Mark Twain once famously observed that to play golf was to ruin a good walk in the country, but a sport that has so many millions of dedicated players and followers, along with over 30,000 courses worldwide, must have something going for it. So why is it that golf is such a popular sport?
Aside from P.J. O'Rourke's assertion that "Golf combines two favorite American pastimes: taking long walks and hitting things with a stick", the game of golf has many benefits to offer to players of all standards. The first and most obvious is that it provides a way of escaping from the hurly burly of modern urban life. The life enhancing qualities of fresh air, pleasant scenery, and a temporary return to seemingly rural surroundings are hard to overstate, and golf provides all these in abundance. As an aside, golf can also be good for the environment, with the courses providing a managed 'wilderness' in the heart of urban areas, which has great benefits both ecology-wise and for the community.
In today's world, many people are deskbound during their working days, and while they may work extremely hard mentally, their bodies aren't put under anything like the same kind of physical strains that our forebears used to endure. While this is generally a good thing, a lack of exercise can cause serious health problems, and a round of golf provides light to moderate exertion - even a short course will involve a walk of at least two miles, even if you play to par! The muscles of the upper body also receive a gentle workout during the repeated swings you make as you progress around the course.
Golf also provides an arena for competition, whether against your peers or simply against your self and your skill level. No golf player will ever be satisfied with their game, and the quest for greater technical perfection can be a powerful spur to carrying on playing the game - the thought of knocking an extra shot off your scorecard can quickly become addictive.
Finally, golf is a very social sport, as it is played at a pace which allows conversation among the players. Not only does this mean you can relax with friends while playing, it has also led to the sport becoming popular in business circles, where negotiations and deal making can often be conducted in a much more relaxed setting than the average boardroom.