“Here on the front nine, players from around the world are teeing off.” The hushed voice may not be calling a golf tournament. The whispers could refer to a hybrid game winning fans far and wide. Sans clubs or cleats, footgolf is garnering aficionados of both soccer and golf—and beyond.
The word footgolf is a mashup of the words football and golf, combining one of the world’s most common ball games with one of the most elite. It merges the ball and basic footwork of soccer (which most of the world calls football) with the etiquette, rules, holes, scoring, and terrain of golf. Footgolf competitors kick a regular-sized soccer ball into a large cup. But that’s as close to soccer as this game gets.
“It’s 99 percent golf,” says Tighe O’Sullivan. He’s played soccer since elementary school and began playing footgolf in 2012.
Footgolf is usually played on traditional golf courses in areas set aside solely for the game. Players must still avoid or play through sand traps, hills, trees, and water hazards. Like traditional golf, the player who finishes with the fewest shots wins.
Distances between footgolf holes are shorter than in golf—since even the best kickers can’t propel a soccer ball as far as many people can drive a golf ball. A round of footgolf takes about half the time of a round of golf.
Like golf, footgolf has a dress code. Some courses require footgolfers to wear a uniform, which often includes argyle socks, a collared shirt, and a cap.
The origin of footgolf is murky. Some say footballer Juan Manuel Aensi developed the game. Others insist Michael Jansen and Bas Korsten invented it.
A version of the sport may have originated with the Tottenham Hotspurs, a British football club. It’s said that players competed by kicking practice balls back to the locker rooms in as few “strokes” as possible.
Whatever the genesis, the first footgolf tournament took place in the Netherlands in 2008. By 2014, people were calling footgolf the fastest-growing sport in the world.
Footgolf’s simplicity makes it popular. Most footgolfers are former soccer players. Many are looking for a low-impact way to keep using their favorite ball, says O’Sullivan. But anyone who’s kicked a ball can play.
Laura Balestrini, president of the American FootGolf League, says golfers who’ve played some soccer usually make the best footgolf players. “Golfers with a notion of soccer take the time on the putting,” she says, “using their legs as God-given putters.”
You might imagine that golfers and footgolfers would be rivals. But for the most part, golfers (or at least golf course managers) welcome this quirky new game. After all, footgolf helps earn enough green to support the highly manicured greens, keeping the courses operable.