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Tate Perez tees off on the third hole of Haggin Oaks' footgolf course. Soccer skills are useful but not necessary to enjoy this new sport. Tanya Perez/Enterprise photo


Get your kicks on the golf course

By From page B1 | November 19, 2013

What do you get when you cross the scenic beauty and precision of golf with the action and athleticism of soccer? Footgolf.

Haven’t heard of it? You will soon, as I predict this game is going to spread like wildfire.

My husband, Steve, first learned of it a couple of months ago; a radio ad promoting footgolf at Haggin Oaks in Sacramento grabbed his attention. When he told our soccer-playing son about this hybrid sport, my golfing son’s ears perked up, too. Even my interest was piqued, and I’m not a fan of playing either soccer or golf. Something about it just sounded like fun.

So I made a tee time, and a couple of Saturdays ago, the four of us took to the links at the Haggin Oaks footgolf course. We brought our own soccer balls, wore comfortable tennis shoes and that’s it … we were ready to play 18 holes.

In a nutshell, footgolf is a variation of golf, played with regulation-size soccer balls. Your feet are your clubs, and you tee off, drive and putt your way around a section of the golf course that has been modified for soccer balls, including a 21-inch-diameter cup, sand traps and water hazards.

Footgolf manager Karl Van Dessel met us out at the practice hole — just like a putting green — to go over the basics, and gave us a scorecard — just like a golf scorecard. Note: If no one in your group knows the basic rules of golf, you might need to do a little reading in advance.

Van Dessel pointed out the orange tee box markers and flags we would follow, showed us the proper form for putting, and explained the etiquette we’d need to keep in mind as we crossed paths with golfers.

Yes, you are sharing space with regular golfers, too. At Haggin Oaks, for example, the 18-hole footgolf course fits within the footprint of the inner nine holes of Arcade Creek. Golfers and footgolfers criss-cross paths with each other throughout the round. Until you are at the course or studying the scorecard’s map, this is a little difficult to visualize.

After our short tutorial with Van Dessel, we teed off. We quickly got the hang of it, and within a few holes, we settled into strategies that suited our playing styles. Younger, soccer-playing son, Tate, had kicking accuracy on his side. He could tee off and get his soccer ball to land within a few feet of where he was aiming. Older son, Davis, was strong, and he liked using dirt patches and cart paths to drive (kick) for distance. Steve — quickly realizing golf’s “drive for show, putt for dough” motto applied here — perfected his putts. The guy was unbeatable in the short game.

My strategy was to just kick straight. Distance and accuracy were not my strengths, but I could short-kick my way along the course, avoiding most hazards and obstacles. After a quick two hours, our final scores for 18 holes shed some light on the best game plan (par was 72): Steve, 81; Tate, 87; Davis, 99; and Tanya, 111.

Along the way, we had a ball, literally. This game had something for each of us individually, and all of us at once. As Van Dessel told me, “Footgolf can be as fun as you want, or as competitive as you want.” Being out on a golf course is beautiful and serene, and the beverage cart even found its way to us; it turns out that kicking while holding a can of your favorite liquid refreshment is even easier than managing this feat with golf clubs.

In the week after playing, I contacted Van Dessel again with some questions about footgolf, because the game had captured my imagination. Its appeal to people with all levels of athletic ability makes it so, well, appealing.

Van Dessel said in an interview that the game originated in Holland in 2006 — thought up by retired international soccer players who partook in golf — and it came to Haggin Oaks in July of this year, “The first place to have it in Northern California,” Van Dessel declared. Their inaugural event, July’s Northern California Open, had a full slate of 144 participants. Since then, they’ve had more than 3,000 players participate in footgolf at the course.

The American Footgolf League is helping design other courses in the area, and currently Bing Maloney and Cherry Island in Sacramento have new courses. Van Dessel believes we are not at the saturation point for footgolf as it is growing quickly in popularity, and all golf courses provide different challenges.

Since playing, I’d wondered how well-received footgolfers had been by the regular golfers? The footgolfers appear to be thrilled to be out there, but I don’t see any advantages to the regular golfers of having the extra hubbub on their course.

Explained Van Dessel, “Four months into this venture, our regular home golfers have been very warm and open about footgolf. Every now and again we have minor issues over the etiquette of the course.” Sometimes the footgolfers aren’t aware of golf course etiquette, which causes a little annoyance.

“We differentiate on tee times, in nine minute increments,” Van Dessel said, “and we don’t start footgolfers with golfers,” to lessen potential conflicts.

And, noted Van Dessel, “The scorecard seems to be the great equalizer.” When golfers see that footgolfers are using the same method of keeping score, “they see the commonality of the games.”

Another interesting commonality surrounds the attire. Avid footgolfers don uniforms of snazzy knickers, wedge caps, argyle socks and polo shirts. “We love to accessorize,” Van Dessel joked.

Tanya Perez

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