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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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.


Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship


McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”