The fellow giving out awards following the U.S. Open said tennis players live longer, as if it were settled science, and perhaps that is true — and I hope it is, for I am a tennis player — though three experts of my acquaintance with whom I spoke recently, all knowledgeable when it comes to tennis and golf, were in agreement that should you be wondering on the eve of your retirement whether to take up golf or tennis, you should take up golf, if for no other reason than it’s easier on the body.
If you don’t obsess, it’s easier on the mind, too.
“You see people on the course who aren’t physically in shape, but who hit the ball straight,” said Ken Trell, a top club singles tennis player here before he joined the South Fork Country Club in Amagansett 25 years ago. “I think golf is more of a recreational sport than tennis. . . . it’s like bowling, where you don’t have to be the best athlete to do well. But the best athletes are the ones who excel in all sports.”
And, if you can’t move, there are always carts.
“Ninety percent of the golfers I see, on public or on private courses, are in a cart,” said Frank Ackley, a nationally ranked age-group tennis player who started out as a golfer, and who, after a 35-year hiatus, came back to golf. “Most of my friends who’ve played a lot of tennis are not playing much now. You can get hurt in tennis. In golf maybe you’ll sprain your wrist hitting a rock or a root or something. A lot of my friends have switched to golf. . . .”
Asked why he thought tennis players are said to live 10 years longer — that’s according to a study done in Copenhagen five years ago that rated its attendant socializing as a big plus — John Kernell, this writer’s brother-in-law, who, before he moved to Vero Beach, Fla., last year, was arguably Montauk Downs’s most ardent golfer, said, “Probably because golfers smoke and drink beer.”
“My recommendation for retirees,” Kernell said, “is that you play golf. It won’t take a physical toll on you like tennis will. In tennis you’re running, in golf you’re walking. . . . While it’s better to start both sports early — both sports at the highest level are extremely difficult — a newbie retiree can become a decent golfer. . . . But the fewer new golfers there are is okay with me — things can get jammed up on public courses.”
“Hackers in golf can have a good time,” said Trell, “because of something called a handicap, which tends to even things out. Handicaps don’t really work in tennis.”
Shoulder issues, a bone spur, and a rotator-cuff tear, forced Trell, 79, to give up tennis last year. He forwent surgery, he said, because his golf swing, which he began to hone in his mid-40s, remains unaffected. He touted the social benefits of both sports. “While I was competitive, I was very lucky to play tennis for enjoyment — it was fun for me. I mean, I wasn’t earning a living at it. I made wonderful friends in tennis, at the Racquet Club and at most of the other tennis clubs here, just as I have in golf. The purpose of both sports is to have fun. . . . What I love about golf primarily is the camaraderie and the friendship.”
Asked what he loved about golf, Ackley, who lives in Melbourne, Fla., in the winter months, said, “It’s difficult, and therefore challenging. Ninety percent of the time you’re in really beautiful places. . . . you’re on an elevated green looking onto a beautiful vista, the next three or four holes. I mean, you can’t watch the Stocks Channel all day. If you did, you’d go boogie. Golf fits in perfectly. You warm up a bit, play a round, have a cocktail with the boys, and come back home having had a great day. In tennis you’re slugging balls for two hours to get ready for a tournament, and then you say, ‘Oh, my back!’ You very seldom ever get that playing golf.”
But golf, he continued, was the harder sport to learn. “I can meet a person who’s not real, real athletic and in a short time have him hitting tennis balls with me. Golf is much too intricate, but anybody can learn to play golf if you’ve got the time to put in. One thing I’ve noticed: the teaching pros who keep an eye on us at the clubs Judy and I belong to in Melbourne don’t swing hard. They make smooth contact.”
And, mentally, golf was to be preferred, he added. “I’ve busted a few frames playing tennis. Playing at a high level is very volatile, always. You’re always on edge, it’s almost like a fist fight. But in golf you’re not fighting another person — you don’t get that anger. It’s a calmer sport for sure. You might get disappointed when you land in a trap, but you don’t get mad.”