Insteps a new phenomenon

FootGolf blasts off in Spokane at Eagle Ridge Short Course

At the tee box a competitor stands dressed in traditional golf apparel – knickers and argyle socks, polo shirt and Hogan-style cap. The competitor carries no golf clubs. There is no caddie lurking nearby, adhering to every whim. Yet things appears as they should – the trim fairways, the rough blades of grass turning in the wind, the hole pin’s flag rippling on the green.

Everything is traditional, except the size of the ball.

Set before the competitor’s feet is a soccer ball. The competitor steps behind the tee markers and assumes the posture of a goal keeper, takes a goal kick’s running start. Red argyle blurs with checkered leather, a thud resounds and the ball sails, tumbling into the fairway.

At first glance, you might think this person ransacked a country club’s locker room then sneaked onto the golf course without permission.

But this isn’t trespassing – this is FootGolf.

The sport of FootGolf originated in the Netherlands in 2009 and quickly gained popularity across Europe. Under the direction of its governing body, the Federation for International FootGolf, the sport spread to 22 countries, including the United States, which founded the American FootGolf League in 2011.

FootGolf is played on a traditional golf course. The only difference lies in the greens. According to FIFG’s 47-page official rulebook, holes are required to be a diameter of 50-53 cm, a depth of 30-40 cm, located at least 50 meters from the tee box. For the most part, FootGolf rules mirror traditional golf rules down to the tiniest details, including the distinction between red and yellow hazard markers and the relief options each allows.

Eagle Ridge Short Course (located 5 miles south of downtown, off Highway 195 on Meadowlane Road) hosted its grand opening of FootGolf last Sunday. Chris Becker, owner of Eagle Ridge Short Course and Becker Landscape Management, spent the past couple of months testing the course for FootGolf, determining ideal pin positions, reworking areas around the greens to install FootGolf holes.

“I saw an article in Golf Business Journal,” said Becker, a golf superintendent for over 30 years. “We kicked around some balls to see if it would be possible (at Eagle Ridge Short Course).”

As it turns out, Eagle Ridge Short Course is the perfect site for FootGolf.

Becker opened the gates of Eagle Ridge Short Course for traditional golf in 1998. He had purchased the property from Jerry Scrivner, a diehard golfer. At that time there was no golf course on the property, just a few small, weathered barns. The property had been in Scrivner’s family for approximately 100 years. He was not going to sell, unless given a good reason from the buyer.

Becker provided one.

At Eagle Ridge Short Course the objective is simple: have fun.

Small rustic barns punctuate lush fairways and greens, scenes reminiscent of the miniature golf courses we played as youth. Tall Wichita Blue Junipers hem certain fairways to shield homes from errant shots. A small creek bed winds between the first couple of holes, and a pond, “Lake Scrivner,” named after the man himself, sits quietly, ready to accept donations.

No need to worry, however. Posted around Lake Scrivner are extendable ball retrievers, making it impossible to lose your soccer ball.

After the first FootGolf drive, nostalgia seeps in almost immediately, memories of times spent in the backyard as a kid with loved ones, learning how to kick a ball half our size. Back then, traditional golf was a complicated sport with an odd way of keeping score. It was a game for lawyers and doctors, and it required being quiet all the time.

FootGolf provides something different, a wide spectrum of challenges and experiences. While adults typically play with a size 5 ball, younger competitors may require a size 3 or 4, easily found at any sporting goods store. For purposes of maintaining the grounds, soccer spikes of any kind are not allowed. Indoor soccer shoes are encouraged, but any sort of sneaker works just as well.

Young and old, small and tall, can come together, compete on the same field, and discover something entirely new.

FootGolf can be a humbling experience for some adults (even seasoned soccer vets) once they realize an 80-yard soccer ball drive is more difficult that it looks. Others will have to come to terms with the finer points of the game – the precise chip shot, the backspin approach necessary for steep sloping greens.

Striking the ball a few inches off-center could spell water hazard, an unplayable lie. The penalty strokes can accumulate quickly, adding to the realization: Like traditional golf, this is a game that cannot be won, only played.

Eagle Ridge Short Course is open seven days a week – at noon during the week and at 10 a.m. on weekends. The last tee time is 7 p.m. Reservations are not necessary. For further details, visit its Web site: www.eagleridgeshortcourse.com

The clubhouse sells various snacks and beverages (beer, wine, sodas) at reasonable prices. They also sell official FootGolf socks, in case you want to dress the part.

Traditional golfers mingle with FootGolfer competitors on the course. Chances are if you kick your ball into a tree, they will lend you a club to poke it out. FootGolf holes, installed in special sections of fairway grass, are located approximately 15-30 yards away from golf greens, allowing for simultaneous play.

Eagle Ridge Short Course experienced a large turnout for its premiere.

“We’ve had a lot of people from (soccer) leagues come out here,” said Susan Kirkeby, clubhouse co-manager. “And (they) want to have tournaments.”

Becker has received several phone calls from businesses wanting to host company outings and give FootGolf a whirl.

“Maybe in the fall time, we may look to host a charity event,” Becker said. “Get a pro, a college player – watch good people play it.

“There can be a lot of embarrassment in the game of (traditional) golf. With FootGolf, I can hardly wait for my turn. There can be no embarrassment in kicking a ball.”

In FootGolf, competitors trace the same fairways as traditional golfers. They don’t carry a 50-pound bag of clubs, pockets of auxiliary tees.

Competitors walk instead with a soccer ball, caught in a confluence of maturity and childhood innocence. FootGolf is something new, but oh so familiar, no matter how you spin it.

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