Footgolf Florida: A New Way to Get Your Kicks

    By Jon Silman

    It’s just like golf, but played with your feet, and a soccer ball.

    It’s called footgolf, and it’s experiencing unprecedented growth, and providing new revenue streams for golf courses across the state.

    What better place than Florida -- golf capital of the United States -- to showcase an unusual new sport?

    Footgolf Rules

    The rules are simple, just like traditional golf: Take a regulation soccer ball and kick it, one stroke at a time, into a large cup near the putting green on a regular golf hole. (Footgolf holes often are built into an existing golf course.)

    The player who gets the fewest strokes over the course of the game wins. You can usually play nine or 18 holes.

    Footgolf Origin

    Where and when footgolf originated is unclear. Some say the hybrid sport has existed as long as soccer and golf. Others, though, say the game was born as recently as the mid-2000s in the Netherlands.

    Roberto Balestrini, a member of the American Footgolf League (AFL), was instrumental in bringing the sport to the United States.

    “I was in Argentina surfing around the TV looking for soccer games, because I am a huge soccer fan,” he said. “I noticed two people playing footgolf. I was very interested, so much so that I called the producers of the show.”

    Balestrini, a lifetime soccer fan with a background in sales and marketing, was eventually put in touch with the Argentinian Footgolf Association, and after some back and forth, they asked if he wanted to introduce the sport to the United States. He said yes.

    With his help, the game made its way stateside around 2011. Within a year, the U.S. took a team to the first Footgolf World Cup in Hungary.

    Balestrini said he’s seen the game explode in popularity in the past few years. His job now is to educate golf course owners across the United States to its possibilities.

    Marcelo Landau, a 57-year-old American citizen originally from Argentina, represented the U.S. in the Footgolf World Cup. He’s the executive director of Footgolf Florida, and plays at Florida’s first-ever footgolf course, at the Melreese Country Club in Miami. He said he’s proof that anyone can play the game.

    “I was playing against young 20 and 30 year olds,” he said. “I did really good. Out of 104 players I came in the 60s.”

    “This is a sport that mom, with dad and kids, can all come out and play together,” he said. “I have 17 and 18-year-old kids, and I can’t play soccer with them, but I can play footgolf with them, and I can beat them.”

    footgolf florida

    Don't nail it! Players need to remember that they will be kicking the ball about 72 times during a round of footgolf, so save some energy.

    - Luis Santana for VISIT FLORIDA

    footgolf hole

    Nice shot! Footgolf is giving golf courses the opportunity to attract a new crowd of players and new revenue to their sites.

    - Luis Santana for VISIT FLORIDA

    footgolf field in florida

    Players try to use the fewest number of kicks to get a soccer ball into the 21-inch diameter cup on a hole. Low, rolling kicks work the best.

    - Luis Santana for VISIT FLORIDA

    VFFootgolf 600.JPG

    Footgolf courses are usually built into regular golf courses, and what better place for that than Florida with more than 1,000 golf courses.

    - Luis Santana for VISIT FLORIDA

    Playing Footgolf

    I played my first game of footgolf at the Claw at USF, a beautiful and scenic golf course in Tampa. It was easy to sign up – I just went on the website and booked a tee time.

    The rates are generally cheaper than golf, starting at $15 per player at this particular course. It’s extra for a golf cart, but it’s actually easier to just walk. We were told to not wear T-shirts or tank tops, and to obey golf course etiquette.

    We played at 5 p.m., and the sun was still bright and heavy. A full game is 18 holes, and the holes range from 42 yards (par 3) to 195 yards (par 5).

    I made the mistake of kicking the ball as hard as I could every time, and the next day I could barely lift my leg. Landau said the trick is to kick with less than full leg power because you’re going to be kicking the ball more than 72 times.

    “You never kick with 100 percent of your power with every single kick,” he said. “Use 80 percent of your power to keep your leg fresh, and never kick too high. Try to kick low so it’ll travel more.”

    The hardest part was the putting. The kick needs to be soft, and even though the cup is significantly larger than the ball, concentration and dexterity still are required.

    The game is fun, though. There’s something about kicking a soccer ball on a quiet green, while birds fly overhead and trees dip into nearby water.

    At first, I felt I had the hang of it. My kicks were clean and the ball sailed easily. I was making par and less. But, it wasn’t meant to be. I started slicing the ball heavily, and even lost one in the rough. The good news is it’s much easier to retrieve a soccer ball than a golf ball from the water.

    The game is a concert of soft pops and bounces on short green grass, and by the time the sun went down, we were all tired, but energized. This is definitely a game that is easy to learn and, like golf, difficult to master.

    Building Foogolf Course

    Charlie Green is the manager of the Claw course. He said they brought footgolf to the course because there’s been a general decline of participation at golf courses in recent years, something he attributed to a couple factors.

    Golf seemed to peak in popularity during the Tiger Woods era, he said, and there was a boom in course building. Florida alone has hundreds.

    Green added that many perceive golf as a sport for the upper class, lacking in general accessibility, so people find cheaper, and less time-consuming entertainment. (A golf game can take more than four hours).

    The management group that Green works with did some demographic studies and found that footgolf is appealing to new, younger customers.

    The startup costs, he said, were minimal, and after the course was installed, he saw lots of new and young faces at the course.

    “The return on investment has been great.”

    Where to Play Footgolf in Florida

    The sport’s growing rapidly, with tournaments and specials going on at courses all over. For a comprehensive list of officially sanctioned courses all over the U.S., check the AFGL “find a course” page.

    VFFootgolf (4).JPG

    The rules of Footgolf are simple: Take a regulation soccer ball and kick it, one stroke at a time, into a large cup near the putting green on a regular golf hole.

    - Luis Santana for VISIT FLORIDA

    VFFootgolf 182.JPG

    A full game of footgolf is is 18 holes -- just like golf -- and the distances on the holes range from 42 yards (par 3) to 195 yards (par 5).

    - Luis Santana for VISIT FLORIDA