Footgolf, a kickball-golf hybrid, is the hot game on the fairways as courses spring up around the Twin Cities at a blistering pace.
Peter Anderson was tantalizingly close to getting a hole-in-one on the par 3 seventh hole at Hyland Greens Golf Course. So he walked up to his ball and gave it a tap with his toe, knocking it into the hole.
The rest of his foursome — sister Amy and parents Mark and Lee Anne — didn’t complain. Instead, they complimented him. “Nice birdie,” his dad said.
Until this summer, kicking your ball was a major no-no on a golf course. Then Minnesotans met footgolf, a unique blend of kickball and golf.
Now kicking is common, as is the sight of people running down the fairways decked in argyle socks and long shorts that replicate the knickers of the 1930s.
Bloomington’s Hyland Greens opened the metro area’s first footgolf course in the spring. Since then, five other courses are either open or in the works in the Twin Cities, with additional courses in St. Cloud and Brainerd.
“Through the end of June, we had 540 rounds of footgolf played,” said Rick Sitek, Bloomington’s golf manager. “Then we had 600 in the first two weeks of July alone.”
And the numbers are still mushrooming. On a recent weekday, Hyland Greens supervisor Jerry Marick sent out a dozen foursomes of footgolfers in a little over two hours.
“We’re getting birthday parties, we’re getting soccer teams, we’re getting companies that are organizing outings for their employees,” he said. “We’re getting kids, and we’re getting seniors.”
In an era when the golfing population is getting smaller and skewing older, the opposite demographics of footgolf offer a lifeline to financially struggling courses.
“The idea behind this was to see if we could get more young people on the course,” said Sitek.
In fact, it’s working so well that Maciek Gralinski, the founder of the promotional organization FootGolf Minnesota (www.footgolfminnesota.com) has been scrambling to keep up. And he believes that he’s going to get even busier.
“This could get really, really big,” said Gralinski, who has consulted on all eight courses in the state. “I’m predicting that within five years, there will be 75 to 80 courses in Minnesota.”
Fans of the game give several reasons for the rapid growth. The basics are easy to pick up, it doesn’t require expensive equipment (if you don’t have a ball, you can rent one at the course for $3), fees tend to be less than for regular golf (Hyland Greens charges $9 for footgolf compared with $14 for green fees) and it doesn’t require a major time commitment; the average nine-hole round takes about an hour if you walk, although some soccer teams run the course.
“Soccer players have an advantage” in controlling their shots, Gralinksi said of newcomers. “But you don’t have to have any experience. All you have to know is how to kick a ball — and who doesn’t know how to do that?”
Besides, soccer players face their own learning curve, he said. They’re used to playing on a flat, uniformly manicured field. It’s a new experience to factor in hills that make the ball roll sideways and to deal with sand traps and the rough — and, yes, even water hazards — that can ensnare an errant shot.
“The good news,” Mark Anderson quipped, “is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time looking for your ball.”
Trying the sport for the first time with their parents, Peter Anderson, 26, in town from Orlando, and his sister, Amy, 23, a first-grade teacher at Poplar Bridge Elementary School in Bloomington, admitted that after getting the hang of it, their competitive juices started flowing. Soon, they were analyzing how they could play better.