Part soccer, part golf, footgolf is gaining converts among players and golf course owners

July 31, 2014

Footgolf. No one seems to know exactly where it started, but now that it’s here, it’s starting to pop up everywhere on golf courses across the United States. And we mean everywhere.

“It took us six months to organize the first tournament in the U.S. back in 2011,” said Roberto Balestrini, co-founder of the American Footgolf League (AFGL), the national governing body of the sport in the United States. “Since then, we’ve opened 200 footgolf courses across the country. By the end of the year, our goal is to have 500.”

It’s still golf, played on a real golf course, with all of the same rules. But instead of swinging a club at an often frustratingly finicky golf ball, players kick a soccer ball from the tee box to the pin, which features a 21-inch diameter cup. Each kick is a stroke, and, yes, you better avoid the beach and the water.

The first organized footgolf tournament took place in the Netherlands in 2009. The Federation for International Footgolf (FIFG), created in 2009, represents 22 countries worldwide, including the U.S. Today, footgolf is played on courses in 37 states.

“Our main goal is to promote the sport, introduce more people to golf and help existing golf courses generate more money,” Balestrini said. Another goal, he added, is to make sure that the AFGL is in place to set a standard and promote the game in the right way.

Because footgolfers sometimes need to play at the same time as traditional golfers, Balestrini and the AFGL have made the rules and etiquette clear in a series of videos for new players. There's no running in between shots, for example, and it only takes a few suggestions from traditional golfers before the footgolfers figure out if they need to tone it down a few decibels.

Footgolf looks to be well on its way. Casey Carr, owner of KixSports, a sporting-goods brand in Charlotte, N.C., was hooked after just one round. More than 350 rounds of footgolf were played the first two weeks the game was offered at Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course, one of two footgolf links in the city.

“Having played footgolf while golfers were on the course, it’s obvious that they can coexist,” Carr says. “Golfers are intrigued by what is going on. It typically forces a quick conversation that is great for both sports.”

What may be most important about footgolf is its exposure to a younger generation of athletes. As a soccer coach, Carr says that footgolf has become the bridge between traditional youth sports and golf, and all of his kids want to play.

Jason Sanchez is the manager of Maple Hill Golf Course in Grandville, Mich., where footgolf tee times are separate from the traditional game. He said the first session in June attracted 40 players; on a recent Monday, they had 250 play throughout the day, mostly kids and families at picnics or corporate events.

“We’ve been trying this for two months and now we’re hearing it’s very mainstream, within a very short period of time,” Sanchez said. A traditional round at Maple Hill will cost you $30 for 18 holes and a cart, but footgolf is half the cost and requires no extra equipment –- just a soccer ball. It’s that extra revenue that, he said, is vital to stop the decline and closing of many golf courses in the past few years.

Balestrini said golf courses are always looking for more ways to generate income using the same landscape at no extra cost or maintenance, which is where footgolf fits perfectly. He said the AFGL does not solicit golf courses and does not open AFGL-certified courses outside of golf facilities.

“We are grateful and respectful for the industry that opened the door to us,” he said.

The dress code draws people in too. Footgolf organizers encourage players to wear an old-school golf uniform of knickers and high socks.

The AFGL is hosting the first U.S. Pro-Am Footgolf Tour this September, with cash prizes worth $25,000. Players from more than 20 countries affiliated with the FIFG will play at Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, N.J., and River Ridge Golf Course in Oxnard, Calif.

So whether you’re trying it out to get into the traditional game (or taking a break from it!) or just looking for a fun activity, grab a ball, don some argyle, and take a swing — er, kick — at footgolf.