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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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”