How golf is helping people living with dementia and Parkinson’s disease

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 12, 2019 10:49

An organisation called Golf in Society has been running days out for the last four years. Not only is this having a remarkably positive effect on the people needing care – it’s led to similar results for the bottom lines of the golf clubs involved, writes Andy Tremlett

We are told regularly that golf clubs have struggled with an image problem for quite sometime. Old, fuddy-duddy, expensive and time consuming.

Managers have replaced secretaries, revenue streams have been found in spas and weddings, and many have just muddled through by increasing footfall with cheaper green fee rates inevitably through internet booking sites and generally down-selling their brand.

But have golf clubs realised their potential and adapted to today’s marketplace effectively? It’s a difficult proposition when your membership is fundamentally ageing and they’re the only ones who can afford the time to play two or three times a week. The golden goose for growth is of course the youth of today – attract them and all will be OK.

Quite apart from the historical impatience demonstrated by this analogy, there is a certain irony in the thinking.

Dementia is now the biggest killer in the UK, and with the organisation and structure of social care in turmoil (the latest promised parliamentary Green Paper on change has been delayed for almost a year now), if you are in your early teens and have just learnt how to lose a decent Pro V1, the chances are that you won’t have enough time to play golf because of caring responsibilities for your parents in a few years’ time. Residential dementia care home for mum or dad at £30,000 to £80,000 per annum or golf club membership at £1,500? Interesting choice.

So what do clubs do? Panic a little bit perhaps or shut up shop maybe. There are plenty of examples. Just like pubs, golf clubs have relied far too long on a membership that owes them nothing and they have done little to protect or expand their brand in their local communities.

Social responsibility is the key message here. Golf clubs should be demonstrating a much more socialised conscience in our communities to ensure longevity.

That’s where the attitudes of social entrepreneurs like Anthony Blackburn kick in. He has been running ‘Golf Days Out’ through his organisation Golf in Society for nearly four years now and is at the very sharp end of the benefits of golf to people living with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

He is well aware of how golf clubs try and serve their communities and many do so successfully but he insists that clubs are missing a trick.

“Golf clubs are, by their nature, fun places to be at so it is easy to assume that all who attend are at ease with the world and therefore the club is serving the community well. I think perhaps that there is a body of people who, for all sorts of reasons, aren’t being encouraged enough to either start golf or get back into it. Clubs can take a leading role in this,” he states.

It is now clinically well perceived that the early gestation stages of dementia can be delayed by good diet, regular exercise and mental stimulation. It is no surprise that government agencies are becoming very interested in activities that are cheaper to implement than handing out drugs to alleviate the effects of our largest killer. Golf clubs tick many boxes in this arena because the facilities already exist, professional staff can easily be trained simply and cheaply with Golf in Society’s ‘Community Golf Activators’ (CGAs) programme and the clubs enjoy increased revenue from the sessions.

The clubs already involved endorse Anthony’s vision for the future of golf involvement in community support by some of their comments, especially when it comes to some interesting benefits.

Brian Logan, managing director of Lincoln Golf Centre, lost his 94 year old father-in-law to dementia (“it’s a very lonely disease”) and is proud to be involved with the initiative and has been pleasantly surprised how the Thursday sessions have become their second busiest day of the week through food and beverage turnover from being one of the quietest. “People come down here with their carers and our members take them around the course. It’s great to see them comfortable and relaxed and the carers get some much needed respite,” he said.

Russell Gray, golf club manager at Mearns Castle Golf Academy near Glasgow, goes even further. ”When we were first approached to facilitate the dementia in golf project we were delighted – a great project – offering a great service to local people living with dementia.

“To see so many of them come through the door at the start of the programme, lacking confidence and self worth, to now seeing the participants full of joy, socially responsive and in general, in a better place, is incredible. Anthony and the volunteers are incredible to watch; their patience and understanding encourages great responses – suddenly we can see people with dementia re-engaging with golf, using the facilities with their old golfing friends and family.

“More facilities need to get involved and realise the benefits that golf clubs can have on improving the standard of lives of families living with dementia.”

Rudding Park in Yorkshire has worked with Golf in Society for the last two years and hosted a World Parkinson’s Day event in 2018. Golf club manager, James King, was thrilled to add the day to his weekly sessions. “It was a fantastic event and gave us a great opportunity for publicity and media coverage as well as generating further income.”

For 2019, Anthony welcomes the Rules of Golf changes but has a slightly different take on how golfers and clubs can improve things.

“I have always believed that the more you put into something, the greater the benefits in the long run.

“In an age where people seem to be unable to make time for things in life because there are parts of our society that need instant gratification at the expense of real quality, perhaps we have forgotten what’s really important. Community engagement is the way forward and ironically there is money to be made from it if it is done in a responsible way. Golf clubs really need to wake up to this.”

To find out more about Golf in Society, visit


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 12, 2019 10:49
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  1. Connie Simonton March 1, 06:53

    This was great, I have been researching for a while now, and I think this has helped

    Reply to this comment
  2. Connie Simonton March 1, 06:52

    Thanks for this. My grandma has Parkinson’s disease, she is about 75 years old it was detected 7 years ago. Right now it’s getting more difficult to live for her, because of stiff muscles she can’t even move.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Catherine Roberta December 2, 18:07

    I was diagnosed 2011. i was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. My symptoms progressed quickly. Soon i was having difficulty breathing, swallowing and even walking short distances. People are suffering from this horrible disease due to lack of information.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Roland Peri September 8, 11:03

    I haven’t been symptom free since playing golf but it has helped

    Reply to this comment
  5. Wyatt Hunter September 7, 18:04

    My husband is 54 and has had Parkinson’s for around 3-4 years. It is a debilitating disease that only gets worse and needs some serious funding to find out 1 because the cure is out there. What causes it and 2. some better treatment for it which golf is maybe a cure for in his opinion!

    Reply to this comment
  6. Carlos Benita October 25, 07:51

    My doctor even seemed annoyed with me and things just kept progressing and I just kept it to myself, why bother going through testing and them finding nothing? Well, it was after my second P.T called my doctor about the weakness in my legs and arms, by this time I have developed a gait in my walk and I fell more frequently. Only then did my doctor send me to a specialist and it was found that I had Parkinson’s, and that I have had it for awhile. I think because I was a woman that my signs and symptoms weren’t taken seriously and therefor left untreated for so long,I was taking pramipexole dihydrochloride three times daily, I Was on carbidopa levodopa but only lasted 90 minutes then wore off.I found that none of the current medications worked effective for me.I got tired of using those medication so I decided to apply natural herbs formula that was prescribed to me by my second P.T, There has been huge progression ever since I start the treatment plan which will last for 15 weeks usage.all the symptoms and sign has begin to disappear .

    Reply to this comment
  7. felix lina July 29, 10:26

    My husband was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease at 68. His symptoms were shuffling of feet, slurred speech, low volume speech, degradation of hand writing, horrible driving skills, right arm held at 45 degree angle.

    He now walks properly and all symptoms has reversed.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Shelley February 27, 08:55

    After my Parkinsons Disease diagnosis, i was on Carbidopa and Pramipexole for two years, as the disease progressed my symptoms worsened, with my neurologist guidance i started on natural treatment such as walking via golf which worked very effectively for my Parkinson’s, i feel better now than I have felt in years and i can feel my strength again.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Laurel Barrus February 7, 23:43

    I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nearly 4 years ago, at age 51. I had a stooped posture, tremors, muscle stiffness, sleeplessness, and slow movement. I was placed on Sinemet for 7 months and then Sifrol and rotigotine were introduced which replaced the Sinemet but I had to stop due to side effects. I was in denial for a while as there is no history of PD in my family. I also used amantadine, and physical therapy (golf) to strengthen muscles. The more natural approach means I feel alive again!!

    Reply to this comment
    • Anthony Blackburn February 15, 10:21

      Hi Laurel. Testament to your words is that we had a session @ Rudding Park on Wednesday with 27 PD golfers. We all had another great day of golfing & socialising in the sunshine.

      Reply to this comment
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