FootGolf gains foothold with Metro Detroiters

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Getting your kicks is par for the course in a sport that’s taking over greens in Metro Detroit.

Mix one part golf with one part soccer for the game known as FootGolf. Its popularity is on the upswing and a growing number of Metro Detroit golf courses are offering tee times to play.

“It’s been a huge success,” said Rob Vargo, manager of the Vargo Golf Company in Oakland Township. “We’re booking birthday parities, outings and leagues. It has just opened up a whole new clientele.”

He said the company plans to open a new FootGolf course this summer at one of the golf courses it manages in Detroit — the Palmer Park Golf Course.

FootGolf players use the same courses as golfers but just target different, larger holes. In addition, FootGolf games are played as golfers play their rounds; the same courtesy rules apply.

Zack Baker, 17, of Madison Heights tried FootGolf for the first time Tuesday afternoon. He was joined by three of his friends, who also had never played before, for an outing at the Red Oaks Golf Course in Madison Heights.

“It’s really fun,” he said. “I enjoy how competitive it is but how easy it is to play.”

At its core, FootGolf is a combination of soccer and golf. It’s rules look more like those of golf, but instead of hitting a ball with clubs to sink it into a 4 1/4-inch diameter hole in as few shots as possible, players kick a No. 5 soccer ball in a 21-inch diameter cup. A No. 5 soccer ball, which weighs up to 16 ounces and has a circumference of 28 inches, is the international standards for all players ages 12 and older in matches.

Courses for FootGolf also have tee boxes, greens, bunkers and hazards. A round of the game can take anywhere from 90 minutes to a couple of hours, about the same time as a round of golf.

Owned and operated by the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department, Red Oaks boasts being one of only 15 courses in Michigan accredited by the American FootGolf League. The golf course has offered FootGolf for the last three summers.

“It’s been very popular,” said Matt Pardy, Red Oaks’ supervisor. “It’s been growing in popularity since we launched it.”

The course charges $14 per adult to play nine holes of the game and $23 with a golf cart rental included. Kids 17 and younger are $11 for nine holes and $18 if they ride along in a golf cart. It also charges $5 to rent a soccer ball, plus a $20 deposit. Players can bring their own soccer balls, too.

Pardy said there haven’t been many complaints from golfers about FootGolfers.

“Sometimes, there’s a little education that has to happen because it’s something new and golfers aren’t familiar with it,” he said. “But for the most part, people have been understanding. It doesn’t seem to slow the pace of golfers either. By and large, it’s been received positively.”

Today’s version of golf can trace its roots to 1457 in Scotland, while modern soccer goes back to the 1860s in England. However, it’s not clear when or where they were spliced and FootGolf was born.

The first nine-hole FootGolf tournament was organized and played in the Netherlands in 2008, according to the American FootGolf League, or AFGL. Founded in 2011, the group is the sport’s governing body in the U.S. and the exclusive American member of the Federation for International FootGolf.

League officials said since 2011, the number of courses where FootGolf is played has grown to nearly 500 courses in 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. They also said more than 150 golf courses added FootGolf last year alone.

Vargo said his company first began offering FootGolf tee times at its golf course in Rochester, The Myth. The game is played on its Par 3 course.

“It just caught on,” he said. “We’ve been very busy and very happy with its success.”

Its popularity is one of the main reason’s the company is putting the game in at Palmer Park on Detroit’s west side, Vargo said.

Experts and players said the reason the game is becoming popular is it has broad appeal.

Vargo said younger generations who’ve played soccer in leagues or for school like the game because it’s great practice for the so-called beautiful game.

“But it’s just a fun sport,” he said.

Both Vargo and Pardy said game also has the potential to introduce young people to golf.

“It’s been bringing in new clientele and some new people who necessarily didn’t have an interest in traditional golf,” Pardy said.

Karen McCracken, 55, of Shelby Township said the game’s draw for her is it lets her and her group of friends get together for a good time and have a few laughs. She said she’s played FootGolf a couple of times a year for the last two or three years.

Last Sunday, McCracken and some of her pals played FootGolf at The Myth to celebrate a birthday. It was kind of cold, she said, but they didn’t let it chill their spirits.

She also said no one she’s ever taken out to play has turned down an invitation to play again.

“You don’t have to be a great athlete or golfer to play,” McCracken said. “You just go out there to have fun.”

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