FootGolf made its mark on Missouri when Heart of America Golf Academy opened the state’s first course in May.
Despite the name, no, the sport doesn’t reference nudging a golf ball toward the cup when your buddies aren’t looking. FootGolf mixes the rules and model of golf with a soccer ball, which is kicked many yards toward a hole a little less than 2 feet wide.
Started 15 years ago, the sports fusion is just now making a splash in Kansas City’s water hazards. Heart of America kicked off its 18-hole FootGolf course at Swope Park to offer a more inclusive alternative.
And much like soccer and golf, we stole it from Europe.
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“Facilities are trying to find low-cost markets to draw new bodies in, and they tapped into the soccer market,” said Craig Martin, PGA general manager for Heart of America.
Despite several young rising golf stars, Martin said fairways generally are dominated by older adults. Meanwhile, soccer continues to grow in popularity among millennials, if this year’s World Cup audience was any indication.
“A relaxed, fun, social type of game,” Martin calls it. “It’s to get the young 20-somethings who played soccer to come out.… We don’t want them to come out and be too serious. Golf can get too serious.”
Curious which demographic FootGolf would favor more, this 20-year-old journalism intern challenged Darryl Levings, editor to the ancients, to a match.
Linley: Two soccer balls from the clubhouse, check. Map, check. (With a golf cart from the clubhouse, the games began.)
Darryl: First of all, apologies need to be made to Linley’s parents. Their daughter was subjected to language usually reserved for the docks of Marseilles, except, unfortunately, I was translating it into Anglo-Saxon.
L: Combining the etiquette of golf with fast-paced, injury-prone soccer was bound to be a tricky transition. The sport is governed by the Federation for International FootGolf, but even that couldn’t answer all our questions. Would the soccer strategy of flopping translate? Could we slide tackle?
D: Despite being exactly half my weight and maybe three-fourths my height, I swear Linley blindsided me on the second hole. Writhing like a knee-capped Brownie just like any World Cup star, I vainly called for a yellow card, but the groundskeepers appear to have missed it. Thank God she wasn’t wearing cleats, something they forbid on the greens.
L: No referee, no foul.
The game’s objective: sink a size 5 soccer ball into a 21-inch-wide hole. The top distance at the truncated KC course is 215 yards. Despite what I (and the rest of the office) expected, youth didn’t necessarily have the advantage in this match.
D: Yes it $%&*@#%$ did, especially youth who have been on the soccer pitch for years. I played schoolyard soccer just once and have the hammer toe to prove it. Linley, having grabbed the ball with helium, consistently got loft with a side-footed swing. Old folks should demand a one-stroke-a-hole handicap. No, make that two! My big toe hurts!
L: Golfers know how to read a course. Soccer players aren’t used to the slick terrain (unless you put a backspin on it, that ball will roll much, much farther than on a soccer field).
D: Back spin? We don’t need no stinking back spin! Yes, with the help of the usually angry gods, duffers can four-putt here, too.
L: An estimated 60 percent of FootGolfers are first-timers. Many traditional golf courses struggling to bring in business, or just looking for more revenue, are getting a makeover. HOA profits jumped from $8,400 in May to $9,700 in July. Add in the $1,000 or so reaped monthly on soccer ball rentals, and Martin said the addition has proved beneficial for the golf academy.
Currently, 37 states have FootGolf courses. And while about 50 FootGolf courses exist today, the National Golf Course Owners Association predicts 10 times that next year.
D: I do miss the clubs. Nothing to heave into the pond to relieve the fury.
L: I provided my opponent with a printed copy of the FootGolf rules, which, if his game was any indication, was swiftly tossed into the trash can. A beat-up mannequin leg emerged from the back of the golf cart.
D: First, there are no rules in a knife fight, and it was clear that Linley was playing for keeps. Second, the sheet also suggested wearing argyle socks! Do I look like some sheep-scaring Highlander?!
Third, there was nothing in the rules about wooden legs. But be forewarned, it’s not easy to find good clubs for FootGolf. My excellent putter came from Weird Stuff Antiques over on Ninth and Tracy.
L: My soccer skills were admittedly a little rusty — I quickly earned the nickname of “Sandtrap Sanders.” My ball later plunked into a water hazard (It floats. Bonus!) and had a run-in with a tree.
D: So, who thought it was a good idea to put a $%@&@#$% porta-potty on the course? My nearly perfect shot careened off the thing into the woods. Fortunately, finding a soccer ball is a little easier than finding a Titleist Pro V1. In fact, I discovered two amid the ivy and copperheads, which I believe should have neutralized the one-stroke penalty.
L: Golf is expensive and time-consuming. Soccer is a cardio workout. After we warmed up and got into the swing of it, it was obvious that FootGolf combined the best of both worlds.
D: Hey, you bred a cobra with a Gila monster, so don’t complain to me about how much the bite hurts.
L: A family behind us looked to be having a delightful time, laughing and grinning. Thankfully, they never got within earshot of Darryl. FootGolf is meant to be lighthearted — and since anyone can punt a ball, everyone can hold their own in FootGolf.
D: Warning: If you stopped playing golf because of blood pressure, stick to that cribbage game in the clubhouse. To miss a ball the size of an eyeball now and then is natural and not overly emasculating. But to keep topping a sphere the size of a classroom globe can pop a major vein!
L: Sadly, we were rained out after only 10 holes. Neither of us came remotely close to par, which was 40. Darryl got 60 strokes to my 58. Granted, he also held the score card.
Still, a win is a win. Darryl gave me a dusty, second-hand trophy with the masking tape over the old engraving. In permanent marker he scribbled: “First Annual Invitational World Series Cup for FootGolf Excellence.”
I’m putting that treasure on the mantel and planning our next match.
D: Anything to get out of the office. And, by the way, Linley was consistently offside.
Heart of America offers FootGolf league play for two-person teams on Thursday nights. Initial signup fee for teams is $30, with a $10 green fee per person each week.
Hungary was host for the first FootGolf World Cup in 2012, where Marcelo Landau placed 66 of 77 for the U.S.