KINKS FROM THE LINKS: Massage for Golfers
By: Janet Groene
Golfers are learning they don't need to be Tiger Woods to benefit
from massage therapy. At destination spas and golf resorts around
the world, massage sessions designed to target the specific needs
of recreational golfers are gaining in popularity.
"Golf and spa are a great combination for today's travelers,"
says International Spa Association President Lynne Walker McNees.
"People are looking for a one-stop shop for relaxation and
stress relief, and that's one of the reasons why golf is such a
popular offering at resort/hotel and destination spas."
From the "Golf Performance Treatment" offered at Willow
Stream, the spa at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale,
Arizona, to "The 19th Hole-Golf Massage" featured at The
Manele Bay Hotel's Spa at Manele, in Lana'i, Hawaii, massage for
golfers is becoming increasingly specialized. The PGA WEST golf
resort, in La Quinta, California, has even created a branded treatment,
PGA WEST Golf Massage, now offered at many resort and destination
spas throughout North America.
Learning about golfers' special needs can benefit therapists in
private practice, too. According to the National Golf Association,
about 26.2 million Americans ages 18 and older play one or more
rounds of golf each year—so massage therapists increasingly
have opportunities to reach this group of affluent, motivated clients.
Even more specialized are therapists who offer targeted massages
for the 45 percent of golfers who are in the 11-39 age group; the
22 percent who are women; and the 33 percent of all golfers who
are age 50-plus and who are likely to have additional age-related
problems, such as arthritis.
How do you get golfers on your table before they injure themselves?
Once they are in your hands, how do you prepare them for play, put
tired muscles into repose after a day on the course, and ready their
bodies for powerful, pain-free golf games in the future?
For answers we went to three Florida therapists who work in very
different settings, all of them year-round golf destinations: a
posh spa in a family resort that has a highly rated golf course;
a swank athletic club at a AAA 4-Diamond hotel; and an upscale spa
at a new luxury resort that has a strong golf focus.
Iris Casteen is lead massage therapist at Stillwater Spa in the
Hyatt Regency Coconut Point at Bonita Springs in Southwest Florida.
The resort’s 18-hole championship golf course, The Raptor,
hosts a who's-who of corporate CEOs, as well as leisure guests who
are avid golfers. Because the spa is one of the resort's leading
assets, Casteen is likely to work with all adults in the family,
golfers and non-golfers alike.
Golf’s Top 10 Stress Points
The areas most prone to injury in golfers are:
- Lower back
—Source: John R. McCarroll, M.D., orthopedic surgeon
and member of the American College of Sports Medicine.
"Golfers tend to gravitate to us once they've had a bad game,"
says Casteen. She says her challenge is to get golfers into massage
therapy before their first play, educate them about their bodies,
and then keep them pain-free. Because most of her clients are on
vacation, they may not have played golf for some time, or may not
have done proper warm-up and stretching before the game. By the
time they come to Casteen they are already in pain, often attributing
their stiffness to the long plane flight or a new bed.
"I prefer to start golfers with a relaxation massage, perhaps
with assisted yoga, after the flight and before their first round,"
"Communication is so important," she adds. "Not
just in learning how the client feels physically, but about their
expectations from a therapist. As I work, we talk. Often a client
doesn't know that, for example, a tingling in the sciatic area has
been caused by a golf posture."
Casteen believes in giving clients total attention, not just as
weekend warriors, nor as golfers—but as people who come to
her as part of the total resort experience. On their first visit
to Stillwater Spa, she explains the ritual of spa and the importance
of steam, sauna and the Swiss shower, followed by a massage to balance
their energy system. She blends Swedish massage with tuina (Chinese
push-pull massage) and Thai massage (assisted stretching).
With golfers, Casteen says, she usually has to deal with low-back
issues, and she often finds shoulders "screaming for relaxation."
She uses therapeutic massage, a blend of Eastern and Western techniques,
and heat and cold, with the accent on cold (refrigerated stones
or compresses). It's helpful, she finds, to use shiatsu, with a
focus on the gluteus area, and she also uses trigger-point release.
She finds neuromuscular release good for the lower back. While a
50-minute session is helpful, she prefers 80 minutes, especially
for first-time massage clients.
When asked how she would work differently with older golfers,
Casteen mentions needing to address problems such as arthritis or
bursitis. She also sees younger golfers, who can choose from Stillwater
Spa's teen massage menu. Casteen finds fewer golf injuries in younger
players because their bodies are more resilient; however, they are
also less cognizant of physical vulnerabilities, and are less likely
to realize the connection between their golf game and their bodies.
With teen-age clients she uses a more comforting, gentler touch.
"Lastly, it all begins and ends with the feet, so I recommend
reflexology for everyone, including golfers," Casteen says.
"The best thing about therapeutic massage is that it allows
the therapist to tailor the session to the client's needs, to be
creative, intuitive, innovative."
Ariel Quinones is a massage therapist at The Spa at the Omni Orlando
Resort at ChampionsGate, Florida. It's the only luxury resort in
the Orlando area that has two 18-hole, championship golf courses.
Because the resort is world headquarters of the David Leadbetter
Golf Academy, it’s a frequent host to some of the top names
in professional golf, and is popular for golf-oriented business
conferences. Quinones' clients are likely to be expert and frequent
players. Many also have a support system that includes instructors,
coaches and personal trainers.
The most common causes of injuries in amateur golfers
- Too much play or practice
- Poor swing mechanics
- Hitting the ground
- Too little warming up
- Twisting during the swing
- Grip or swing change
- Bending over the putt
- Cart-caused injury
—Source: John R. McCarroll, M.D., orthopedic surgeon
and member of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Quinones' experience reveals that the most common injury sites
in professional golfers are the wrist, back, hand, shoulder and
"It's essential that we see the golfer before inflammation
occurs. At that point, our hands are tied," he says. "There's
little we can do except to work groups of muscles in areas other
than the inflamed site.
"The human body was created to heal itself in many ways,
so we try to educate athletes to help us by listening to their bodies,"
Quinones continues. "They can come to me for maintenance, but
they must be responsible for preparation."
With proper warm-up and stretching, followed by massage to prepare
muscles, tendons and ligaments, Quinones says he can bring a golfer
up to 100-percent performance from a pre-massage potential of only
Quinones' massage for golfing clients differs from his general
sports- massage sessions, in that he goes directly to the deltoids;
the four rotator-cuff muscles, the supraspinatus, infraspinatus,
teres minor and subscapularis; the calf muscles, the soleus and
gastrocnemius; gluteus medius and maximus; and the latissimus dorsi.
When Quinones works with older golfers, he finds that range of
motion may be limited by aging factors, such as arthritis or an
old injury. In younger players—and he does see serious golfers
as young as age 16—he says the chance of injury is higher
because they don't know yet how to read what their bodies are trying
to tell them. During the massage session, he tries to educate his
clients about their anatomy and physiology, specifically in regard
to how it all ties in with their golf game.
To keep his clients pain-free, he advises them in the use of proper
warm-up and stretching, followed by a massage and adequate hydration
before and during the game. Then he advises rehydration, sauna use
and massage after the game to bring the muscles back into balance.
Listening with ears and hands
Both Casteen and Quinones work at spas in golf resorts. By contrast,
massage therapist Jane Frances is with the athletic club at The
Peabody Orlando. A convention hotel and also a popular venue for
guests who want to visit nearby Walt Disney World, The Peabody Orlando
does not have a golf course—yet it is as golf-savvy as any
resort in Florida, thanks to an in-house golf service that provides
guests with tee times and personalized transportation to a choice
of the area's top 20 courses. As a result, the hotel's clientele
includes avid amateurs, as well as top professionals who stay at
The Peabody Orlando, the host hotel for the annual PGA Golf Expo.
Frances also works with a core clientele of local golfers who belong
to the Peabody Athletic Club.
The low back is often the area most in need of attention, she
"The lumbar region is the fulcrum of the coil that goes with
the golf swing," Frances explains. She urges golfers to come
to her first for a massage that prepares the low back, shoulders,
hips, legs and elbows for the motions and stresses of the game.
"I use warmth and cold, deep-tissue massage, [neuromuscular
therapy], and I like stone [therapy] to sink heat deep into the
muscles," she says.
She also focuses on improving circulation in knees and hamstrings.
She finds positional release is especially good for elbows. While
she works, she talks to clients about the importance of thorough
warm-up and stretching. "Younger players are sometimes too
eager to get on the course, and they may overdo the golf while under-doing
the warm-up," Frances says. "I tell them to be faithful
to whatever stretch routine was recommended by their own personal
A lot depends on how often a golfer plays, Frances has learned.
The player who is on the course three times a week is, obviously,
more in tune with his or her body than the monthly player. In any
case, she starts with a sports massage to loosen up restricted muscles,
and she urges golfers to follow up the next day with another massage.
Many of her clients are recommended to her by their chiropractors
Frances is also a reiki master and facial specialist. She recommends
that golfers have a one-hour aloe facial mask for deep hydration
to counteract the strong Florida sun, and she incorporates reflexology
into her work on golfers. "We are like chefs," she says.
"We throw everything into the pot that will address the client's
concerns. We listen with our ears and our hands."
Janet Groene is a journalist whose work as a travel writer
takes her to dozens of resort spas each year. Her newest books include
Caribbean Guide (Open Road Publishing) and Fantastic
Discounts & Deals for Anyone Over 50 (Cold Spring Press).
Her Jamaica Guide will be published in fall 2005. Groene
is a member of the American Society of Journalists & Authors
and the Society of American Travel Writers.