A golfer lines up the hole, reading the slope of the green to figure out just the right pace.
He squints, calculating the short distance and downhill slope to the hole in his mind. Which club is best for this situation? A putter, a wedge or an 8-iron, perhaps? Nope, his only choices are right or left.
That’s because he’s playing FootGolf — a hybrid game that blends soccer skills with golf strategy and layout — at Denver’s Park Hill Golf Club.
The required focus is the same, to put the ball in the hole, and so is the need for a deft touch.
“Get in the hole!,” one of his foursome screams as his weathered, multi-colored ball rolls toward the hole.
It lips out gently, seemingly impossible given how big the hole is and how much the soccer ball weighs. If only he had a club to throw, but he can just drop to his knees in agony.
Traditional golfers can sympathize with the scenario, which is just as prevalent in FootGolf, a newcomer to the alternative sport scene in the past few years.
The game is basically playing golf with a soccer ball. The length of the holes are shorter — “there’s only so far you can kick a soccer ball,” Park Hill Golf Club Pro Shop/Tournament manager Rob Erickson quipped — but even the enlarged holes can be easily missed. The equipment is much cheaper, it’s nearly impossible to lose your ball and there’s not much risk of plunking your tee shot through a neighbor’s living room window.
“I’ve always said your legs are like a club,” said Jon Forget, owner and general manager of Three Lions Pub in Capitol Hill, which brought a huge group to play FootGolf for the first time at Park Hill Golf Club.
“In soccer, you are constantly kicking, driving and putting, it just takes the physical aspect out of the game.”
Forget and many of his friends qualify in the “hack” category on the golf course, but they knew soccer really well. And they knew beer, which they could have in hand as they played. So they should be set, right?
Turns out FootGolf is just as maddening as any round you’d play with clubs and a Titleist.
The niche sport is gaining a foothold across country at golf courses seeking to find a new group to add to loyal legions of traditional duffers. Five golf courses in Colorado — Thorncreek Golf Club in Thornton, Broomfield’s Broadlands Golf Course, Hiwan Golf Club in Evergreen and Saddleback Golf Course in Firestone in addition to Park Hill Golf Club — host FootGolf thus far, and 240 venues across the nation offer it, according to FootGolf Texas’ website.
Coloradans embrace all sorts of alternative sports and have a chance to take up FootGolf in part because of its explosion in Texas. Park Hill Golf Club’s owner — Eagle Golf Management — saw the sport explode at many of its courses in the Lone Star state and made it a directive to Erickson to install it in the Metro area.
Erickson obliged, outfitting the front nine of his golf course into a par-70, 2,810-yard FootGolf Course with six par-3 holes, eight par-4s and four par-5s. With no hills and just one water hazard, the flat topography of the Park Hill course made it a virtual breeze to set it up. No greens or fairways get used, with the holes — which measure 21 inches wide, or roughly the diameter of an outdoor trash can — sitting in the roughs and out of bounds areas. Trees serve as natural obstacles and become even more imposing with the size of a soccer ball.
“We’re not a typical Colorado course in that we’re not hilly,” Erickson said. “You wouldn’t put FootGolf on a lot of courses, it would kill you.”
It’s still not huge yet, and regular golf brings in significantly more money ($40-$50 per round as opposed to $12 per round for FootGolf), so Park Hill Golf Club only offers FootGolf on Monday evenings or at odd hours for corporate events or birthday parties, but it’s a kick for everybody who plays.
Erickson shuts down regular golf on the front nine an hour before FootGolf begins to limit the crossover between the two vastly different crowds.
“FootGolfers tend to be louder, so sometimes they yell at each other,” Erickson said with a smirk. “The golfers yell, ‘Shut up, we’re playing golf!’ and the FootGolfers yell, ‘Shut up, we’re having a good time!’ We make it work.”
Saddleback Golf Course in Firestone has integrated FootGolf on a more regular basis, available every day except for Thursday after 2 p.m. with hopes to form large leagues for play.
Knowing how Coloradans take to just about anything that can be played outdoors in the sunshine, Erickson is hopeful FootGolf is ready for an explosion.
“Hopefully it takes off here,” he said.