Motivation in the sports domain is one of the most commonly studied variables of the “athletic career” (G. C. Roberts & Treasure, 2012). Among the many outlets of motivation that could be studied, the identification of facilitatory and constrains on sport participation have been afforded significant research attention over the past several decades (Buman et al., 2010; Kocak, 2017; Sotiriadou et al., 2014). Much of this research has focused on general factors such as young people’s participation in organized sports, time spent on sport, and overall physical activity levels (Kjønniksen et al., 2009; Tammelin et al., 2003). However, scholars have acknowledged that the transition from junior to adult/senior sport might be the most critical one in the overall athletic career (Stambulova et al., 2009). This is because the transition from junior to adult/senior sport is accompanied by a set of demands and challenges for practice, competitions, and other life responsibilities. Related to these shifts in preferences at various stages of the life course are changes in facilitators and constraints on sport participation. These changes could lead to either discontinuation in a sport, or possibly portend different motivations for pursuing elite mid-amateur amateur sport.

Despite theoretical rationale for expecting a shift in motivations for engaging in elite-level amateur sports in adulthood, no existing study has assessed this question in the sport of golf. Elite mid-amateur golfers are a unique group of people who train and compete regularly in amateur golf tournaments—at the local, state, or even international level. Age is the primary qualifier for entry into mid-amateur golf participation, with 25 years and above generally defined as the cut-off in North America. Mid-amateur golf competition would be the quintessential example of Stebbins’ (1992, 1999) concept of “serious leisure,” where the emphasis is placed on committed involvement, personal effort, and perseverance. However, the achievement of these feats often does not come easily for this group of amateurs. There are four challenges that may be faced by those pursuing high-level mid-life competition: (1) the financial and time costs of playing, (2) to balance sport goals with other life goals (e.g., family, work) and to reorganize lifestyles, (3) to search for and find one’s own individual path in sport, and (4) to win prestige among peers.

Using data from a recent survey of 69 elite mid-amateur male golfers from Canada and the United States, this study addresses why these respondents involve themselves in competition. In other words, what motivations underlie mid-life golf participation? In setting up our analyses, we draw from self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and achievement goal theory (Nicholls, 1989), two of the most comprehensive theoretical frameworks available for understanding motivation in the golf context. We also integrate a lifespan approach in addressing this central question of our study, recognizing that life course factors in childhood and transitions into familial roles and work responsibilities could also impact the sources of motivation for choosing to compete in mid-amateur elite golf competitions.


Self-Determination and Achievement Goal Theories

Self-determination theory holds that behavior can be either intrinsically motivated (e.g., participating in sport because it is fun and enjoyable) or extrinsically motivated (to gain recognition) (Deci & Ryan, 2000, 2008). According to Deci and Ryan (2000), the quality of motivation is influenced by the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs: autonomy (feeling of independence in which the individual regulates his/her actions), competence (having success), and relatedness (social connection with others). These basic needs are considered to be universal and innate and to explain large portions of human motivation. If individuals feel competence, connected, and autonomous, they tend to be more intrinsically motivated and pursue activities that appeal to them (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In turn, self-determined or autonomous motivation are associated with better cognitive, behavioral, and emotional outcomes such as enjoyment and well-being (Guzmán & Kingston, 2012; Jowett et al., 2017). However, extrinsic factors and perceptions of belonging are also key motives for young adult sport participation, including being with friends and gaining recognition and social status (Allen, 2003).

Achievement-goal theory has also proven useful in explaining motivation that people show in sport (Duda, 1989). As a social cognitive theory, motivation is seen as a consequence of an individual’s intended goal of action (G. C. Roberts, 2001). Typically, individuals adopt either task or ego orientations to judge their success relative to a goal (Duda, 1989). A task-oriented person seeks to improve their ability in a sport, and the criteria for success are defined only in reference to one’s self. In contrast, an ego-oriented individual seems to demonstrate their prowess by being the best relative to others and their definitions of success are other-referenced.

There are strong parallels between task orientation and intrinsic motivation, and likewise between ego orientation and extrinsic motivation (Harackiewicz et al., 2008; Harackiewicz & Elliot, 1993). Consistent with self-determination theory, a predominantly task orientation is associated with higher intrinsic motivation, while an ego-orientation correlates with lower intrinsic motivation (Duda et al., 1995). A task-orientation has also been found to facilitate long-term participation in sport and physical activity (Hodge et al., 2008).

Studies on achievement goal orientation in golf have revealed identical patterns to the broader sport literature. Among beginner golfers, Steinberg and colleagues (2000) found that students prompted with task goals showed greater interest in a putting activity and persisted longer than students not given task goals. In recreational golfers, task orientation has also been correlated with players being in the “flow” state while playing and peak performance (Oh, 2001; Sachau et al., 2013). A study of recreational golfers by Dewar and Kavussanu (2011) found that an ego task orientation was negatively correlated with happiness and positively related to dejection and anxiety when the golfer performed poorly. Along similar lines, Spray et al. (2006) found that adolescent golfers assigned with a task goal (“learn and master the techniques of putting”) performed better than those assigned an ego-oriented goal (e.g., “outperform other students”). Finally, work by Kuczka and Treasure (2005) analyzed a sample of elite collegiate golfers and found that athlete perceptions of a task-involving motivational climate were negatively related with self-handicapping, seeking to make excuses for upcoming performances. Taken together, across golfers of varying ability, a task orientation tended to be associated with more favorable results in golf as well as greater enjoyment compared with an ego orientation.

It is also important to recognize that mid-life is a period of key individual life events and transitions, which could place constraints on sport participation or otherwise change one’s underlying motivation. During young adulthood, people typically move out and start living on their own, find their first job, start cohabitating or get married, and begin to form families of their own (Allender et al., 2008; Engberg et al., 2012). These events alter roles and responsibilities, leading to changes in daily routines and leisure time, including sport and physical activity (Hirvensalo & Lintunen, 2011; van Houten et al., 2019). At this stage of the life course, social aspects of motivation also need to be specified. For instance, social motives are especially important for middle-aged and older adults participating in sport (Ashford et al., 1993). As Allen (2003) addressed in his model of sport motivation, the social contexts that individuals find themselves in and originate from could also facilitate whether they are intrinsically or extrinsically, or task or ego oriented. In the sections that follow, we outline several factors that could influence motivations to pursue mid-amateur sport, including childhood factors, one’s past collegiate golf career, marriage and family life, and current social class. Gaining a deeper understanding of how these social factors impact motivations to pursue elite amateur golf in North America will break new ground in uncovering the often hidden, but important, life course determinants of elite sport participation at midlife.

Childhood Socioeconomic Status

A close look at the existing evidence is that childhood sport participation, including in golf, appears to be particularly crucial for sport participation in adulthood (Hirvensalo & Lintunen, 2011; Scheerder et al., 2006). The literature suggests that early socialization in sport plays a vital role in the continuation of sport participation over the life course (Engel & Nagel, 2011; Scheerder et al., 2006). The differences in sport participation that emerge in childhood are related to the types of sporting “habituses” and stocks of sport capital that individuals have access to. Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu (1984), sport behavior can be seen as a product of the individual habitus, or a set of dispositions that (unconsciously) influences thoughts, values, behavior, and interpretations. The habitus is acquired over time through the internalization of social conditions, though the childhood family context is thought to be especially important in this regard. The habitus not only encompasses technical aspects of sports such as skills, knowledge about the rules and tactics, but also socio-cultural aspects (e.g., knowing a network of “sporty” people, knowing the rules at a country club) (Green et al., 2015).

Extant research on children and adolescents has shown that the influence of parents is the main reason for young people’s participation organized sport (Pot et al., 2016). This is especially enhanced when both parents are involved in sport (Holt et al., 2008), and when parental socioeconomic status allows for the provision of resources to play (and compete in) an expensive sport like golf (Stuij, 2015). Parental support and encouragement over time are important for athletes and talent development (Côté, 1999), and for encouraging children to participate for the “love of the sport,” a key form of intrinsic motivation. However, such forms of motivation are more common in families with higher socioeconomic resources (Birchwood et al., 2008; Haycock & Smith, 2014). Therefore, originating from a higher social class may be associated with more intrinsically motivated and task-oriented reasons for pursuing mid-amateur sport later in the life course.

Several scholars have raised concerns about issues of the accessibility of the sport of golf at the grassroots level (Bailey & Cope, 2017; Toms, 2017; Toms & Colclough, 2012). As Toms (2017) notes in his scoping review on the topic, the systematic study of youth engagement in golf is limited. Research conducted to date shows that the perception of golf as an exclusive and elitist sport, and the costs associated with beginning the game at an early age, are significant barriers to entry for families and youth (Bailey & Cope, 2017). A report by Toms and Colclough (2012) showed that in a sample of 590 PGA Assistant Professionals, more than 70% had parents who also played the game. Youth are unlikely to play the game of golf on their own or only with friends, so a playing parent is often the ingredient needed to introduce youth to the game. The issue of the cost of sport is a perennial one in studies of children’s participation in sport, with parents most frequently reporting the lack of disposable income as a cause of their child’s lack of participation (J. L. Thompson et al., 2010).

This body of research suggesting limited access to golf by family social class is crucial to understand in the midlife context of elite golf competition. Sporting ability and success during childhood and adolescence are in turn related to sport participation in young adulthood and beyond (Kjønniksen et al., 2009). In this way, those coming from a higher childhood social class, who presumably have greater access to resources, could also be motivated by ego-oriented goals defined by others, such as being held in high-esteem by peers or having a trophy to one’s name. Because this topic is woefully underexplored in the context of (mid-amateur) golf, we leave this as an open question.

Collegiate Athletic Careers

Many mid-amateur competitive golfers are former collegiate athletes, some of whom competed in NCAA Division 1 golf in the United States. “Athletic identity” is often a strong feature of mid-life competitive athletes (Brewer et al., 1993). The structured schedule of collegiate athletics and the fact that one’s scholarship is tied to golf performance, may lead former collegiate athletes to embrace their athletic identity (Reifsteck et al., 2016). On the one hand, mid-amateur golfers who played NCAA Division 1 golf might pursue mid-amateur golf for intrinsic reasons, to further their mastery of the game and improve upon their competitive results. These individuals, who surely have (or once had) a love of the game could be motivated to show competence in their craft that they spent many years mastering, therefore holding only intrinsic motivations for playing golf.

On the other hand, however, some studies have found that former NCAA student athletes struggle to maintain a physically active lifestyle after college in the absence of environmental support structures and sources of external motivation (e.g., being part of a team, retaining one’s athletic scholarship) (Ryan et al., 2009; Sallis et al., 1998). Whether due to burnout caused by intensive training, or the desire to pursue other interests, it is also possible that those mid-amateur players who still compete in their adult years may have a desire to full external motives. These may include wanting to continue winning if a successful college career was had or wanting to start having success if one’s collegiate career was not filled with it. Again, we leave this as an open question, as there is logic to suppose that former collegiate athletes will have either higher intrinsic or extrinsic motivation in their elite amateur golf pursuits.

Marriage & Family Circumstances

The midlife stage is typically characterized in Western societies by competing pressures that come from being married or in a cohabiting relationship, raising children, employment, and taking responsibility for one’s health (S. M. Thompson et al., 2002). General research at the intersection of family and leisure participation has illustrated that time demands and constraints of marriage and family life can affect athletic motivation (Shaw & Dawson, 2001; Son et al., 2008). On the one hand, family members can be a source of conflict and disapproval. Commitment to elite leisure in midlife amidst these responsibilities can thus be a strain on family relationships if couples are not accepting of each other’s leisure activities (Stevenson, 2002; Young & Medic, 2011). This could potentially have implications for athletic motivation. For elite mid-amateur golfers who have been involved in golf their entire life, they may have already established a strong athletic identity (Stevenson, 2002). Therefore, they may not rely on social support from family members and may be driven by intrinsic and task means to continue to compete at the highest level.

On the other hand, family members may be a source of support for middle-aged people in the context of sport and leisure activity (Hodge et al., 2008; Son et al., 2008). If families support these elite mid-amateur golfers, they may feel a sense of pressure to not only continue that activity, but also to succeed. This source of motivation might fit more in the realm of extrinsic motivation, where elite mid-amateur golfers might want to do well in order to please their family and earn status in their eyes. As with childhood social factors and former collegiate athletes, whether intrinsic or extrinsic motivation underlie their reasons to play is yet to be determined.

Social Class

Golf is an expensive sport to play, and the costs become even higher when individuals are trying to compete at an elite level, factoring in travel costs and tournament entry fees as well as training fees. In golf, the historically embedded systems of private member governance and difficult admission procedures enabled the upper and middle classes to maintain their superior status by excluding others (Ceron-Anaya, 2010; Vamplew, 2010).

One of the main findings within the sociology of sport literature is that social class is the main predictor of sport and leisure behavior, in both childhood and adulthood (Bairner, 2007; Stempel, 2005; Veenstra, 2010). However, scholars are careful to realize that socioeconomic factors are not the only relevant factors in obtaining a taste for golf. As Bourdieu (1984) argued, there are hidden entry requirements to golf, including family socialization and early training. Golf has been used as a vehicle by the upper classes to detach themselves from other classes and gain power and influence.

The sociological theories drawn on in many of these studies conceptualize sport, and golf in particular, as a “field” in which “cultural reproduction” happens. The country club thus serves as a form of social recognition, serving to perpetuate class distinction. This could also have implications for mid-amateur golf motivations. For instance, it is possible that those of a higher adult social class, signified by membership at a country club, may be more inclined to pursue competitive mid-amateur golf for external reasons, to gain status in the eyes of others and earn valuable recognition for successful results or maintaining one’s game in good form. Therefore, we also consider whether membership in a golf country club produces a different motivational climate among some of the best mid-amateur golfers in Canada and the United States.

Data and Methods


The data for this study comes from a sample of 69 male mid-amateur golfers from both Canada (N = 37) and the United States (N = 32). A short questionnaire was distributed to (a) 70 competitors of a provincial-level amateur championship held in September of 2020 in Canada (response rate = 52.8%) and (b) from reaching out to contacts involved in the mid-amateur competitions in the United States in October of 2020. In the former case, respondents were given the link to an online Qualtrics survey by a member of the tournament staff following the completion of their first or second competitive round. In the latter case, the second author contacted several contacts who have ties in the mid-amateur circuit in the United States. From there, snowball sampling was used to contact potential respondents. Participants were informed that no one at the golf associations would have access to their responses and that the research team would not be able to identify who they were. The inclusion criteria for the study was that participants had to be at least 25 years of age and over and had to have competed in at least one state (provincial) elite mid-amateur competition in the last two years. Such events could include the U.S. Amateur, Canadian Amateur, or any state-level championship.

Dependent Variable: Motivations for Engaging in Mid-Amateur Competition

One popular measure of goal orientation in performance settings is the Task and Ego Orientation in Sport Questionnaire (TEOSQ; Duda, 1989; Duda & Nicholls, 1992). Researchers have used this scale heavily, and this was used as the basis for creating the questions that we asked respondents in this study. Because the sample in this study consisted of elite mid-amateur golfers who were active in competitions, we devised the questions to reflect the language of golf as midlife athletes. We certainly could have relied in the TEOSQ, but in the interest of keeping the survey to less than 5 minutes, this would have meant excluding several items. Moreover, it is also instructive to experiment with other measures of motivation and goal orientation (see Sachau et al., 2013 for a similar approach).

In the questionnaire, respondents were asked a series of five questions upon which we base our dependent variable: motivations for playing golf in mid-life. For each prompt, respondents were shown a Likert Scale as follows: (1) = “Strongly Disagree,” 2 = “Disagree,” (3) = “Agree” and (4) = “Strongly Agree.” The statements were as follows: (1) “I play golf for the prestige of winning,” (2) “I play golf to feel good about myself,” (3) = “I play golf for the personal satisfaction in mastering the game,” (4) = “I play golf because competitive golf is an integral part of my life,” and (5) = “I play golf because my skill level allows me to be well-regarded.” For each of the five prompts, the response distribution was positively skewed (toward more agreement with the question items), so we eventually recoded answer options into two categories, where (0) = “Strongly Disagree or Agree,” and (1) = “Agree or Strongly Agree.”

Examining the five prompts, prompts (1) and (5) can be classified as examples of extrinsic, ego-driven motivation. Prompts 2-4 are intrinsic motivation, about playing golf for oneself and out of concern with the task of mastering the game or because golf is an integral component of one’s life. However, the second prompt, though coming from an intrinsic source, might also be considered to be ego-driven, since the end goal is to please one’s self and not pursue the game for its own sake. Table 1 presents a summary of each of the five items and whether they correspond to intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation and ego versus task orientation.

Table 1.Summary of Motivation/Goal Orientation Items
Motivation Item Self-Determination Theory:
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic
Achievement Goal Theory:
Task vs. Ego Goal Orientation
(1) “I play golf for the prestige of winning” Extrinsic Ego
(2) “I play golf to feel good about myself” Intrinsic Ego
(3) “I play golf for the personal satisfaction of mastering the game” Intrinsic Task
(4) “I play golf because competitive golf is an integral part of my life” Intrinsic Ego
(5) “I play golf because my skill level allows me to be well-regarded Extrinsic Ego

We would also note that these five sources of motivation are not mutually exclusive. For example, a respondent could “Strongly agree” with both an intrinsic and extrinsic source of motivation. The question that we are addressing in this study is whether our focal predictors of such motivational sources differ, on average, in our sample. In other words, we are not interested in motivational patterns of any one respondent.

Focal Independent Variables

Based on our literature review above, we operationalized several key predictor variables in both childhood and adulthood.

Childhood Socioeconomic Status: Respondents were asked to self-identify which social class they belonged to in childhood. The response options were (1) = working class, (2) = middle class (reference category), (3) = upper middle class, and (4) = upper class. Respondents were prompted with any income cut-offs nor asked about parental education level, so this represents their best perception of which social class they belonged to growing up.

College Athlete: Respondents were asked if they played golf in college, and at what level. The response options were NCAA Division 1, NCAA Division 2, NCAA Division 3, NAIA, Canadian University Golf, and Other. Since athletic identity would most likely be tied to participation in NCAA Division 1 golf, we created a binary variable that contrasts those respondents who played NCAA Division 1 golf (over 20% of our sample) versus all others.

Marriage/Family: We created a dummy variable contrasting those who were married or in a cohabiting relationship (1) with all others (0). Since this was a fairly young sample (average age = 36.86), we also created a variable for those who had children. Since very few respondents had two or more children, we created a variable contrasting those who one or more child with all others.

Social Class: We use three indicators of social class in our analyses. First, we include a measure of whether the respondent is currently a member of a country club (1 = Yes, 0 = No). We also include a measure of occupational status. Occupational status was asked in an open-response format. Upon examination of the responses, three occupational categories were created: (1) Professional/Managerial (e.g., sales manager, lawyer, financial consultant), (2) Golf Coach (e.g., collegiate golf coach, swing teacher, or otherwise involved in the golf industry), and (3) All Other Occupations. Finally, we included a measure of education, which contrasts respondents that earned a college degree against all others.

We would also note that supplemental analyses also contained a measure of respondents’ income. The results presented below were the same when income was included. Post-hoc diagnostic tests showed that income was highly collinear with membership at a country club, occupational status (with professionals/managers making the most) as well as education. For these reasons, and in the interest of reducing multicollinearity, we do not include income in our final statistical models.


We adjust for a few additional covariates which could potentially confound the relationship between our focal independent variables and sport motivation. We include a measure of age (all respondents had to be over 25 years of age). The age range in the sample was between 25 and 55. We also adjusted for the age when the respondent began playing the game of golf, which ranged from 2-39, with a mean age of approximately 11 years.

Plan of Analysis

We conducted a series of binary logistic regression analyses for each of the five sources of motivation, with took “Strongly Agree and Agree” serving as the category of the dependent variable that we are predicting in each model. In our statistical tables, odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals are shown. In several instances, we also show average marginal effects in figures, which present the predicted probabilities of falling into the “Agree/Strongly Agree” category for each source of motivation. Since all 69 respondents provided valid data, we do not need to use missing data techniques.

Because respondents were from both Canada and the United States, we included a control in supplementary analyses that denoted which country the respondent came from. This variable was not significantly related with any of the five sources of motivation, so it was ultimately excluded from our final analyses.


Table 2 presents all descriptive statistics for our analyses. We would highlight a few at the outset before moving to our regression results. First, the mean age in the sample is 36.96 years, with respondents ranging from 25-55. Second, on average, more of our respondents reported being extrinsically motivated to play golf. Indeed, 57.69% of the sample was motivated by the prestige of winning, and 37.18% by the fact that their skill level allows them to be well-regarded. However, 53.85% of the sample was motivated to feel good about oneself, 74.36% to derive personal satisfaction from mastering the game (the highest level of agreement), and 62.82% because playing competitive golf was an integral part of life. Therefore, in the aggregate, it appears that intrinsic motivation is more common in this North American sample of elite mid-amateur golfers.

Moving to childhood socioeconomic status, over half the sample (52.86%) reported growing up in the upper-middle class, while just under 10% classified themselves as upper class. Nearly 1 in 3 respondents grew up in the middle class, while 10% identified as coming from a working-class background. Over 20% of our sample had played NCAA Division 1 golf. In addition, just over 60% of the sample reported being married, and just under 60% reported having at least one child.

Finally, we observe in our sample that well over half (61%) of respondents in our sample were current members of a country club, and almost 70% had a college degree. While 42.31% of respondents had a job that could be classified as professional/managerial, 18% were golf coaches or otherwise in the golf industry, leaving almost 40% in the "Other Occupation Category.

In the next phase of our analysis, we turn attention to what predicts each of the five sources of motivation based on the four categories of factors reviewed above: childhood socioeconomic status, collegiate athletic career, marriage/family, and social class in adulthood.

Table 2.Sample Descriptive Statistics (N = 69)
Range Mean/% SD
Dependent Variables: Motivations for Playing Mid-Amateur Golf
Prestige of winning 57.69
Feel good about myself 53.85
Personal satisfaction in mastering the game 74.36
Playing competitive golf is an integral part
of my life
My skill level allows
me to be well-regarded
Childhood Socioeconomic Status
Working Class 10.00
Middle Class 28.57
Upper Middle Class 52.86
Upper Class 8.57
Has a college degree 69.23
Age 25-55 36.86 7.01
Age started playing golf 2-39 11.21 6.47
Played NCAA Division 1 Golf 21.79
Current Member of a Private Club 61.11
Occupational Status
Professional/Managerial 42.31
Golf Coach/Golf Industry 17.95
Other 39.74
Married or in a cohabiting relationship 61.54
Has 1 or more children 57.97

Note. Standard deviations are omitted for categorical variables.

Multivariable Regression Results

Table 3 presents results from a series of five binary logistic regression results. We show two-tailed tests, and significant relationships at the p < .05 alpha level are indicated by *.

Model 1 of Table 3 takes motivation by the prestige of winning as the outcome variable. In this first model, we see that being a current member of a private golf club boosts the odds of being motivated by the prestige of winning (OR = 2.76, p < .05). Panel A of Figure 1 shows this relationship graphically. Those who belong to a private club have a 72% chance of agreeing/strongly agreeing that they play golf for the prestige of winning, compared to only 49% for those who are not members of a country club. There appears to be an association between being a member of a country club and this form of extrinsic motivation.

Model 2 of Table 3 considers the source of motivation of feeling good about oneself. Members of a private golf club are more likely to report this source of motivation (OR = 4.22, p < .05). As shown in Panel B of Figure 1, members of a private club have a 24% greater chance of being motivated to feel good about oneself (67%, compared to only 43% for those who are not members). We also see here that having played NCAA Division 1 golf is associated with lower odds of agreeing with this source of motivation (OR = 0.15, p < .05). Those who did not play Division 1 golf have a 67% chance of being in this category, compared to only 34% of those who did play NCAA Division 1 golf, representing a 33% difference. Finally, we also see in Model 2 that respondents who were parents had a higher likelihood of playing golf to feel good about oneself (OR = 1.25, p < .05). Parents were 46% more likely to agree with this source of motivation than non-parents.

Table 3.Binary Logistic Regression Results Predicting Motivations for Playing Mid-Amateur Golf (N = 69, Odds Ratios and 95% Confidence Intervals Shown)
Model 1. Prestige of winning Model 2. Feel good about oneself Model 3. Personal satisfaction in mastering the game Model 4. Competitive golf is an integral part of life Model 5. Skills level allows one to be well-regarded
Childhood Socioeconomic Statusa
Working Class 3.95
Upper Middle Class 1.50
Upper Class 1.36
Has a college degree 0.73
Age 1.00
Age started playing golf 1.00
Played NCAA Division 1 Golf 1.54
Current Member of a Private Club 2.76*
Occupational Statusb
Professional/Managerial 0.68
Golf Coach/Golf Industry 0.25
Married or in a cohabiting relationship 3.05
Has 1 or more children 1.13

Notes. * p < .05; two tailed tests
a Compared to Middle Class
b Compared to all “Other” occupations

The results of Model 3 show that none of our independent variables predict greater or lower odds of being motivated out of personal satisfaction in mastering the game. Since almost 75% of our 69 respondents reported agreeing with this statement, it is possible that we simply do not possess the sample size to detect any statistically significant differences between groups when the analysis becomes more fine-grained across our predictor variables.

Moving to Model 4, which predicts the source of motivation that golf is played because it is an integral part of one’s life, we see the emergence of one significant predictor. Specifically, age is negatively associated with agreement with this source of motivation (OR = 0.89, p < .05). We assessed the marginal effects at 10-year increments of age in Panel E of Figure 1: 25 years, 35 years, 45 years, and 55 years. As age increased, the predicted probability of golf being an integral part of one’s life decreased, from 83% for 25 years old respondents to only 45% in those 55 years of age.

Finally, our fifth and last model considers a form of external motivation, that one’s skill level in golf allows them to be well-regarded by others. Those raised in the upper class were much more likely to agree that they possess this source of motivation (OR = 3.28, p < .05). Specifically, respondents who came from an upper-class background had an 85% likelihood of agreeing with this source of motivation, compared with only around 35-37% in the other three class. This accounts for almost a 50% greater chance that those in the upper class feel motivated to play golf to allow them to be well-regarded. Those with a college education were less likely to fall into this category (OR = 0.17, p < 05) (graph not shown). We turn in the discussion section to interpret this pattern of results in light of existing theory and research and suggest some new possible directions forward.

Figure 1
Figure 1.Predicted Probabilities of Holding Different Forms of Motivation to Engage in Mid-Amateur Golf, by Study Covariates


The chief goal of this study was to assess what motivations underlie participation in mid-life amateur golf. Drawing on a sample of 69 male golfers who had competed in a mid-amateur elite competition in the past two years, we utilized insights from self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and, primarily, achievement goal theory (Nicholls, 1989) to understand whether these players were driven by intrinsic or extrinsic motives, or task or ego goal orientations. Recognizing that factors beyond the individual could also be salient for understanding their motivations for pursuing this level of competitive golf, we drew from a lifespan approach to address how several life course factors, including childhood socioeconomic status, being a former collegiate athlete, marriage and family factors, and adulthood social class could be relevant predictors at the middle of the life course.

Several key findings were observed in the current study. First, the golfers in our sample were more likely to hold task (intrinsic) motivations for playing golf. Indeed, almost three quarters of our sample reported being motivated by a desire to master the game. This is not an entirely surprising result, as one could argue that most golfers, at least to some extent, are focused on mastery of the game. Millions of dollars per year are spent on golf books, golf magazines, instructional media, and golf equipment. Golf is a sport in which a player is also trying to upend their personal bests because they are motivated by the prestige of winning. Still, however, over half of this sample was motivated by the prestige of winning. The game of golf certainly has elements that would direct attention towards beating others. Mid-amateur tournaments, trophies, and incentives associated with winning (e.g., participation on a state- or country mid-amateur team) all reinforce the value of winning and the glamorization of champions in the current sport culture.

As a second notable finding, we saw no associations between being married/in a cohabiting relationship and intrinsic/extrinsic, ego/task orientation. This was somewhat unexpected, given that the competing demands of family, children, and employment could create strains that may undermine athletic motivation (Shaw & Dawson, 2001; Son et al., 2008). However, within the family domain, we observed that respondents with one or more children were more likely to report playing golf to feel good about themselves, a form of intrinsic, but ego oriented, motivation. We speculate that mid-amateur competitive athletes with children might have less time to devote to their athletic pursuits, and any time they do have is seen as a temporary reprieve from the stresses of family life. It is possible that these competitors with children derive a significant (if not entire) source of their athletic identity from their competitive golf pursuits and see it as a means of ego fulfillment.

A third key finding of our study was that former NCAA Division 1 athletes were less likely to report playing golf to feel good about oneself. These individuals, while no more or less likely to report any of the four other types of motivation, may not feel the need to continue to compete and have success relative to their counterparts that did not compete in collegiate golf at the highest level. Since the respondents in our sample were over 25 years of age, they have more than likely made the decision to forego an opportunity to play professional golf. Having competed in several high-stakes tournaments in college (e.g., conference championships, regional/national championships), the desire to use mid-amateur golf to feel good about oneself might be less appealing to these athletes. The idea behind the mid-amateur classification is to offer skilled golfers the chance to compete at the highest level while at the same time excluding current college players as well as younger competitors with excellent competitive resumes. Therefore, former collegiate players would be competing in tournaments with people in a similar age-range and not the rising stars of tomorrow.

Another notable finding that appeared in our results was that competitive golf was less likely to be an integral part of life with increasing age. Though we did not offer a specific hypothesis regarding age within the mid-amateur window and each 10-year increase in age, the probability of agreeing with this statement significantly declined. As the years progress, family and employment concerns could become a greater source of identity and fulfillment for these competitors, and this source of ego task orientation may fade. This is consistent with the results of Sachau and colleagues’ (2013) study, which found that older golfers have a higher task orientation and lower ego orientation. While older mid-amateurs might still feel a strong desire to compete at the highest level, they are not likely to do so out of a place of ego goal orientation, that is, fulfilling the need to verify competence in one of the most salient aspects of their life.

Our fifth and final finding of significance was that those raised in the upper class in childhood and those currently with a country club membership were much more likely to hold extrinsic, ego orientations. It has been well-established that higher social class is tied to greater golf participation and especially country club membership (Ceron-Anaya, 2010; Vamplew, 2010). It also appears that the results of our study suggest that an upper-class upbringing and private golf club membership associate with greater external, ego-oriented motivations among elite mid-amateur players. Such a finding can be interpreted in light of Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) sociological work on distinction, which suggests that part and parcel to an upper-class lifestyle is the desire to gain power and influence over other classes. Central to life at a country club is social recognition from others. Thus, it is not at all surprising that mid-amateur golfers who hold such a membership might be more inclined towards extrinsic, ego-oriented motivations to gain recognition or differentiate oneself from others by competing at high levels of amateur golf.

The seeds of extrinsic, ego-oriented motivation appear also to be planted at the early stages of the life course. Indeed, being raised in the upper-class was associated with a much higher chance of wanting to do well to earn the praise and regard of others. Bourdieu’s (1984) concept of the habitus provides insight into this result, as a habitus is a set of dispositions that operates below the level of consciousness to influence thoughts and behaviors. Given that the childhood family context is typically where the habitus begins to form, an upper-class lifestyle in childhood would be accompanied by a socio-cultural education in the rules and etiquette of golf but would also comprise training of how to “act” and present oneself to and network with powerful others. As part of this socialization, what might also be passed down to children and that appears to hold into midlife is the need to achieve the respect and regard of others. For these reasons, then, mid-amateurs raised in an upper-class culture and the “country class lifestyle” are more likely to draw from external, ego-centric goal orientations.


Despite the novel contributions of the antecedents of various forms of motivation and goal orientation among mid-amateur athletes, there are several limitations of the current study. The primary limitation of the study is a reliance on self-reported measures. Though we have little reason to believe that respondents misrepresented their motivations, there is the possibility that the intrinsic and task oriented measured are susceptible to higher social desirability than the ego-oriented items. Therefore, the results of the study could be biased in the direction of intrinsic/task motivation and orientation.

Second, the findings of our study are not generalizable, as all the participants were derived from a relatively small sample of elite mid-amateur players. We would encourage future research to replicate and extend the findings of our study with a larger sample size. It is possible that, given the higher thresholds of mean differences needed to detect statistical significance in smaller samples, we did not have the statistical power to detect more fine-grained differences in golf motivation by our life course factors of interest. It would also be instructive for future research to compare the goal orientations of occasional golfers, elite junior golfers, elite senior competitors, as well as top collegiate players and those considering a professional career in the sport. It is possible, for instance, that the higher task orientation seen in the present study (motivated by the desire to master the game of golf) might be higher in our sample of elite mid-amateur golfers than occasional or weekend players, but perhaps lower than in samples which are comprised of athletes wanting to play professional golf.

It should also be in the interest of future research, in keeping with a life-span approach, to determine whether these sources of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and task/ego goal orientation observed at midlife predicted sustained participation into elite level senior golf. We would also encourage future research to pose similar questions with a sample of female mid-amateur golfers, who also typically face the added pressures of being primarily responsible for the household and child-rearing responsibilities. It is possible that a completely different motivational profile would emerge among competitive mid-amateur women. We would also encourage future research to adopt a qualitative approach to achieve a more in-depth understanding of the motives that various groups of golfers hold for playing the game across the life course.

Conclusion and Implications

Based on the results of the current study, two conclusions can be drawn. First, our results suggested that elite mid-amateur golfers are more likely to be task oriented than ego oriented. This may have implications for the effort and type of training that these individuals put into their competitive preparations. Previous research has found that golfers who score higher on intrinsic/task orientations are more likely to be involved in golf fitness, spend more time at the practice range, practice at home, read about golf (e.g., golf psychology) and visit golf stores (Sachau et al., 2013). Though that study was not particular to elite golfers, it suggests that the very same sources that were found to predict a greater intrinsic/task orientation (being a former collegiate student athlete) might foster a more devoted work ethic that could produce more successful results. Yet, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that an extrinsic/ego orientation is not necessarily negative or dysfunctional. Sachau et al. (2013) found that golfers scoring higher on ego orientation played golf more frequently and enjoyed the competitive parts of the game more. Therefore, that higher childhood social class and membership at a country club predicted a higher extrinsic, ego orientation could bode well for developing a tough edge in competition for mid-amateur golfers holding this profile.

Second, it is possible that these different sources of motivation could have divergent implications for golfer well-being, and sport enjoyment and satisfaction. A strong task orientation has typically been shown to associate with higher positive affect (Biddle et al., 2003; Ntoumanis & Biddle, 1999) and sport enjoyment in midlife athletes (Hodge et al., 2008), as well as lower levels of dejection during a round of golf (Dewar & Kavussanu, 2011). However, intrinsically motivated, task-oriented individuals might also report higher anxiety, since they are concerned with their level of competence in performing a skill (T. J. Roberts, 1986). Though we did not assess well-being as an outcome in the current study, it would be in the interest of future research to assess how these varying motivational profiles among competitive golfers maps onto well-being, since sport enjoyment and satisfaction will almost certainly predict continued involvement in elite sport given the extensive time commitment and dedication necessary at the midlife stage and beyond. Taken together, we hope this study has illustrated the importance of examining the life course, social correlates of achievement motivation among mid-life golfers, yielding a set of nuanced results that could be used by sport organizations and coaches alike in growing and maintaining elite mid-amateur golf competitions.