Thomas Edison once said to invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. While I feel a little ill-qualified to be telling him he’s wrong, it’s certainly incomplete. What Edison missed, was that the quality of your junk can have a huge impact on the final invention.
So if your pile of junk involves two of the UK’s biggest sports – football (soccer) and golf – then with a good imagination, you’re on to a winner. The other thing every inventor and entrepreneur knows is that the best ideas will always make everyone else say “why didn’t I think of that”?
That’s certainly the case with FootGolf, which claims to be the fastest growing new sport in the UK. It’s a concept so blindingly obvious, you’ll spend days thinking you and your mates actually invented it on your street when you were eight. Except you didn’t, so stop complaining.
What is FootGolf?
FootGolf, as the pictures show, is a hybrid football and golf game. Players kick a standard size 5 football into a 20 inch hole that is usually about 130 yards away. Scoring is along golf lines, with each hole having a par score and that’s about it. Brilliantly simple and simply brilliant.
In Great Britain, there are 35 courses, with another 15 to come on line within the next few weeks. There’s a ranking system, where players can earn points and the number 1 ranked player at the end of 2014 gets to travel to the United States for the FootGolf US Open. There are also four masters events in Great Britain too, in Brentwood (10/11 May), Scotland (24 May), Bridlington (7/8 June) and Manchester (9/10 August).
And if that’s not enough, the National Centre is about to open in Doncaster, with the world’s first dedicated 18 hole FootGolf course, in conjunction with Doncaster College. Heading up the Academy will be former Birmingham, Charlton and Hull City footballer Bryan Hughes.
If you started reading this thinking it was a knock about game that’s not really all that serious, then think again. An official set of rules, ranking system, events and an academy. FootGolf is a serious game.
Get Your Tees Out
There’s obviously some organisation involved in putting FootGolf together, but any sport will live or die by the number of players they have. UK FootGolf’s Operations Manager, Kieran Lawry, gave me a rundown of who usually turns up to play.
“Because the skills required to start the game are fairly low, we’ve also got a good family element, where we’ve seen granddads take grandkids for a round, so it really is suitable for all ages.
“We’re very male dominated in the UK, with about half the groups turning up to play stag or birthday parties, but we’re increasingly seeing a movement of players who play FootGolf regularly, attend events and take it seriously.
“It’s different in other counties though. The US has a huge number of female players and as we’re growing here we’re seeing more and more female players.”
Regardless of who is playing, it’s pretty clear that most people who play FootGolf have doing it. “People call up all the time to find out about their nearest course and say they’re looking forward to it. The same people almost always get back in touch and say how much fun they’ve had.” Lawry adds.
Dress Up, Feel Awesome
Another big tick in the FootGolf box is the snazzy outfits worn by most of the players. While this isn’t compulsory, it’s a fashion that was borne out of necessity. Most golf clubs have a dress code which even FootGolfers have to adhere to. The move to shorts and socks of football gives the player more freedom, but when matched with golf styling has an eye catching effect. And who doesn’t like dressing up?
The fashion is catching on too. Über trendy golf outfitters, Royal and Awesome, have just signed up as the official FootGolf clothing partners. With a natty range of clobber for FootGolfers to strut around the course and bar in, surely it can’t be long before the fashion starts to become mainstream? Well, that might take just a bit longer…
And if an official clothing partner isn’t enough, FootGolf UK has signed up Mitre as the official ball supplier. At the moment it’s traditional footballs being used, but there are plans for something a bit more bespoke for the legions of FootGolf enthusiasts around the UK.
It’s just not cricket
If you sit quietly for a moment, you will be able to hear the tea being spat into the fine china at golf courses up and down the country. Hundreds of old men must be screaming “barbarians” at the thought of having footballers traipse around their precious grass. Remember, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews has only just decided to let women play!
It seems, again, that my views on FootGolf are wrong. Michael O’Connor, President of the UK FootGolf Association tells me that they’ve been getting great support from the courses they’ve approached so far.
“Courses see the sport [FootGolf] as a vehicle to attract new customers into under-utilised facilities. This is having a huge positive impact on the day to day running of the courses, including injections of much needed revenue.”
Ah cash. Of course, it’s never far away from the mind of a golf club committee. And the business model of FootGolf has been a breath of fresh air to some of the courses involved. Back to Kieran again,
“One club in Hull had taken 11,000 FootGolf green fees in the first six months, another in Kent only runs sessions on a Sunday and has a three week waiting list and another course owner is considering getting rid of golf and converting to FootGolf full time. It’s not just the green fees either. Our courses are reporting the FootGolfers are out spending their own members in the bar and shops too.”
Hole in one
The chance to make money is great for clubs, but most clubs would run a mile at the thought of wrecking their pristine greens with football boots and 20 inch holes. Luckily, Michael and Kieran have got this covered too.
The holes are cut off the fairways, well away from the greens and because the distances are smaller in FootGolf, a nine hole course is suitable to get an 18 hole FootGolf course on.
“It’s easy for golf clubs,” Kieran adds, “the ‘pitches’ are easy to maintain for the clubs and the guys wear astro-turf trainers so they do less damage to the fairways than golfers would.”
Next Stop, The World
At an event last year in England, players came from Switzerland, America, Hungary, Italy, Holland and Argentina. The Argentinian players are starting to become stars in their home land thanks to a half hour show on TV every week. Over in Holland, there is a full time FootGolf professional, while Australia held its first ever competition in Sydney recently. Over in the US, the President of the PGA, Ted Bishop, announced at a major show that his own course in Indiana would have FootGolf installed this year.
It seems like FootGolf is here to stay, so remember, you saw it here first! It’s sure to be a winner, because, as the promo material says, we’d all like to play with bigger balls.