At first glance, golf seems like a sport that lawyers should avoid, even though it can be fun. The equipment can be expensive compared to other sports. It requires an available golf course. In colder climates it is not a year-round sport. Most of all, it takes time. What billable time-conscious lawyer can play nine holes, much less 18, not counting preparation, travel, and post-game activity?
However, more lawyers might play if they knew why golf can provide some positive balance to help them succeed in their life and work, especially since law is the profession with the reported highest rate of stress. Here are nine reasons:
1. Golf gets us into nature. Golf gets us outdoors into green spaces, as we spend most of our work day indoors. Research indicates that exposure to nature is good for us. When we have to look down a fairway, or hunt for a lost ball in the rough, we see irregular forms, which helps offset long exposure to the straight lines of our offices. Viewing tall trees along the course may even inspire awe, which research indicates can enhance our generosity toward other people.
2. Golf gives us a break so that we can return to work re-energized. The eminent lawyer and Justice Louis D. Brandeis once justified his August vacation on the grounds that he could do 12 months work in eleven months, but not in 12. A break from work can itself help our performance and therefore our clients. Also, in a major study of lawyer satisfaction, psychologist Ken Sheldon and professor Larry Kreiger noted that the “[C]orrelation strengths of vacation days and exercise with well-being are noteworthy, because they equal, and in some cases greatly exceed, the effect size for well-being of increasing income, decreasing debt, better grades, law review participation, or law school ranking.”
3. Golf gets us moving. Golf involves exercise rather than sitting behind a desk, especially if we walk rather than ride around the course. Physical activity can benefit our mental health, keeping stress from becoming distress.
4. Golf improves our posture. To plan a shot on the golf course, we look up to see the landscape, even if we look down while we swing. That helps our posture, as standing up helps offset time spent bent over phones or laptops.
5. Golf exposes us to natural light. When we are outside, we are assured of being exposed to natural light, which few of us get indoors. Natural light is beneficial to our health. Additionally, when precautions are taken to protect against overexposure, natural sunlight is a good source of vitamin D.
6. Golf offers us good companionship. In contrast to some outdoor sports, playing golf with other people provides an opportunity for conversation, helping offset the solitary nature of most of our legal work. Also, while golf can involve competition like law practice, golfing companions often celebrate our good shots and commiserate with our bad ones.
7. Golf requires us to be present in the moment. In golf, we hit one shot after another. Once we miss a shot, we have another one to hit very soon, and we must be mentally present to do it successfully. In other words, we cannot ruminate on past errors or be anxious about a shot still to come.
8. Golf helps us compete against ourselves even when we compete against others. For most golf outings, golf involves competing against yourself rather than someone else. When we do have a match, golf scoring handicaps make it possible to have an enjoyable round with others of greater or lesser skill.
9. Golf welcomes us all, regardless of our age or level of skill. Golf provides a unique type of lifelong learning. Young and old family members and friends can be together away from the intrusions of the digital world, and where diversity is welcomed.
While golf combines the benefits of fresh air, exercise, sunshine, and companionship, we can disaggregate the benefits and enjoy many of them without picking up a club. If we cannot play golf, we can go for a walk outside and look up at the trees. Better yet, we can go for a walk with some colleagues, friends or family and take a welcomed break from being tied electronically to our clients and our work.
The point is to balance the important work we do as lawyers with a vital personal life, which paradoxically enables us to do our legal work more successfully. Making time to play golf with friends or family may help us strike that balance.
To tee or not to tee; answering that question can help us improve the practice of both our profession and the lives we live.
About the Author
Lisle Baker (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, and the co-author of Enhancing Attorney Resilience with Psychological Protective Gear. The author gratefully acknowledges the help of John Dube, a student at Suffolk University Law School, and his golf instructor, Kevin Rhoads, in the preparation of this article.