They stride across the golf course with soccer balls under their arms, sizing up the next hole.
Traditional golfers, dressed the part and riding in golf carts, stop to watch as Margot Stanley and Blair South line up their shots. The two 20-somethings wear the kind of outfits one might wear for a run or a pick-up soccer game on a hot day. Taking turns, they place their soccer balls in the grass and back up to look for the flag marking an oversized hole in the distance. The balls that sail through the air are significantly larger than those usually sent flying on this green, yet the rules are largely the same: Make it to the hole in the fewest kicks possible, lowest score wins, and so on.
South makes a short, slanted sprint and kicks, hitting squarely with the laces. She steps back and watches the ball’s flight with satisfaction. “You’re up, Red,” she says, and Stanley – he has red hair – steps up and takes her turn.
It’s warm – a perfect day for footgolf – and these players from Raleigh’s freshly formed footgolf group have taken to the Raleigh Golf Association’s course in south Raleigh to play nine holes.
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So far there are about 30 folks in the Triangle who play, and only a few courses in North Carolina – a far cry from the sport’s popularity in Florida and California. Yet Wayne Ackley spent this past spring getting RGA’s course up to speed. Now it’s ready and he’s put the word out: Come and play.
It’s a fun sport and he wants to share it, but he also wants to bring a younger demographic to the golf course. The hybrid of soccer and golf may sound unlikely, but it’s growing – and he thinks it can find root here.
“We’re affiliated with the American FootGolf League. It is a nationwide league, they have tournaments all over the country,” says Ackley, who has golfed at RGA since the late ’80s. “People do this rather than play golf and thoroughly enjoy it.”
Many golfers, Ackley says, are aging out, and the four-plus hours it can take to play nine holes of golf can be daunting to young adults. The new options include footgolf, but also speed golf, which involves golfers carrying a handful of clubs and sprinting from hole to hole.
“Sounds terrible,” South says and laughs. Though she’s out here playing footgolf today, she’s also been playing traditional golf since elementary school, and she appreciates its leisurely pace. “People growing up playing golf are taught certain things about the game and are taught the respect of the game,” she says. Footgolf, soccer hybrid that it is, seems distinct enough. It’s appealing, too, since South has experience with both sports.
“I played club for (N.C.) State in college,” she says.
“And I played at Meredith,” Stanley says.
Psychologically, South says, footgolf has more in common with golf than soccer. In a fast-paced soccer game, she says, you can make a mistake and recover quickly. In golf, though, and in footgolf, it’s easy to mess up and get frustrated. To a degree, you have to think like a golfer – even if you’re dressed like a soccer player.
“If I was teeing off on the first hole up there as a golfer, dressed like this, I would feel so wrong about it,” South says.
“I think television has something to do with that,” Ackley offers. “You see the professional golfers.”
The more casual dress code for footgolf is just one more hurdle the new sport eliminates. That, and the games only take about 90 minutes – much more appealing for younger adults with limited time, Ackley says. Plus, with RGA about five minutes from downtown, he pictures young professionals clocking out at the end of the day and driving down to the course for a game and workout. All they’d need is exercise clothes. Well, most of the time.
“It’s funny, when they have these big tournaments, they have these soccer uniforms,” Ackley says.
“My dad says argyle socks are required,” Stanley adds.
Where to play in the Triangle: Raleigh Golf Association (rgagolf.net); Heritage Golf Club in Wake Forest (playheritagegolf.com); Occoneechee Golf Club in Hillsborough (occoneechee.com) . Other North Carolina courses are listed at afgl.us/courses.html.
Contact: Raleigh Golf Association head pro Ronnie Casper or assistant pro Robert Guzzo at email@example.com or 919-772-9987
Cost: $10-$15 to play at RGA
What to bring: A soccer ball, weather-appropriate exercise clothes and soccer-style shoes (no cleats).
More info: American FootGolf League: afgl.us
As someone with very little experience playing soccer and even less playing golf, I felt footgolf had a pretty gentle learning curve – not to mention it was fun. It helped a lot to have experienced players showing me the ropes, and after a few wild kicks I was able to do OK. Sure, I ended up with the worst score, but I got in a few satisfying, fairly accurate kicks and was able to finish a few holes under par.
I played nine holes, which took about 90 minutes, and I was quite sore the next day – sore, but satisfied. Would I play again? In a heartbeat, but I’d wear shorts next time.