FootGolf kicks new life into struggling U.S. golf courses

Thu Apr 23, 2015 8:10am EDT
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By Letitia Stein

(Reuters) - Mike Woods laughed out loud the first time he saw a FootGolf video.

But now the PGA director at the Haggin Oaks golf complex in Sacramento, California, is chuckling all the way to the bank as the soccer-golf hybrid craze rolls across the United States, bringing new revenue and new players to ailing golf courses.

"Then it dawned on me that we are struggling so much to bring the millennial generation into the game of golf," Woods told Reuters, recalling his initial skepticism. "Yet that's the absolute target market for soccer."

FootGolf, played by kicking a soccer ball over fairways and bunkers and into oversized holes by the rough, has been embraced by a U.S. golf industry that has seen hundreds of courses shuttered in recent years. More than five million golfers left the sport since 2003, with some 25 million currently playing, according to the National Golf Foundation.

"FootGolf is to the golf industry what snowboarding was to the ski industry," said Laura Balestrini, president of the American FootGolf League, founded in 2011, saying it has created a new audience for expensive-to-maintain golf facilities.

For an investment of as little as $5,000 to buy the FootGolf setup as well as soccer balls, golf courses are realizing tens of thousands of dollars in new revenue, managers and experts said. The new sport is also on the rise in Europe and Latin America.

Knee-high argyle socks and flat caps make up the official FootGolf tournament uniform, which forbids the wearing of turf-tearing soccer cleats.

But casual players, including women, children and millennials uninterested in swinging a golf club, also turn up wearing sneakers, shorts and t-shirts.   Continued...

Patrick Wooten (C) holds the flag as his son Thomas, 11, misses his putt on the second half of the FootGolf course at Largo Golf Course in Largo, Florida April 11, 2015.  REUTERS/Scott Audette