Growing footgolf seeks harmony with golf

By Brandon TuckerOctober 4, 2015, 7:30 pm

CHICAGO – Footgolfers don't act all that different from golfers.

They throw up a tuft of grass to check the wind, take practice swings and mark their ball.

They have their own colorful regalia and curse errant shots as their ball sails into the trees.

They form clubs and compete against one another, shake hands on the 18th green, then head to the clubhouse for drinks.

But many traditional golfers look at footgolfers - clad in argyle socks, kicking soccer balls into 21-inch holes on the sides of fairways - and don't quite know what to make of this new game. Some are curious about it. Others are downright hostile to it.

But there's ample evidence that the sport has legs. The Netherlands hosted the first footgolf tournament, in 2008, and this past weekend, the American FootGolf League hosted its first national championship in Chicago at Sydney Maravitz Golf Course, a nine-hole muni on the shores of Lake Michigan. More than 100 players competed, coming from 22 states and at least one foreign country. Christian Otero, regarded as this infant game's most decorated player (a recent article posed the question, Is Otero unbeatable?), made the trip from Argentina.

"You see on Facebook every week new tournaments in Europe," Otero said. "In the last two years, the sport has really exploded."

The American FootGolf League is the largest member of the Federation of International FootGolf, which has 30 registered countries. Otero laments a lack of footgolf facilities back home, and is helping to design the first purpose-built footgolf course. It would be located near his hometown, Mar Del Plata.

Footgolf is hampered in many countries by a lack of facilities, as organizers struggle to find makeshift places to play. 

That's where the United States has a clear advantage: an oversupply of golf courses desperate for extra revenue. AFGL founder Roberto Balestrini, who is from Argentina but lives in the U.S., has assisted in the setup of footgolf at 440 golf courses in the States (there is a separate association in the U.S., the USFGA, which touts another 50-plus facilities).

"It's an international activity," said Balestrini. "Thanks to the way we present it, it can be used by course operators as an activity that generates extra money and requires no extra maintenance."

The AFGL estimates that it costs golf course operators $3,000-6,000 to set up an approved course. Fees, which usually cover 18 holes, laid out on the back nine of a regulation golf course, range from $10-$20.

Golf course operator Billy Casper Golf is on board. It offers footgolf at 30 facilities. AFGL says of all the courses that have signed up, only three facilities ended up dropping footgolf. The National Golf Course Association of America has endorsed the game as a "proven revenue generator" and a way to introduce millennials, women and families to golf facilities.

So really all that's left is for golfers is to roll out the red carpet and share their fairways.

If they're willing.


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Argentina's Christian Otero tees off at Sydney Marovitz Golf Course, a historic municipal course near downtown Chicago. 


Culture shock

The majority of the players at the U.S. National Championship have strong soccer backgrounds. Julian Nash, 32, retired from pro soccer at 24 because of injuries. He, along with many other older soccer players, have found a second pastime in footgolf.

"Soccer is more in the moment," said Nash. "Golf is more mentally taxing. There's more time to think about messing up.

"I practice putting almost every day."

The AFGL estimates 80 percent of footgolfers are 15-35 years old and 60 percent are Hispanic. For many, the first time they ever stepped foot on a golf course was with a soccer ball. That's where cultures can clash. Soccer players might show up to a course for the first time wearing cleats and head out in one big group, as if it were an afternoon at Wembley Stadium.

This can lead to golfers, already dubious about the footgolf greens and big cups off their fairways, and the fact that they likely paid more to be on the course than the footgolfers, complaining to management – or to rant on Golf Advisor.

"I want to make sure when people are bringing a soccer ball to the course," said Balestrini. "They do it right."

The AFGL has worked to foster understanding between golf course operators and footgolfers. It has encouraged a footgolf dress code (argyle socks and collared shirts and flatcaps), no running between shots, no soccer cleats, keeping up the pace and no yelling. The goal is to blend in despite playing an entirely different game and having little to no golf background.

"We have to protect integrity of game of golf," said Balestrini. "If we design a course, we make sure we don't put a hole in landing areas for golf."

Rachel Bennett, a soccer player-turned footgolfer who plays around Sacramento, admits that during her first footgolf rounds, participants were loud and would run around. But as she and her friends became more serious about the game and more acclimated to the environment, she says, they began to act accordingly.

"[Golfers] are now more accepting to it," Bennett said. "Because we're more respectful. We're getting more serious. We're intermingling much better."


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Footgolfers line up their putts in the final round of the AFGL U.S. National Championship. 


The missing link?

At Miami's Melreese Golf Course, the First Tee Facility is introducing youngsters to the Rules of Golf with footgolf before putting a club in their hands. The AFGL, in fact, will only set up footgolf courses at existing golf facilities. 

So why are soccer players courting this dinosaur that is the golf business when they could simply carve out holes in the woods like disc golfers, or set up courses at soccer facilities?

The answer might be best explained by the example of a footgolfer named Arturo Barragan, from California. Barragan is one of five siblings, raised by an illegal immigrant father who managed to put them all in college. A former pro soccer player, Arturo put a golf club in his son Zacharias' hand at a very early age. Now 6 years old, his son is a proficient golfer and plays on the U.S. Kids Tour. Arturo takes Zacharias to the course and plays footgolf while his son plays golf.

"We always want [our kids] to do better than their parents," said Barragan. "Schooling and golf is the way to go."

Footgolf wants the golf lifestyle, while golf is eying the footgolf demographic. AFGL estimates more than 80,000 rounds per month are being played on their courses in the U.S. Now it's just a matter of golfers and footgolfers getting along.

For some common ground, look no further than why both parties are showing up in the first place.

"I love being on golf courses," Bennett said. "No matter where you go, they're so beautiful."

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.