GGPs are urged to prescribe golf to their patients – once the pilot schemes have found that this increases the level of fitness, muscle strength and happiness.
Family doctors in London, Birmingham and Hampshire are invited to take part in the program, which shows that the NHS offers golf training to patients with heart disease and respiratory diseases.
The pilot schemes in South London found that golfers see triple levels of vigorous workouts, significantly increasing satisfaction with life, happiness and self-esteem.
The study also found that increasing the grip strength – an indicator of overall health and longevity – among those included in the sessions.
Researchers claim that "referral golf" can be particularly good at encouraging middle-aged men to practice exercises – those who are often unable to respond to standard health initiatives.
The program is part of a wider NHS policy on "social prescribing," with plans for general practitioners to direct nearly 1 million patients to classes and activities that increase health and reduce loneliness.
Participants in pilot projects in Bromley and Orpington, South London, noted that average levels of vigorous exercise increased almost threefold. At the beginning of their program, the mean activity levels were equivalent to about one hour per week. Six weeks later, participants' activity levels are equivalent to more than three hours of work.
Grip strength, a strong indicator of vitality in older people, has increased significantly over the course of the study – suggesting improved muscle strength and reduced risk of falling or harm.
A big boost is also seen in the mood of the people involved in the program, who have an average age of 68 years.
Pilot schemes of participants were given two sessions weekly for six weeks. Each includes a 30-minute group discussion about lifestyle changes followed by a 45-minute golf training session.
The scheme, supported by the ukactive fitness body, has so far been funded by England Golf and Entertainment Operator Mytime Active. From April, it will be offered broader, with the NHS requesting to finance part of its spending, while redirecting it to cover patients with conditions such as type 2 diabetes, depression and arthritis.
Professor Sir Moore Gray, Public Health England Advisor, said: "Referral golf is an excellent health service of high value because we now have convincing evidence that physical activity can not only prevent the disease but also prevent disability, dementia and weakness in people already affected by disease. "
He said that too many people have renounced activities such as football, golf and dances when they approach middle age or retirement and should be encouraged by doctors to adhere to it.
"Do we want every clinician not only ask what exercise you are taking?" But also "are there any sports or activities you have used but have you given up?" He said.
Stephen Ward, CEO of the company, said: "We all know that our national activity levels are well below the level we need to be.
"Golf is a fantastic way to encourage people to become more active, especially among a population that may not be too involved in other activities.
"This study shows that there are clear mental, physical and emotional benefits to Golf on Referral – we must seek to deploy more of these programs across the country as part of the wider effort to get the nation moving."
Participants in the pilot schemes claim to be able to discuss their health problems with their colleagues in golf, in an environment where they are not condemning or preaching.
"We are thrilled to see this scheme evolving from our earlier studies on the impact of golfing on health and well-being that we have done with the support of Mytime Active and ukactive.
"It was exciting to see the results of the pilot schemes and to get even more evidence that golf is good for health. Hopefully, golf on a referral can become more widely available. "