- March 19, 2015
Standing at the first tee of a golf course in Marbella, Spain, this past weekend, Winter Garden resident Steve Crane sized up his shot.
He plotted a plan of action, accounted for the wind — and then ran up and kicked the ball.
Crane, a former professional soccer player, was one of two Americans who participated in the Spanish FootGolf Open, a leg of Europe’s FootGolf tour, the Federation for International FootGolf.
“It’s a mix of the two (golf and soccer),” Crane said. “The good thing, from a soccer point of view, is it’s a more thoughtful game than soccer. Soccer, you get out, you play at 100 mph and you do things extensively.
“With footgolf, it’s just like golf: you have to plan your shot, plan the course,” he said. “I’m a little older now; I can’t run around and compete with the younger guys in soccer at a high level.”
For a sport he picked up roughly a year ago, Crane did remarkably well in Spain, placing 19th out of 90 competitors. More importantly, he is back in West Orange and back on his mission to make the game prominent through his Central Florida FootGolf, with a league in the works for this summer and a course at Stoneybrook West that he helped to design.
The game arose in Europe between 2006 and 2008 and came to America around 2011.
Stoneybrook joins courses in Winter Haven and Largo as among the first in Florida. The setup and rules are easily recognizable to anyone familiar with golf, though the method of progressing through the course — by kicking a soccer ball — favors players of the beautiful game.
General managers for golf courses around the state — and nation — are giving the addition of footgolf thought as courses deal with an industrywide dip in sales.
“It’s a great sport but, also, with the golf course industry dying a little bit because of the recession and not having enough players, it’s a good way for (courses) to make extra income and help their courses survive,” Crane, who is actively recruiting new courses in the region, said. “The first thing is apprehension because they don’t want to upset their regular golfers. But once they see it, they see what they can do for their course.”
According to Crane, the course in Largo — the first in Florida — made $75,000 solely from footgolf in its first calendar year offering the game, helping to save the course. News reports suggest a third of all rounds purchased at the course now are footgolf rounds.
Holes are 21 inches in diameter, 14 inches deep and course designers cover and place them in such a way that most regular golfers are none the wiser.
Crane said his first round he ever played, in Winter Haven, was love at first kick. He is confident there is tremendous growth potential locally for a game that is picking up steam nationally, thanks to its fun nature and relatively quick pace — 18 holes usually can be played in less than an hour-and-a-half.
“The interest is growing all the time,” said Crane, who noted that there is a massive adult soccer community in Orlando that can be tapped into for new players. “Everybody who plays it wants to play again.”
Crane, who also operates adult pub soccer leagues locally, envisions his future league to be similar in having a relation with a pub to keep things fun and social, while still competitive.
“The more sociable you make it, the more fun it is for everybody,” Crane said.
Crane and some of his partners have held tournaments during the past year and said they were averaging more than 40 participants per event.
More information about Central Florida FootGolf can be found at its website, centralfloridafootgolf.com.
The Winter Garden resident is optimistic he is on the cusp of something big because of the game’s potential for across-the-board appeal.
“It’s a sport of everybody,” Crane said. “That’s what I love about it.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].