FootGolf fighting to be on par with traditional sports

Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian Justin Chandler, junior in golf course management kicks his soccer ball toward the hole while playing foot golf at Wildcat Golf and Fitness on April 1.

Ask a someone what they think FootGolf is and they will most likely react to the question with a strange look and perhaps an even stranger answer.

“We’ve had quite a few people ask us if FootGolf is played by kicking golf balls around the course,” Kevin Fateley, owner of Wildcat Creek Golf & Fitness, said. “A round would take an extraordinary amount of time to complete if that were the case.”

FootGolf is actually the combination of two sports: soccer and golf. It uses a golf course and adheres to most golf rules, except that players kick soccer balls across the fairways and into specially built holes.

It may sound like a backyard sport invented as a way to pass the time, but FootGolf has had a national association (the American FootGolf League) since 2011. The U.S. participated in the FootGolf World Cup in 2012, and approved courses in the sport keep popping up across the U.S.

Now, the sport has made its way to Kansas.

“To be honest, I’m surprised the idea for this sport didn’t catch on sooner,” Fateley said. “It’s nothing you’ll likely ever see on television, but the small amount of equipment needed to play the game means that this is an incredibly easy sport to pick up, especially for families.”

The amount of equipment needed varies depending on whether the game is a tournament or just a pickup round. In most cases, the only equipment needed is a size 5 soccer ball, a pair of tennis or turf shoes and a course to play on; soccer shoes with cleats are forbidden.

A FootGolf course is built into an already existing golf course near Manhattan. The FootGolf course at Wildcat Creek, 800 Anneberg Cir., opened on March 18. They already have plans to host an intramural tournament next year.

While Wildcat Creek is just one of the many golf courses in Kansas, it is currently the only accredited FootGolf course in the state. If courses keep opening at the rate they have been recently, however, it won’t remain that way for long.

In late February, there were 68 courses nationwide approved by the AFGL. Less than a month later, when the course at Wildcat Creek was finished in March, there were 91 approved courses, an increase of roughly 34 percent. Since then, about one course a day has been added to the list, for a total of 102 AFGL-approved courses.

Fateley said he recommended FootGolf to one of his fellow golf course owners in Andover, Kan.; that course is currently in the process of being approved.

Not all golf courses are made for FootGolf.

“Of course, it’s all dependent upon what type of golf course you’re trying to install on,” Jack Fry, professor of turfgrass science in the Department of Horticulture, Forestry and Recreation, said. “There has to be financial incentive, but management also has to approve of the construction, making courses at country clubs or private golf courses less likely.”

The size of the course also makes a difference. In order for the course to be approved by AFGL, a Google Earth snapshot must be sent in along with hypothetical holes in order to ensure that construction of the course is feasible. Only then can the course be approved.

According to Fateley, building it is the easy part, once the course is approved.

“Since we were building into an existing golf course, all we needed to add were the holes — which only took around two days to dig and set — and stakes for the tees,” Fateley said.

When it comes to the art of business, finding a niche market can draw in new paying customers. In the mid 1960s, Sherman Poppen built the first snowboard for his daughters and unknowingly created an alternative source of income for ski resorts. People who wouldn’t ski had another way to spend their time on the slopes, and the resorts saw their profits soar.

Fifty years later, as more golf courses close than open a year, some golf course owners are trying to find a secondary market in the form of FootGolf to ease any financial struggles.

However, since FootGolf shares space with traditional golf, competition for popularity will become inevitable, Fry said.

“Golf has about 600 years of history behind it, so that definitely puts FootGolf at a disadvantage,” he said. “Since the sport has only existed nationally for three years, it’s probably too early to tell if FootGolf will be as popular as traditional golf.”

Fateley shared a similar opinion about FootGolf’s potential popularity, but also said that the sport has a ways to go before gaining the same notoriety as golf.

“No, I don’t think that it will be as popular,” he said. “But then again, 20 years ago I didn’t think that everyone would own a cell phone. It’s very hard to predict how people will react to new things.”