couldn’t afford ball golf. 4 years later and I play on a professional level. Crazy to see this post, because as I was reading this article I was thinking no way do other doctors play disc golf. Rounds only take a couple hours and people from all walks of life play.

      • I’ve always wondered if other doctors have discovered this amazing sport. I’m addicted to it. I played ball golf for 30 years. At age 51yo my engineer brother in law turned me onto it. I have not looked back. Since my kids never really expressed interest in ball golf I fell away from it and have not even missed it. I had a $3,000 a year ball golf membership next door to my house. A dream for most golfers.
        I love how fast you can play DG and how cheap it is even with >100 discs I have!
        I’ve started playing in tournaments now. I would love to retire from medicine and go play DG tournaments all year long.


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