President Trump did something unusual last weekend. It was not that he played golf on both days; he has done that on 31 of the 78 weekends he has been in office, by our count. It was he admitted he was playing golf.
Trump was in Scotland, spending a few days at the Trump Organization property at Turnberry in between meetings with allies and adversaries from NATO and Russia. That trip, he said, would include a bit of golf, his “primary form of exercise.”
Trump usually masks how much he plays golf. Then-press secretary Sean Spicer claimed Trump’s frequent trips to Trump Organization courses included meetings and phone calls.
“Just because you go somewhere,” Spicer said, “doesn’t necessarily mean you did it.”
Last weekend, Trump did it. On Friday, he departed for his club in Bedminster, N.J., where it is likely he will spend this weekend playing golf, too. If he plays both days, it will bring his total number of rounds to 107, by our estimate (which looks at press pool and weather reports to determine the likelihood of a round on any given day).
Visually, Trump’s golf habit looks like this, assuming he plays this weekend.
But, then, this is his self-described “primary form of exercise.” According to the New Yorker, Trump once argued the human body was like a battery, born with a certain amount of energy that exercise would only waste. It is safe to assume, then, his presentation of golf as his primary physical workout is accurate.
The natural question that arises is: Is golf actually good exercise? If this is the main way in which the president gets exercise, is that anywhere close to enough?
Happily, there is research that can inform the question.
Neil Wolkodoff is the medical program director at the Colorado Center for Health and Sports Science. Several years ago, he conducted a study in which he equipped golfers with a variety of gear to measure heart rates, breathing and other effects of the sport’s exertion. He explained his findings in a phone call with The Washington Post.
“We were just trying to figure out how many calories you burn if you play in a motor cart, if you carry your bag or if you use a push cart,” he said — and noted he was surprised by how many calories were actually burned.
“It was pretty significant that we found that golf burns about 450 calories in nine holes if you play in a motor cart,” he said, “because you don’t think of it as burning a lot of calories, except that the act of swinging the club is a more significant contribution in terms of calories than we would think.” (By contrast, you burn about 650 if you carry your own clubs and walk.)
That figure is important because Trump is renowned for his use of a golf cart — to the point that he has actually angered some other golfers by driving his cart onto the green at his own clubs. (With only one exception, a round of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan in November, Trump’s rounds of golf as president have been played at Trump Organization properties.)
But that does not help his calorie-burning, as Wolkodoff explained. Another reason playing with a golf cart burned more calories than you might think is because “what people forget is, most of the tee boxes and greens are elevated,” he said. “So even if you’re playing in a motor cart, you get out of the cart to go up to the tee box to hit or go up to the green to play your ball, you’re going up and down hills, which is a more significant energy expenditure than what you would get just walking on a flat, taking a walk in your neighborhood.” Wolkodoff did not have data on how this might affect the calorie counts but noted Trump probably was not the first president to take advantage of his position to drive the cart onto the green.
Let’s assume Trump is burning those 450 calories when playing. Let’s assume further that on each of the occasions illustrated above (including this weekend), Trump has played or will play 18 holes. That is 107 rounds at 900 calories each.
Trump’s primary form of exercise has resulted in his burning 96,300 calories over about 550 days in office.
Wolkodoff, though, did not think this was necessarily too little exercise. He figures people should burn between 4,500 and 5,000 calories a week through both informal exercise — walking around at work, etc. — and intentional workouts of four to five hours a week.
“He probably walks an awful lot in the White House back and forth to meetings,” Wolkodoff said, “so he might just be in one of those cases where he’s at the cumulative total from playing golf twice a week.” If you play two rounds in a cart each week, Trump burns 1,800 calories on golf in a two-round weekend, meaning he needs to burn 2,700 to 3,200 calories in informal activity.
“The actual answer is we don’t actually know how many calories he’s burning going from those meetings and to and from,” he said. “I think being the president, no matter who you are, is a lot more active than just hanging in your cubicle until the work day is done at five. You seem to be trudging somewhere all the time.”
We will note on Nov. 30, when Trump and the first lady went to the Ellipse just south of the White House to light the Christmas tree, they drove.
Wolkodoff did say the type of exercise Trump gets on the golf course is not necessarily ideal.
“Golf is much more intermittent than it is continuous,” he pointed out.
“From a physiological perspective, we burn a different kind of calories if exercise continues longer,” as golf does, he said. “While golf sounds like a great exercise for weight loss, it’s really too intermittent. It’s a little bit here, a little bit there. It doesn’t burn energy the same way you would if you did all that walking on a treadmill at one time.” Golf, he said, fell more into the informal-exercise category he identified.
“Maybe if you played golf six days a week, and you walked 18 holes, you might not have to go to the gym,” he said, “but I think everybody else needs to go to the gym and do strength training and some additional cardio work.”
He also pointed out that by driving in a cart, Trump was actually doing his golf game a disservice.
“If you’re interested in playing better golf,” he said, “in our study, people played better if they used a push cart.”
Trump is also known for … taking liberties with his golf scores, so that may also not be a big motivator for him.
Wolkodoff summarized his approach to exercise: “Move more during the day and then get five hours a week of moderate to vigorous activity.”
Or, more tersely: “It’s all about calories, baby!”
Trump’s “primary form of exercise” may not be hitting the mark in that regard.