Sport hybrid FootGolf breaks out in Manhattan

By Brady Bauman

It’s five years in the future. The place? Augusta National Golf Course.

The event? The Masters.

‘And Bubba Watson is really examining the wind on this hole,’ CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz will (sort of) whisper. ‘He’d be mad to kick the soccer ball through the trees in these conditions. I’d take the more conservative angle and settle for par, here.

‘Wait… he’s gonna try it! And he thinks he has the leg for it! Friends… what a Masters we’re witnessing today! A tradition truly unlike any other!’

While FootGolf getting into The Masters may be a stretch (plus, Augusta just allowed women memberships in 2012, so being ahead of trends isn’t the course’s strong suit) the sport has been gaining popularity since the American FootGolf League was founded in 2011. THE IDEA is pretty simple: Play on the same golf course, make new ‘greens’ with bigger cups, and replace the golf ball with a soccer ball. After that, all that’s needed is a pair of sneakers and two legs (and a torso, arms, preferably a head… well, you get the idea). The rest of the rules are just like regular golf.

Wildcat Creek Golf Course and Fitness Center owner Kevin Fately bought in quickly when he learned about it this year.

His course features 18 holes of FootGolf and opened play March 18. His course is also the only approved FootGolf course in Kansas and the 22nd to open in the nation.

‘We’ve had a great response,’ Fateley said this week while looking over the No. 1 fairway. ‘We already have a tournament in the works with roughly 200 players.’

He said more Foot-Golf-ready courses are being built across the country.

‘In a month or two there’s going to be about 150 or so,’ he said. ‘It’s really going.’

Fateley said FootGolf is rumored to have started in the Netherlands and is even bigger in Europe, where some tournaments are televised.

FATELEY said he first heard about FootGolf while cruising the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America online message board. When he saw a couple demo holes firsthand during a recent trip for a superintendents meeting in Florida, he was sold.

‘I thought it looked kind of cool,’ he said. ‘We found out what we needed to do and got the course approved by the American FootGolf League.’

Fateley said FootGolf’s origins are similar to another sport that arose out of an existing industry that was facing decline: snowboarding.

‘Back in the early ‘80s the skiing industry was hurting,’ he said. ‘It was getting bad. Then somebody thought well, why don’t we make this thing like a skateboard and go down the hill on it and call it a snowboard. It really brought skiing back.

‘Same real estate, same infrastructure and overhead, it’s just they’re playing with a different piece of equipment and so are we here.’

OF COURSE, it was also hard to ignore all the kids playing soccer in Anneberg Park, which is right across from Wildcat Creek.

‘Anyone off the street can come and play it,’ Fateley said. ‘We drive by those soccer fields, and they’re full of soccer kids all the time. I guarantee you only 5 percent of them have probably played golf, but 100 percent of them play soccer. So anything we can do to get the kids to play golf, or, just to play outside in general, is a good thing.’

While Wildcat Creek is a nine-hole golf course, the Foot-Golf course (again, played on the same nine golf holes) is 18 because the distance required for a golf hole is much shorter for FootGolf. So for each regular golf hole, there are two FootGolf holes.

Wildcat Creek’s longest FootGolf hole is off the No. 10 tee. It’s a 242-yard par 5. The shortest is off No. 17 tee at 55 yards.

Not long ago, Fateley said the course had its first kick-inone.

‘Some of our employees say ‘goal-in-one,’’ he said.

That has a ring to it, but we won’t know which will be the proper term till Jim Nantz quietly shouts it during a round of The Masters in the perhaps not-so-distant future.

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | The Manhattan Mercury, 318 North 5th Street, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502 | Copyright 2016