Molly McMulligan’s Fab 5

Musical genres for your golf game

A certain fivesome at a certain Colorado golf club takes five golf carts onto the course, because four players listen to four different musical genres and the fifth prefers quiet.

I confess to being in the fifth category. However, I once played in a fun tournament where each team represented a country, and my “Jamaican” women brought along a boom box so that we could golf to a reggae beat. I also confess to resorting to humming “Strangers in the Night,” “Close to You” and the “Star Spangled Banner” as I swing or putt if I have to block out playing partners who can’t stop talking. (I figure maybe if they hear how badly I hum, they might be quiet.)

This all got me wondering, what does the research say about music and golf? Of course, in most competition music is still a no-no, even with headphones. But, recreationally, the following musical genres might actually improve our games.

Jazz. A 2014 study that compared the impact on putting accuracy of no music to five musical genres gave jazz the big thumbs up over classical, country, rock, jazz and hip hop/rap. Each musical genre beat out no music – except for rock. When it comes to putting, silence won over Shinedown, 3 Doors Down and Paramore. Note that “jazz” in this study did not mean Dizzy Gillespie or Miles Davis – it included jazz-influenced singers Louis Armstrong, Sade and Norah Jones.

New Age/Instrumental. Nerves are not a golfer’s friend. We can put the concept of “music therapy” to good use by playing or humming lyric-free, meditative music that minimizes noise and can cut tension in stressful situations. George Winston on the piano with a favorite glass of wine can also serve as a de-stressing memory eraser after a terrible round.

Classical. Enough studies have shown that classical music can improve focus that even elementary school teachers turn on Mozart during writing or math. And there’s such a wide range of compositions, from quiet concertos to big symphonies, that golfers may find swing tempo inspiration in the classics. Jack Nicklaus described the ideal swing tempo for him as the beat of a waltz.

Reggae. I haven’t heard anyone blaring Johan Strauss through their golf cart speakers. But I think my “Jamaican” friends and I so enjoyed our reggae golf day because the back-and-forth rhythms of Bob Marley synced with the tempo of the golf swing, much as Nicklaus’ preferred waltz might. Give it a shot sometime.

Your Playlist. Should you be you? Looking at a 1988 study, I’m going to extrapolate that a song you associate with energy is going to pump you up on the golf course and a song you associate with chill activity is going to lower your heartbeat. There are also golf teachers who suggest swinging to the beat of your favorite song, even if that’s Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.”

If your own playlist is your choice, may I suggest headphones? Like the Joe Walsh song says, “One man’s blessing is another man’s curse.”

Veteran journalist Susan Fornoff has written about golf for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, ColoradoBiz magazine and her own She became a CGA member when she moved from Oakland, CA, to Littleton in 2016, and ghost-writes as “Molly McMulligan,” the CGA’s on-course consultant on golf for fun. Email her at


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