FootGolf: Golf with a kick is taking off at Michigan's Shanty Creek and across the U.S.



BELLAIRE, Mich. -- As a diehard golfer, I didn't want to like FootGolf.

I figured there was no way I would fall for FootGolf, considering I am one of the millions of Americans who quit soccer as a tiny tot.

But, darn it, not even a bloody and bruised toe could keep me from enjoying my first FootGolf experience on the Summit Course at Shanty Creek Resorts in northern Michigan.

FootGolf, a cross between soccer and golf, could be a fad. I can also see it growing in popularity. The premise is similar to golf: Get the soccer ball in the hole (21 inches as opposed to 4.25) in as few strokes (kicks) as possible.

It's got all the elements that draw golfers to the game -- the beautiful outdoor setting, the walk-in-the-park mentality, the challenge -- but it's more affordable and inclusive for all ages and abilities and less stressful to play.

What put it over the top was my first real bonding experience with my son, Carter, on a golf course.

I essentially played with three non-golfers: A friend who plays golf a handful of times a year, his son and my son. The boys, both 12-year-olds who play baseball, couldn't care less about golf. I've dragged my son out on the course in the past with little success of sparking his interest. He quickly loses focus and gets frustrated (sound familiar?).

I saw a new attitude during FootGolf. Carter smiled and goofed around and hit some really nice "putts."

Halfway through the round, his pal, Joe, asked: "This is fun. Can we play tomorrow?" My jaw dropped.

FootGolf spreads throughout U.S. golf courses

The American FootGolf League, founded in 2011, counts roughly 214 accredited 9- and 18-hole FootGolf courses in 37 states. Shanty Creek opened its nine-hole FootGolf course in May, immediately generating a new revenue stream on its least crowded course, one of four at the resort.

Brian Kautz, the director of golf at Shanty Creek, estimates that FootGolf will boost his bottom line by $20,000 "with nominal investment." Shanty Creek charges just $10 to rent a soccer ball and play.

"It has gone great for us," Kautz said. "We've had anywhere from eight to 27 players every day.

"The best way to describe it is this: It is bringing a lot of people who we weren't going to see for golf. My hope, somewhere in the 15 to 20 percent, is to get them to try golf. The mix of people, it is very diverse. Couples with kids and young men in their 20s really enjoy it."

Shanty Creek opted not to follow guidelines that suggest three FootGolf holes on every par 5 and two on every par 4, instead using 70 percent of the length of each golf hole on the back nine of the Summit Course for a single FootGolf hole. That's too long, although it does speed up play since putting requires more time.

The FootGolf greens on the Summit are cut well short of the golf green, ensuring that FootGolf players don't trample the greens, one of the many culture clashes that have riled up golfers not used to sharing their home turf. FootGolf players are not allowed to wear soccer cleats. Some sneak them on the course anyway.

Dozens of reviews on GolfAdvisor.com bash courses that allow FootGolfers. The user "litomoose" indicated he would never play golf again on the Strategic Fox course in metro Detroit until the 18-hole, par-3 course bans FootGolf. This summer, FootGolf players outnumber golfers four to one on the Strategic Fox, a sad twist for a course once touted as a grow-the-game facility for the golf industry.

"FootGolf has ruined the Strategic Fox experience," litomoose wrote on GolfAdvisor.com. "For those who have never heard of FootGolf, it is basically golf with soccer balls and idiots. The greens were covered in marks from the soccer cleats, making putting a joke. The FootGolfers have no sense of golf etiquette. Many twosomes not joining up, an eightsome backing up the whole course. I am pretty sure the group in front of us was so stoned they could barely play. Believe it or not, I am not a senile old man complaining about 'those dang kids.' I am 25, and I just love golf. Sorry (Strategic Fox), but the FootGolf has to go before I ever come back."

Shanty Creek has received similar complaints, although not enough to remove FootGolf. The resort has moved FootGolf tee times to the afternoon to avoid mixing with too many golfers. Kautz said Shanty Creek is even considering creating a standalone FootGolf course, but AFGL founder Roberto Balestrini indicated in an e-mail that the organization discourages stand-alone courses.

"Why do that if we have everything (we need) in a golf course," he wrote, noting a dedication to helping golf course owners and operators with increasing business.

Deegan tries out FootGolf at Shanty Creek

My foursome quickly realized that keeping score at FootGolf was futile. All of us were essentially 20-plus handicaps in FootGolf.

Shanty Creek's hills and the length of holes made it nearly impossible to make par. Many of the greens were cut on hillsides, creating treacherous downhill putts that would roll 20 feet or more past the cup if missed.

Even the two former college soccer players in the group in front had trouble scoring. I made just two bogeys -- and no pars -- all day.

"It's fun and equally as frustrating as golf when it comes to putting," said Andrew Evans, a former Olivet College soccer player who lives near Shanty Creek. "The pricing is great. We played a game similar in college. You pick an object on campus and kick a ball until you hit it."

His brother, John Evans, a former Kalamazoo College soccer player who lives in Columbia, S.C., added: "I think it has sticking power, but I wouldn't want to be a golfer and have FootGolfers play."

Once my group quit keeping score (hint, hint for golfers), we relaxed and began making up our own competitions. I won the longest drive, although it came with a price. By the fifth hole, my toe hurt so badly I started kicking with the other foot. I later discovered I had a cracked toe nail and bloody sock. My bruised big toe still hurt a week later.

When we finished playing, I noticed the group behind us because they looked so out of place on a golf course. A heavyset woman was walking along with several children under age 8. The youngsters were dribbling their soccer balls, just enjoying the open space and the fresh summer breeze.

Someday, it would be nice to look back and see everybody holding a golf club. For now, though, an industry struggling to connect with future customers will take whatever it can get. If that means FootGolf, to the chagrin of golf purists everywhere, so be it.

I will play FootGolf again, next time with my wife and daughter, two other non-golfers.

FootGolf is affordable family fun that is easy on beginners. When will golf ever learn? That's the magic formula.

Aug 11, 2014



Join the conversation

Related Links


Jason Scott Deegan

Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.


Related Articles