FootGolf

“Things get much easier if one jumps on the bandwagon of existing trends.”

--Lie Jun, Founder, Xiaomi, Inc.

What happens when you take a traditionally historic game full of integrity, rules, and natural beauty and blend it with an action-packed sport of the people? You get FootGolf—the highly charged, ball-chasing, shot-making sport that is full of fun, cool socks, and pleasant camaraderie (vuvuzelas, of course, are optional).

In case you haven’t heard, or don’t believe yet, trust me when I say FootGolf is the new “bandwagon” that golf courses around the country should consider jumping on. I once considered FootGolf a fad, a passing thing, a feeble attempt to make an old guy like me give heed to the game of soccer. I wasn’t going to fall for it.

Then one day, under pressure from my twin 6-year-old sons, I went. Within 10 minutes, I was sold! They were thrilled playing a sport in which they could keep up with Dad. As parents, my wife and I were thrilled with the speed at which the boys fell asleep that night due to two hours of running in the cool fall air. As a golf course manager, I was thrilled to hear for the first time in their short lives, “Dad, when can we go back out to the golf course to play [FootGolf]?”

So let’s review: A fun sport for all ages—check. Extended outdoor exercise—check. Driving non-golfers to a golf course—check. Revenue producing—check.

A Fun Sport For All Ages

According to Jon Aron, president of the Michigan FootGolf Club, co-designer of the Huron Hills FootGolf Course, and competing professional of American FootGolf League (AFGL) Tournaments, “FootGolf is played in 34 countries. FootGolf can be as fun or as competitive as you want. Since FootGolf is a non-contact sport and can be played individually or as a team, with young children or seniors—this sport is perfect for everyone and the perfect family sport.” The average adult can kick a soccer ball 30 to 50 yards, and children, depending upon their natural ability and age, can kick at least 20 to 35 yards. So percentage-wise, we are all on a more even playing field. In Ann Arbor, some of the biggest FootGolf events this last year came from business owners looking for a fun-for-all staff event, where all the employees could partake. I mean really, who can’t kick a ball?

Extended Outdoor Exercise

FootGolf basically follows the same rules as regular golf while trying to get a #5 soccer ball in a 21-inch cup in as few strokes (kicks) as possible. A FootGolf course is best set up following the flow of a regular golf course. At Ann Arbor’s Huron Hills Golf Course, an 18-hole FootGolf course is encompassed within the first seven holes of the regulation course. Holes range from 45 to 219 yards. So during the players’ two hours here, they will run, walk, and meander over 2,200 yards of undulating topography and natural beauty. At first, we separated the FootGolfers and regular golfers in fear of integration and safety. After a four-month trial period, we now let both sports play together—which is why the design of the FootGolf course is the key. Flow, safety, and integration must be at the forefront.

Driving Non-Golfers To A Golf Course

Thanks to an agreement between the PGA and the AFGL, FootGolf courses must be set up on/at regular golf courses. Marketing towards the 26-million soccer players in the U.S. alone is bringing an untapped potential of new customers to an existing course. Ted Bishop, president of the PGA, has said, “The interest that I'm already getting from the soccer community on the sport is unbelievable .... I think the thing that excites me is that you've got the chance here to bring people in who are soccer-crazy and to give them the opportunity to go to the golf course, experience some things at the course, and I think it would be ludicrous to think there won't be a percentage of those people that might say, ‘Hey, you know what? I think I'd like to try and play golf.’”  There are hundreds of FootGolf courses in nearly every state. The sport has grown every year since its introduction in the states in 2011. As a golf course operator, I am one of these statistics. We introduced our 18-hole FootGolf course in April 2015 with Mayor Christopher Taylor ceremonially kicking the first ball to officially open the course. He summed up our philosophy best during the opening ceremonies: “The introduction of FootGolf in Ann Arbor is tremendously exciting. It provides a great opportunity for young and old and everyone in between to come out and enjoy the outdoors, to use one of our parks that they might not normally use, and perhaps be introduced to our beautiful golf course at Huron Hills.” The words “to use one of our parks that they might not normally use” should be music to all parks and recreation departments. Here is an excellent opportunity to embed your golf course deeper within the “assets” of the park system for “all to use.”

Revenue Producing

Without much marketing on our part and with limited FootGolf days of Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays after 3 p.m., we have had more than 1,750 rounds of play and have brought in over $18,000 in revenue. Not bad for a $5,000 investment, and for 2016, we won’t need to invest much more than time and marketing. Nationally, though, this picture gets even more colorful. With nearly 1 million rounds played in 2015, FootGolf is quickly becoming 7 to 13 percent of some courses’ revenue stream. FootGolf fees, soccer ball rental, kids’ birthday parties (another huge hit), F&B revenues, etc., are all significant sources of additional money. The concept is so new that operators are creating different approaches daily—FootGolf leagues, tournaments, social events, a “kick in the grass” team-building event!

Make it fun, and you will succeed. Consider these variables:

  • How much time are you willing to invest?
  • How well do you design the “fun” into your course?
  • How well does your staff present FootGolf?

And, of course, how soon will it be before you jump on the FootGolf bandwagon?

For more information about the AFGL, contact Roberto Balestrini, founder, at (760) 501-0100 or rbalestrini@footgolf.net. For more information, visit www.afgl.us

For help designing a course or properly setting up a FootGolf business, contact Jon Aron, N2 Publishing, at (810) 623-2667 or jon.aron@n2pub.com.

Doug Kelly is the director of golf for the City of Ann Arbor, Mich.; he can be reached at dkelly@a2gov.org.

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Did You Know?

FootGolf originated in the Netherlands.

FootGolf became an “official sport” in the U.S. in 2011.

Sixsomes are allowed while playing FootGolf.

It takes a sixsome the same time to play 18 holes of FootGolf than a foursome takes playing nine holes of regular golf.

Using a #5 soccer ball and a 21-inch cup for FootGolf is the same ratio of ball-to-hole as in regular golf.

Soccer cleats are the greenskeeper’s nemesis. Keep outdoor soccer shoes off your course. Market this—but do it nicely!

FootGolf, to be official, is only played on golf courses. And it’s more fun!