Confessions of a first-time FootGolfer

Footgolf being played at a Billy Casper Golf golf course in America.

Borrowing a tune from Katy Perry: I played FootGolf, and I liked it.

I'm a single-digit-handicap golfer. Golf is the sport I'm best at playing and the only I've spent the most time trying to figure out in my life. So when I go to the golf course, I'm expecting to get my 14 sticks out of my trunk, put on some golf spikes and try to break par that day -- not grab a pair of soccer cleats, knee-high socks and a soccer ball.

But that's what I did on Thursday in a trip to General's Ridge Golf Course, a BCG-managed facility in Manassas Park, Va. I was joined by about 30 of my colleagues, playing a nine-hole, best-ball tournament on the course first dug in February. 

Having at least seen FootGolf on various YouTube videos, I at least knew how to play the game: kick the ball, find it, kick it again. It's standard-issue golf -- HandGolf, if you will -- but with two clubs (your feet), a much bigger ball and a 21-inch cup. Seems straightforward, right?

It was, and it was a lot of fun. The General's Ridge course features a nice of mix of par-3, -4 and -5 holes, laid out on the same design as the golf course. Some golf holes have two FootGolf holes, most have one. A cart is pretty much mandatory because you'd otherwise be doing a lot of idle walking, almost like hiking with a soccer ball. 

Teeing off is easy, but it's an important skill. Distance definitely matters, even more than being accurate. If you don't step into one off the tee, making par is awfully difficult. If you have a weak foot (as well not wearing shoes with a firm toe), then it's like playing a golf hole with only a pitching wedge. It's mighty hard to score. 

After the initial shot, "plant it and rip it" doesn't seem like a viable strategy. Starting with the second shot, paying attention to the contours of the course is a must. A successful FootGolfer has to rely on using the contours of the ground to move the ball toward the hole, leaving a reasonable FootPutt or two to get it in the big cup. In that sense, FootGolf is oddly a return to golf's roots, requiring a player to use the ground to their advantage. On the pro tour, that happens one week a year during the Open Championship. It happens every time in FootGolf. That perspective might carry over into my short game.

FootGolf changes your perspective of the golf course, beyond just seeing contours. You look more for flat areas, especially kicking uphill, so the ball doesn't stop and suddenly start rolling back at you. Hills matter so much more in FootGolf than regular golf -- not because it's easier to kick a ball on a sidehill lie, but because a hill spans as far as most humans can actually kick the ball. They come into play.

Being a new sport, however, FootGolf is still yet to enter its Golden Age of architecture. Most FootGolf holes are simply tucked away from strategic spots on the golf course. The cups are usually to the sides of fairways, designed to be out of the way from the golf-playing folk. (How I managed to drill a FootGolf flagstick hitting my approach to a par 5 on the same course later that day is another story entirely, but I've never had to pull the pin from the fairway before Thursday.) However, it's not like they just arbitrarily decided to dig a hole and call it a day. Many of the holes are placed in valleys or mostly surrounded by mounding so as to give a funnel for the ball to get to the hole. Some are simply holes in a reasonably flat spot on the fairway or just off of it. But as the sport takes off, there will be more people who give serious thought to designing the ultimate FootGolf course.

FootGolf is a sport less than five years old, just starting to take hold in the U.S. Infrastructure will come. Sophistication will follow. But, while the sport takes shape, let me offer a few tips for first-timers:

  • Wear soccer cleats or workboots. You're going to need that firm toe, or you're going to pay for it the next day.
  • Stretch. I promise you there's no way you've kicked a ball 40-plus times (to play nine holes) in the last decade.
  • Buy a soccer ball. It's a $20 investment and leaves you without the worry of finding a ball at the course.
  • Play with a friend. Golf is a great sport for loners, especially to grind and get better. Not FootGolf. It makes as much sense as kickball by yourself.

Let me also offer a few suggestions for improving the sport and the setup:

  • Use a kickball, not a soccer ball. It'll compress more, meaning more distance and a more enjoyable experience. Who doesn't want more distance?
  • Figure out how to slot FootGolf with regular golf. It takes about two-and-a-half hours to play a full FootGolf round. FootGolfers are going to pass regular golfers.

FootGolf may not create HandGolfers, but it did seem to appeal to almost everyone in our group. In fact, several players -- including most of the women in our outing -- remarked that they liked FootGolf better than standard-issue golf. For those folks, it was easier to learn and easier to immerse themselves in learning. 

No matter what, FootGolf is worth trying for both facilities and players. The barrier to entry for players is low: a soccer ball and about $20. Courses have to build the infrastructure into their courses and tee sheets, but the two games can co-exist. 

So, to traditional golfing types, I simply suggest this: Don't hold your nose at the notion of FootGolf. It's a lot of fun.

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