Green Hill Municipal Golf Course is located inside Green Hill Park, but the hilly golf course is certainly not a walk in the park.
That doesn’t prevent most of the golfers in the first few groups off the tee each weekday from walking the course. My group usually has the second tee time, we usually all walk, and we range from 67-75 years old.
Shoving a push cart up the hills of the two par 5s on the back nine can be especially tiring, but that’s one of the reasons we walk — to get exercise. Those hills get the heart pumping.
Kevin Tivnan, 74, said he has taken a cart only about a dozen times since he began playing golf some 40 years ago, and he carried his clubs for the first 30. He said the exercise of walking makes a round enjoyable even when he doesn’t play well.
Tivnan realizes that some people aren’t healthy enough to walk, but he doesn’t understand why young physically fit people don’t.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” he said. “You can’t walk when you’re only 30 years old? I mean seriously? Plus, the money. I’m anti-carts.”
In the winter, Tivnan walks 3½ miles each day with his wife, Nancy, and he swims for close to an hour five days a week.
Ron Lohnes, 73, said he walks the course for exercise, and he can chat with more golfers in his group than if he rode in a cart with only one other golfer. He believes walking has kept him fit.
“I know a lot of people who are 73 who can’t walk across the street,” he said.
Lohnes rides carts the few times he plays at courses other than Green Hill.
“I don’t think I play as well,” he said. “I don’t really like a cart. If I ride in a cart, I may not concentrate as much. I’m not sure what it is.”
His Fitbit calculates that he takes about 13,000 steps during an 18-hole round at Green Hill, 14,000 if he doesn’t hit the ball as straight. That works out to at least six miles. During the winter when Green Hill is closed, he walks three miles each day.
Lohnes thinks PGA Tour Champions golfers, who are ages 50 and older, are wimps for riding carts. He’s 23 years older than some of them.
“Twenty-three years ago, I could have walked around here twice,” he said of Green Hill. “If we can walk, why can’t they walk? They should be in better shape or at least in as good shape as we are.”
During the winter when Green Hill is closed, I walk six miles every other day, including up a steep hill for the final mile. I don’t have to push my cart up the hill, but I’d much rather play golf than just walk.
Dave Rudman, 71, has mostly walked since he began golfing at age 15. He tees off in the first group of the day at Green Hill and plays nine or 18 holes just about every day.
He has a 6 handicap, and this year, he came within a shot of shooting his age at Green Hill.
“I walk for the exercise, and I find that I play better if I walk rather than ride,” he said. “You’ve got time to think about the shot before you get to it instead of rushing up to it with a cart, hitting it and then jumping in the cart and going. I prefer to walk.”
He and his wife Linda also walk 4½ miles a day around the Wachusett Reservoir or Hopkinton State Park.
“The walk in the woods is easier because you’re not pushing a cart,” he said.
Ed Gibbons, 74, pushes his cart not only for 18 holes each weekday, but for the seven-tenths of a mile from his home to the course and then back. The walk to and from the course takes about 12 minutes each way, depending how long he has to wait at the traffic light on Lincoln Street.
“I know a lot of people from walking up here,” he said. “They honk, they wave. When I go home, they’re always saying, ‘Did you lose your ball?’ I’ve gotten to know all the neighbors on the street.”
Ann Zelesky walks Green Hill three or four times a week with Christine Foley. Zelesky, 71, pushes her cart, and Foley, 53, carries her bag.
“I feel like my bag has become a part of me,” Foley said, “and my golf game. On the competitive side, it keeps me very focused. I just love having my bag with me, walking up the fairway, knowing where my ball is and going right to my ball and getting ready to hit. I love that it’s fantastic exercise, especially walking the hills of Green Hill.”
She paid for the mandatory cart in Green Hill’s Labor Day Four-Ball, but she carried her bag anyway. Even when she took an occasional ride to keep up with play, she sat with her bag at her side. She realizes that sounds crazy.
“I do not want to ride,” she said. “I just feel off with my bag secured on the back of the cart. I like my bag on my back.”
Zelesky said golf allows her to connect with people of all ages.
“I’m so thankful,” she said, “I’m able to do it at my young age. It’s a gift to be able to do it, and you feel good when you finish that you’ve gone out and been competitive. I love competition, and you’ve been with good people. You meet so many great people on the course, and you’ve had exercise. It’s a great way to start the day.”
Walking golf courses also prepared Zelesky and Foley to play 15-20 rounds last winter at Crystal Lake GC in Burrillville, Rhode Island, and Raceway GC in Thompson, Connecticut. Even if carts were available those days, they preferred to walk to stay warm.
“Some days when we got there, it was like 25 degrees,” Zelesky said, “but when you’re walking, and there’s no wind, and the sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day to walk.”
Bruce Chansky, 75, walks at the start of every round, but rides the back nine about half the time. He had heart surgery when he was 11 and four hip replacements more recently, and he believes walking builds up his strength.
“It’s not a flat course,” he said. “You get a total cardio workout because you’re walking up hills, down hills, side hills. It gets your heart pumping and builds stamina.”
Of course, some golfers aren’t physically able to walk nine or 18 holes. Some prefer to ride in golf carts even if they could walk. Green Hill golf pro Matt Moison estimated that only 15-20 percent of golfers walk at his course, but he wished it were more.
“I’m a big fan of walking,” he said. “I think the pace is better.”
Moison pointed out that some golf courses require the golfers to ride in golf carts, sometimes to speed up play.
But our group of walkers usually takes less than 3½ hours, sometimes just a few minutes more than three hours, to walk 18 holes. We’re more than fast enough.
Frank Simkus, 92, didn’t begin riding a golf cart until about four or five years ago. When he began playing golf at Green Hill at 10 years old, the club didn’t have carts. So he walked, and he kept doing so even after Green Hill made carts available. Simkus usually plays five days a week, and he wishes he could still walk the course.
“It kept you in shape, it kept you strong,” he said.
Simkus also believes walking Green Hill for so many years kept him young. The receptionist at his eye doctor’s office couldn’t believe it when he listed his age as 92 on a form recently. She asked others in the office to guess his age, and everyone said that he was in his 70s.
Simkus often sits in the pro shop and chats with the staff. Once in a while when a customer approaches the counter to pay a greens fee, Moison jokingly asks if the golfer needs a caddie and then points to Simkus.
Moison said older golfers maintain a healthy level of activity whether they ride or walk.
“The golfers who stay active and stay engaged live healthier, happier, longer lives,” Moison said.
Moison said he has noticed an increase in the number of younger golfers riding over the years, and he expects that trend to continue. He wonders if any young people nowadays walk anywhere, let alone on a golf course, once they’re old enough to drive a car. Older golfers walked more often, on and off the course.
When the pandemic hit the hardest, exercise gyms and bowling alleys closed, but golf courses were allowed to reopen after a few weeks because they provided a safe, outdoor activity. For a while, carts were banned for safety reasons. We walkers didn’t mind.
—Contact Bill Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @BillDoyle15.