I was on my third shot after two poor kicks and looking at a tricky 20-yard chip shot to save par. So I carefully lined up my shot, concentrated on the ball and toe-poked it 15 feet past the hole.
I first heard about footgolf at a journalism convention in October. There, a representative from the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex spoke at length on the 18 footgolf holes they recently built into the front nine of the Arcade Creek golf course and interested me enough to go out and play it for myself.
As an avid golfer, I was initially skeptical about footgolf. What kind of crowd would it attract? What rules were going to be different from regular golf?
After paying $15 for admission, I was greeted on the first tee box by Karl Van Dessel, one of the primary figures behind footgolf’s introduction into California. He gave me a quick rundown on how the game was played along with a few demonstrations on how to properly putt and sent me on my way.
Footgolf combines soccer and golf. The rules are similar to golf, and the overall objective is the same: get the ball in the hole in as few strokes/kicks as possible. The game is played with a soccer ball, and the holes are three feet in diameter and a little over a foot deep.
The differences between the two games occur mostly around the green, the putting area of the hole. In golf, players can use just one type of club and basic technique when putting. But in footgolf, other techniques come into play.
The ball must be played in a single movement, meaning you don’t have to literally kick it when putting.
The method used by many footgolfers—and the one I found most effective—is to push the top of the ball with the bottom of your foot in one motion. This keeps you from hitting in the wrong direction and controls your distance.
Holes are 100-250 yards long, and up to three fit on one regular golf hole. Greens are often nestled within some trees between regular holes.
Because I play both sports from which footgolf receives its inspiration, I believed I could handle just about anything the game threw at me.
I first set down my ball at the tee box, got a running start into the ball and shanked it hard to the left. I wrote it off to slipping but approached my next kick carefully and was rewarded with a shot leaving me with a seven-foot putt.
Here’s where things started to get tricky. As in regular golf, footgolf greens have what is called “break” in them. There are undulations difficult to see on the greens that affect how the ball moves. So the ball is not necessarily guaranteed to go in even if you aim it at the dead center of the hole.
Putting is also challenging because the ball moves much faster than a golf ball. I can’t even count how many times I watched my ball accelerate 10 feet past the hole after hardly even touching it to get it rolling.
Despite these initial struggles footgolf is relatively easy to pick up. It’s this aspect of the game that I like the most.
Because players need only one basic motor skill—the ability to kick—there’s a much more relaxed atmosphere than in golf. The skill difference between experienced footgolfers and newcomers isn’t too large, and players don’t have to watch Gary the Great Golfer smash a 350-yard drive while they stand around trying to figure out how to hold the club.
Footgolf has found a unique balance of being simple enough to not discourage play, but difficult enough to make players want to come back and try to improve.
Through trial and error over the next few holes, I found that if I focused more on my approach to the hole, as opposed to how hard I kicked the ball, I could score better.
Footgolf is also different because there are fewer variables to consider when taking your shot. Footgolfers don’t have 13 clubs in their bag to choose from, and they don’t have to worry about the lie (or position) of their ball.
However, my play was also impacted by circumstances beyond my control.
Because the Haggin Oaks Footgolf Course is built into the existing Arcade Creek Golf Course, the only place to fit the greens was off to the side on the worst possible ground.
So I had to play out of a divot or uneven ground on just about every other shot.
It also means that the holes are difficult to see. While they’re marked with yellow-and-black checkered flags, it’s hard to distinguish the direction the fairway goes solely from the location of the tee box. I often felt like Christopher Columbus as I studied the scorecard trying to figure out where the next hole was.
Because the game is easy to pick up, it attracts players from all ends of the spectrum, ranging from toddlers hardly able to run to elderly men using a cane to make it from hole to hole.
Despite the issues with course layout and pace of play, I enjoyed footgolf. Its simplicity and familiarity make it very appealing and create a relaxing environment.
At the end of the 18-hole round, I scored 25 over par at a 97. Not great, but considering it took me over eight years of golf to shoot near that number, it didn’t seem all that bad.
If you’re still thinking you’d rather play regular golf instead, consider the price of six lost golf balls and a feeling of failure, and think again.