- February 3, 2015
Late last year, I was in contact with Steve Crane for a story Sports Editor Steven Ryzewski ended up writing on footgolf, a game exactly like golf except that legs and soccer balls replace clubs and golf balls (with hole sizes to the scale of a soccer ball, of course).
As a former high-school soccer player with quirky interests — with unique games chief among them — I had a feeling this upstart game would be up my alley. Steven and I had the opportunity to try the game last Thursday at Windermere Country Club with Crane, who has played both soccer and footgolf professionally in Europe and is trying to grow footgolf in West Orange.
We were the first to play footgolf on the course at Windermere Country Club, which would explain some of the looks we got from golfers along the way as the courses overlapped. Crane and his friend named Long greeted us with a golf cart, soccer balls and ball markers, which might actually be custom poker chips.
He took us to the footgolf practice green, where I re-acclimated myself to kicking a soccer ball on uneven grassy terrain like my high school’s home field. Crane lifted a plastic circle about the size of a manhole cover from the practice area, revealing a giant golf hole for us to putt at and get a feel for the technique.
I noticed that rolls in footgolf are unlike those in golf — you really need to hit it straight on the hole at just the right speed for the ball to go in and stay in, with some of my moderate taps from short distances bouncing in and out of the cup. This prompted Crane to nickname me Leadfoot, which was going to be my objective from the tees all along.
We took turns setting our balls on the grass of the first tee zone, similar to a setup for a free kick, with the green usually within a kick or two because of how far the balls rolled — I don’t think there was a hole even 200 yards from its tee. Like a lot of casual golfers with more of a putt-putt than Bubba Watson mentality, I just wanted to kick the ball as far as I could at least a few times and have fun watching it hook miserably away from the direction I intended. My first kick was a dud, though, and it ended up dribbling like more of a draw to my left.
Still, as was the theme for much of the course for us all, I was able to recover from a bad kick with a good one from almost wherever, which was a pleasant difference from golf, where making up for a bad shot often costs another.
I was still struggling to find the proper force to put into putts on the first hole, so I kicked the ball back and forth past the first hole like many putt-putt players have throughout the years and ended up with a six for bogey. But this later happened even to Crane once, perhaps in an attempt to prove he is not a robot.
I learned after a few holes that finesse was more important than power not only in the short game, but from the tee, too. Crane had a measured approach to each kick, with his tee kicks looking more like warm-up passes than the goal kicks I was trying to clobber.
He let the ball and the terrain do as much of the work for him as they could, and his approach to putts surprised me more than anything on the day — they were deliberate toe pokes, a cardinal sin in soccer!
As Steven and I became more experienced and comfortable, we started pondering our kicks a bit more and trying to get rolls in line with the tilt of each green.
Soon, the sand traps and water hazards of the golf course affected our course, too, with hills and trees often obstructing our path to the hole. We landed in the bunkers a few times, where the rule was for each kick to be at a standstill, but nobody ended up in the water, although I tempted fate a couple of times in that regard.
By the time we left, I had three takeaways:
1. Footgolf can definitely work, both as a competitive sport and as something to just casually try for recreation like putt-putt. Whether anyone has a background in either soccer or golf is not important, which makes it even more sensible for golf-course owners to invest in it and attract more revenue by means of a broader customer base, unless they prefer exclusivity.
2. It provides decent exercise and is just something fun to do whether you score a birdie or a bogey, unlike what sports culture often makes some of our most popular games. The point of a game is to have fun, after all, right?
3. I am a better footgolfer than Steven: I had 54 strokes (+5) through our 12 holes; he had 58, thanks to a quadruple-bogey on Hole 5.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].