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Golf is not good for you
With increasing concern about the inexorable march of obesity there is a movement about in family health care to prescribe golf to the fatties of the nation.

Much of the blubber statistics suggest that 75% of the British population will be officially obese within the next 15 years. Such is the cost of obesity to the public health budget that GPs (family physicians)will soon be prescribing golf and dishing out sets of clubs and sleeves of balls in the health centre dispensary.

Golf pros' shops could well become the pharmacies of the future.

If you think all of this is a bit of fatuous nonsense, pay heed. GPs in Taunton, Somerset, are piloting a scheme in which they are able to prescribe subsidised golf to patients. Instead of the statutory £10 for a round on the local municipal course, the patient can waddle out with his prescription and play 18 holes for just £3.

I'm not altogether sure whether this represents progress in medical science or sheer ignorance of the game in the medical profession. Without knowing the costs of obesity to the National Health Service or indeed, the costs of long term psychiatric care, one cannot arrive at a balanced judgement. But there are also many other factors involved that could prove expensive in the health and wellbeing of the patients as well as to the coffers of the health service.

Golf itself can become an addiction and GPs should be aware of it and all of the cravings that accompany it. Indeed, golf should be considered an infectious agent like a virus. It might even be wise to put it in the category of sexually transmitted diseases for the greater the frequency of intercourse with other golfers the more likely the chance of the patient becoming terminally infected. There is no known therapy for the infection and no known protective measures that can be taken against it.

There are very important consequences for any casually written prescription. Side effects from golf can be horrendous. Compulsive behaviour is the most common factor in the breakdown of family life and, to a non-infected spouse, constant expressions of concern about grips, stances and follow-throughs can be extremely disturbing.

If marriage guidance counselling is likely to be stretched, think of the consequences for the psychiatric wards of regional hospitals. Do they have the necessary expertise to cope with the mental breakdowns that are likely to ensue? What psychiatrist is prepared to listen day-after-day to the stories of rounds that might have been, while a blubbering latecomer to the game chews his fingernails to the quick? Psychiatric nursing staff will flee the wards fearing for their lives as anything that comes to hand is swung when a new insight into the swing suddenly overwhelms the hyper-excited devotee.

Golf is not a trivial thing that can be taken up and put down easily, and GPs should be aware of this. The consequences of taking up golf can be dire. Even Nick Faldo has confided to the world that he sees the game as a demon with the capability of reducing its even most accomplished players to gibbering wrecks of self-doubt.

For those of a fragile psyche, golf is not to be toyed with for it as dangerous as any illegal substance that alters the mind's balance. Hallucinogenic agents have nothing on the mind-altering effects of golf.

Simply prescribing a round on the local municipal may be the start of something that can quickly run out of control. Standardised presentation and dress is near mandatory - man-made fibre slacks and logos on jerseys are de rigeur. Baseball caps with obscure logos can be difficult to obtain and compulsory shoes of gleaming whiteness can be hard to maintain. I will not even go into the area of shiny clubs or the state of the art technology that is nowadays considered absolutely essential.

Are credit card counselling services up to the likely demand?

Without the necessary back up services in place GPs should think carefully before prescribing golf. Fragile ego syndrome not infrequently accompanies obesity and even the most self-assured can wither from the disdaining sniff of a pro who has casually asked to have a look at your swing. Few recover from the intimidating sight of a seasoned scratchman teeing up his ball and waggling his club threateningly.

No mention has been made of the danger of cardiac arrests. A bad shot invariably results in a sort of delicious despair which, if repeated regularly and frequently may result in practice ground catatonia. The danger lies in the good shot for the shock can cause permanent damage to the cardiovascular system.

And a hole in one, although unlikely, is almost invariably lethal.

David Malcolm dictated this column from his therapist's couch.

©    15 - OCTOBER 2002

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