Men, Golf, and Skin Cancer

What do golf pros Fred “Butch” Baird, Tom Kite, Skin Cancer Foundation ambassador Brian Davis, Bob Murphy, Andy North, Rory Sabbatini and JC Snead have in common? They’ve all had skin cancer. It’s hardly surprising, considering the amount of time that golfers have to be out in the sun.

In one study, professional golfers received on average an estimated 217 times the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation needed to cause a sunburn over the course of a year. Recreational golfers are at risk too, since every hour, they can receive 3.5 to 5.4 times the amount of UV radiation exposure needed to cause sunburn. It’s not just the sun that makes golfing so dangerous: features on the golf course, like water in ponds and sand in sand traps, can reflect UV radiation back at you, so that it hits your skin a second time.

Additionally, 78 percent of golfers share another skin cancer risk factor: They are male. Starting at age 40, the incidence of melanoma is higher in men than in women, and this trend becomes more pronounced with each decade.

Regardless of sex, all golfers can benefit from sun-safe behaviors such as playing when the sun is less intense (before 10 AM or after 4 PM), avoiding sunburn, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and accessorizing with broad-brimmed hats (a 3-inch brim all around is recommended) and close-fitting UV-blocking sunglasses.

Finally, be sure to have broad-spectrum sunscreen (a sports formula stick sunscreen is easy to carry) with you on the green so that you can “Reapply every nine holes, or every two hours,” like dermatologist and golfer Steven M. Rotter, MD.  Remember to apply sunscreen to frequently overlooked spots, such as the scalp (there are sunscreens designed specifically for this area) and the backs of the hands. A lip balm with an SPF of 30+ will help protect your lips. Dr. Rotter offered one more tip: “Put sunscreen on your ears. People always forget that!”