Playing golf with your feet? New sport available in Ind.

(WISH Photo)

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — You may hear something unusual coming from Balmoral Golf Club in Fishers.

Along with the expected sounds — the late-summer wail of cicadas, the metallic ‘clack’ of well-struck drives, and the rattle of a ball finding the bottom of a cup — a visitor will now also hear the frequent thump of a foot hitting leather. FootGolf is getting a foothold in Central Indiana.

The sport is exactly what the name implies: golf played with the feet. It’s a hybrid of soccer and golf, played over the same courses traditional golf has long called home, with very minor changes to facilitate the newer game. It also uses a soccer ball instead of a golf ball.

FootGolfers start each hole on or near one of Balmoral’s nine existing golf tee boxes. Then, with as few kicks as possible, the players try to find the bottom of a huge hole cut into the edge of each fairway.

“It’s not easy if you own a golf course to have someone talk you into digging 21-inch holes and having kids and people kicking a ball in it,” says Ray Marconi, Balmoral staff senior assistant. “But everybody who plays it comes back. Everybody loves it, I haven’t heard one negative comment on it.”

To experience the sport up close, 24-Hour News 8 joined a group featuring two members of the Indy Eleven pro soccer team. Goalkeeper Jon Dawson and Assistant Coach Paul Telfer are avid players of traditional golf and exceptionally talented with their feet, so FootGolf would seem to be a natural fit for both of them.

The round started with laughter and some first-tee jitters: Dawson hooked his tee shot into a leafy spot well left of the fairway. Telfer’s opening drive was straight and true, but his approach shot left much more work than he would have preferred. Bogeys all around to start.

Quickly, Dawson and Telfer locked into competitive mode, giving the game and each other much more serious attention. They exchanged sharply-struck shots and sharply-delivered jabs in equal measure: both found the unique language of traditional golf translated quite well for the foot version. When Dawson launched an approach shot into a bunker, Telfer chirped, “Bring your beach towel, buddy! You’re in the sand!”  Dawson’s playfully frustrated response: “Oh, I’ll bring my sunscreen, too.”

Such back-and-forth is music to the collective ears of FootGolf’s organizers. They are hoping the health, time, and price benefits of FootGolf will encourage dramatic growth. The game is still in its infant stages; the number of golf courses embracing the game nationwide is just less than 200 — six of them are in Indiana. In addition to Balmoral, there are also FootGolf courses in Franklin, Tipton, Seymour, Schererville, and French Lick.

There are some differences from facility to facility. Some offer tee times all day, others block off segments specifically for FootGolf. Some courses put the giant cups on the putting greens, others keep them in the fairways. Some offer multiple tee boxes for differing skill levels. All of the courses welcome players of all ages.

The courses also encourage, but do not require, players to wear the uniform of FootGolf.

“This is the official Foot Golf attire,” explained Rob Tankersley, who had the whole kit. “Golf short, polo shirt, flat cap, and the key is the knee-high argyle socks.”

Tankersley added with a wide grin, “This is probably more fun than you should be allowed to have on a golf course!”

As for the match between the soccer pros, it moved quickly but far from quietly. The good-natured needling never let up, with the talk continuing right up to and through each shot.  FootGolf as played in all the groups we watched is an extremely social sport with players talking much more freely, and occasionally at a much higher volume, than is customary in traditional golf. It also goes much more quickly. Avid players say a round takes less than half of the time of traditional golf to play.

Jon Dawson, the Indy Eleven goalie, says he’s hooked.

“I would love to (play again),” he said.  “I think my friends would. They love the Indy Eleven and loved the World Cup. They loved everything about it. This is something they could do. We could play 18.  Then play another 18!”

His playing partner, Paul Telfer, agreed. Telfer is a Scotsman, so he’s from the birthplace of traditional golf and understands why some traditional players might bristle at sharing fairways with FootGolfers.

“You get different dynamics,” he explained.  “Some golfers will think it’s not traditional golf, but I love playing golf and I think this is fun — especially for kids. This might get kids interested in golf and football.”  Then, after a pause, he added with a grin, “Or soccer. Football. Whatever you prefer to call it.”

Equipment costs are also a big selling point with FootGolf. You only use one ball, and there are no clubs to buy. And the costs are lower for the courses, too. Since divots are rare, the game is much less damaging to the turf. That lack of wear-and-tear is reflected in the greens fees at Balmoral; a round of FootGolf is half the price of a golf round.

Although states like California, Illinois, and Michigan have more FootGolf courses than Indiana does, many of the game’s most prominent names are in Indiana. Just this month, the U.S.F.G.A., or United States FootGolf Association, officially formed with founders including the head pro at Balmoral and the GM of The Legends golf complex in Franklin. In fact, Ted Bishop of The Legends is also the president of the PGA of America, giving the offshoot sport a tremendous leg up in the established golf world.

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