“I’ve got this,” I think to myself. The hole’s only 300 feet away, pretty much a straight shot. The tiny orange flag in the distance flaps madly in the early spring breeze. My 12-year-old son, Parker-John, backs up 10 feet from the ball nestled between neon orange rocks that serve as tees. Clearly, he intends to show his old man how it’s done. He takes off and kicks a perfect shot about half the distance to the hole.
We’re trying out FootGolf at Bethania’s Long Creek Club. Since July 2015, the golf club has added FootGolf to its course to entice younger players who’ll—they hope— exchange soccer balls for nine irons someday.
Parker-John’s kick is perfect. How hard can this be? I was a champion kickballer back in the day. I’ve totally got this.
Nope. I don’t got this. My kick slices left, heading straight for brambles and blackberry bushes. A gaggle of Canada geese look wary. They’re off the path, but their exchanged glances suggest awareness that my next wild kick may send feathers flying.
Fortunately, I don’t quite go into the rough on this first, par-five hole. Ultimately, I straighten up my kicks and end up with “only” a double bogey. The holes appear to be submerged metal garbage cans, like those of the kind that are favored by Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch.
The FootGolf Boom
While the origin of FootGolf is unclear, the first competition was played by soccer pros in the Netherlands in 2008, and the sport is now governed by the Federation for International FootGolf. There are currently around 15 sanctioned courses in North Carolina (including Long Creek), the next closest being in Mount Airy.
The rules and etiquette are basically the same as real golf. Footgolfers have to deal with the same landscape hazards and are forced to take one-stroke penalties if a shot goes out of bounds. The biggest difference is the hole size. Where golfers are putting into a 4.25-inch diameter hole, Footgolfers are kicking into a 21-inch diameter cup (which is the same ball-to-cup ratio size as real golf).
At Long Creek, FootGolf holes are placed along the golf course yet don’t share a green with the golf hole; FootGolf holes are placed at much shorter distances, all less than 200 yards. Course owner Mike Todd notes the sport is more difficult than it initially looks. Without a soft green around the hole, players often see their “putts” come up short or fly right by the hole.
Early on, the holes at Long Creek (shown left) are on flat ground. My son and I had opted not to rent a cart because ... well, mostly because I’m cheap. Besides, I can use that old chestnut with my kid about the importance of exercise and yadda yadda. I’m feeling pretty good about the decision at first. Then, hole No. 3 arrives atop a cart path so steep I wonder whether the carts here come equipped with rocket engines.
By the time we get to No. 6, atop yet another steep hill, my boy keeps mumbling, “We should have gotten a golf cart.” I’m holding up pretty well myself. I would suggest, though, for anyone who tries FootGolf, bring hiking boots. They’ll be great for hills if you don’t get a cart, and they’ll help keep you from getting hurt feet after countless sneaker kicks.
Despite the more-intense-than-expected hiking, both of us par No. 6. High fives commence. Then we both par No. 7. Our chins rise at jaunty angles. Discreet head nods send the message, “We are FootGolf pros. No. We are FootGolf GODS.”
Then. Comes. Hole. Number. Eight.
It’s a heartbreaker. A tear-snatcher. A pride-crumbler. The flag lies at the bottom of a hill, so I think, “Oh, gravity will make this a piece of cake.” Not so much. The hole is set on a thin, flat space. If you don’t get your ball near the hole, it will run downhill, making a mockery of its ostensible Par 4 rating. I got it in seven shots. Parker-John got it in 11!
Chagrined, we trudge to the final hole— No. 9—which should be a fairly easy Par 5. Instead, we both wind up with double bogies. I was admittedly a little bummed afterward, until Parker-John looked at me and smiled.
“Not bad for our first time,” he says.
High fives commence. All in all, we had a pretty great time.
But don’t even ask how over par we were.
Long Creek Golf Club is at 5801 Bethania-Tobaccoville Road in Germanton. FootGolf costs $9 per round, and ball rental is $3 per player. (You can bring your own soccer ball, however.) For more info, call 336-924-5226 or log on to www.longcreekgolf.com.
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