You’re Gonna Golf with What Now?

The hybrid sport of FootGolf tees off in Central Ohio

Americans love sports more than just about anything, so what could possibly be better than two sports at once? Perhaps inspired by the 1998 movie BASEketball from the creators of South Park, the last 15 years have given rise to more and more of these athletic mash-ups. There’s Over the Line (three-on-three beach softball), Slam Ball (trampoline basketball), footvolley (beach volleyball and soccer), trampoline dodge ball (leagues starting in Columbus soon!), chess boxing (no really), and whatever the XFL was.

Now, add FootGolf to the list.

Though its exact origins are unclear, FootGolf – a combination of golf and soccer – officially became a sport in the Netherlands in 2009. The American FootGolf League began in 2011, and FootGolf courses – which always share space with traditional golf courses – have since sprung up around the country. This year, Table Rock golf course in Centerburg became the first official FootGolf course in Central Ohio.

The sport itself is quite simple. It’s played according to the rules of golf, but rather than using a golf club to hit a golf ball into a tiny hole, players use their legs to kick a standard number-five soccer ball into a 21-inch hole.

By rule, par-threes can be no longer than 90 yards, par-fours no longer than 160 and par-fives no longer than 230; all of which crisscross the existing front-nine golf holes at Table Rock and add up to about 2,500 yards in total. FootGolfers can rent a ball ($3) or bring their own, and like traditional golf, they can play either nine holes ($9) or 18 ($12), which takes about two hours for a foursome.

“Seems like it’s such a rush-rush world – that’s why FootGolf has been so successful for us,” said course co-owner Jim Butler. “They can play the FootGolf with a soccer ball – no other equipment required.” Soccer cleats are one kind of equipment to leave at home – they’re forbidden because they tear up the fairways.

Kathy Butler, Jim’s wife and fellow owner, said that it’s a sport anyone can play and enjoy, though the main demographic is 21- to 40-year-olds who grew up playing soccer. One Monday afternoon, the Butlers invited Fit editor Chelsea Castle and I out to try for ourselves, and we captured the “action” thanks to our wonderful photographer Shelby Lum…

One thing became clear immediately – I am much better at soccer than Chelsea. Another thing became obvious soon after – my soccer superiority made very, very little difference in the score on any given hole. While my tee shots boomed out higher, further and typically with prettier arcs, her methodical, straightforward kicks down the fairway and delicate touch on the greens resulted in the ball going in the hole just as quickly, if not quicker, than my approach.

In our brief free-for-all around the course, in which we spent nearly as much time attempting to kick the ball at or just over Shelby without punting the camera back into her eye, we discovered a few important tricks to learning this new hybrid sport:

• You probably have a natural curve to your big kicks – the tee shots. Factor that into your aim.

Don’t use a green ball – very hard to differentiate from the thick weeds around the fairways.

• Don’t kick it in the weeds. It’s less fun that way.

• The ball will roll much further than you expect when it stays on the fairways.

• Boot the ball softly – very softly – when puttkicking; seriously, it rolls forever.

• Watch out for those ponds to the left on Number Two…