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Is golf really a sport or just a hobby? Is it a good walk spoiled, or should we forget the walk and ask Santa for a golf cart this Christmas? And do you really have to have Tiger Woods' biceps to be any good?

A sports scientist pondering these and other 19th-hole kind of questions crunched a bunch of numbers and came up with answers, a few of which put a new twist on some age-old assumptions.

Among the top findings: Given the number of calories burned, it's certainly OK to call golf a sport.

"One of the more interesting things I found was that the actual act of swinging a golf club takes significant energy," says Neil Wolkodoff, director of the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver.

Maybe more energy than many people might think for a motion that takes a grand total of about three seconds.

Wolkodoff found eight male volunteers, ages 26 to 61 with handicaps between 2 and 17, strapped them into some state-of-the-art equipment and took them out for a few rounds of golf on the hilly front nine of Inverness Golf Club in suburban Denver.

Wolkodoff discovered the subjects burned more calories when they walked and carried their clubs (721) than when they rode in a cart (411). When they walked, they traversed about 4 km.

The conclusion was that the act of swinging the golf club could actually be considered good exercise - a theory many on the "not a sport" side of the golf debate have long questioned.

"As far as physical exertion, it's not the same as boxing, but it's definitely more than people thought," Wolkodoff says.

But before all you golf addicts cancel those gym memberships and turn the treadmill into a permanent coat rack, consider this: While the 2,884 calories the average player might burn by walking 36 holes a week is considered good for health (studies have shown that those who burn 2,500 calories a week improve their overall health by lowering their risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer), it will do little to improve fitness - meaning it won't increase your overall aerobic capacity.

Another thing the study showed is that being fit directly affects your ability to play good golf.

"You need to ask yourself, is the goal better fitness, or is it better fitness and better health?" Wolkodoff says.

Wolkodoff will soon submit the results of his test to the Journal of Applied Physiology, the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

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