Changing the conversation about health

Nine holes for health? Social prescribing pilot offering free golf proves a big hit in Scotland

Social prescribing comes in many forms, as a pilot scheme offering games of golf to help boost health and wellbeing has proved.

The Golf for Health pilot took place recently in Fife, Scotland and saw patients with varying health conditions referred to the scheme by their GPs.

Developed by the University of St Andrews School of Medicine and The Royal & Ancient golf course, the free scheme, which runs for four to eight weeks, aims to introduce non-golfers to the mental and physical health benefits associated with the game – including walking, fresh air and friendship.

A project between The Royal & Ancient in Scotland and St Andrews University academics has seen people in Fife offered four to eight free golf sessions to improve health Image: Pixabay/Robert Geisler

The blueprint project could now be scaled up in other parts of the country and further afield.

Speaking to BBC Scotland News, one participant, Linda McTavish, 77, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), said she’d found the sessions had helped symptoms of her condition.

She said: ‘I just grabbed the opportunity and it’s been great. I enjoyed the company and the exercise and fresh air – I love meeting other people.’

Another, Gordon Baker, who has arthritis said he’d previously given up the sport but was now revisiting it.

The 72-year-old from Rosyth said: ‘I’m sort of coming back in and starting from scratch again. I’m finding that it is actually benefitting my health and I’m making a lot of good friends and a bit of company – it all helps.’

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Sports sessions have increasingly become a powerful ally in the social prescribing toolbox, with football clubs dedicated to improving mental health growing in number in recent years across the UK.

The blueprint project could now be scaled up in other parts of the country and further afield (Image: Pixabay/JanBaby)

The highest risk of death by suicide is amongst men who are aged 35 to 50, living alone and unemployed, and the Football Association (FA) has been vocal in its support of how the game can help with social inclusion, and improving both mental and physical health.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that looked at how exercise compared with antidepressants (and including a combination of both) in treating non-severe depression found there was no difference ‘in treatment effectiveness between exercise, antidepressants and their combination’.

In England’s north west, Liverpool Football Therapy offers training and matches for all genders enduring mental health problems, and a GP’s referral isn’t needed. The club has faced funding problems in recent months and session times have been reduced to keep costs down.

Minds United, an inclusive London-based team with male and female teams was founded in 2019 and has gone from strength to strength during the last three years.

Sessions take place on astroturf pitches in West London with FA qualified coaches. In 2022, teams from the club travelled to the Czech Republic and Italy to play in tournaments.

In Norfolk, Football Development Officer Jamie Bennett runs hour-long mental health football sessions for female players.

Bennett says: ‘Mental health is an issue at the forefront of society at current and football can be a great source of relief.

‘Football can create the perfect environment for people to share their feelings and have those meaningful conversations, essential to bettering our mental health.’

The ‘social kickabout’ sessions take place with a qualified FA coach, and there’s a chance to chat and have a drink afterwards. (Click here to find out more).