Teeing off on the La Vista Falls Golf Course, Aaron Halbert took a running start. With a swift kick, his soccer ball soared from the tee box toward the fairway, bounced and rolled, threatening to disrupt a flock of Canada geese paddling in the nearby water trap.
Yes, a soccer ball.
Aaron and his brother Justin Halbert and friends Brad and Johanna Marr were playing their first-ever round of footgolf.
The game, a combination of soccer and golf, has been steadily gaining in popularity across the United States. This summer, three area golf courses began offering footgolf as a new alternative to the standard game.
“It’s proven to be very successful and advantageous,” said Denny Dinan, golf course services manager at La Vista Falls. “There’s no intimidation factor. There’s no equipment. It’s just easy and fun.”
Take golf, subtract the clubs and tees and toss in a soccer ball. The object of the game is to maneuver the ball into 21-inch-diameter cups with as few kicks as possible. Equipment standards and rules of play are set by the sport’s governing body, the American FootGolf League.
The game usually flows at a faster pace than a standard round of golf. In many cases, holes are shorter; most people can’t kick a soccer ball as far as they can whack a golf ball. The larger cups are usually placed in the hole’s fairway to protect the carefully manicured greens from rough kickers.
“It’s a lot more difficult than you realize, and it’s a lot more fun than you thought it might be,” said Tyson Thomas, general manager of Papio Greens Golf Center in Papillion, which began offering the sport in mid-August.
La Vista Falls debuted footgolf in May.
Warren Swigart followed in July. Wilderness Ridge Golf Club in Lincoln has hosted the game since May 2014.
“By no means are we trying to replace golf, but we felt there was a niche market there for the soccer community to enjoy something new while being on a golf course,” Chris Thomson, director of golf for Wilderness Ridge, said in an email.
Roberto Balestrini, co-founder of the American FootGolf League, worked to bring the sport to the United States in 2011. He had heard of its popularity in other countries, such as the Netherlands and Argentina, and thought its ease of play would appeal to an American audience.
“The golf courses, it helps tremendously. ... People that never drop a penny in the golf course, just because they don’t play golf, are coming to the facility to kick a soccer ball,” Balestrini said. “Anyone who can kick a ball and walk toward a 21-inch hole can play footgolf.”
Since 2011 the sport has spread to more than 430 courses in 49 states, according to the footgolf league.
Players and organizers agree that footgolf is less intense than either of its parent sports. The game is still a novelty for most, played more for the experience than the competition. For this reason, Dinan said, La Vista Falls management chose to offer it only during certain hours on certain days.
“Golfers are a little more intense. They focus more,” he said. “Having those people out there kicking around a soccer ball would be a distraction to golfers, so we try to keep them separate.”
Papio Greens offers both sports simultaneously. That allows families visiting the course more opportunities, Thomas said. Dad can practice his short game while the kids kick the ball around.
But parents can get in on the action, too. Stacy Souerdyke and her husband, Kevin, recently took their three children and two of the kids’ friends for a round of footgolf at La Vista Falls. The kids, ranging in age from 12 to 6, had a blast, and so did mom and dad, Stacy Souerdyke said.
“It’s rare to find something everyone can do,” she said.
Like many other first-time players, the Halberts and the Marrs discovered footgolf via social media. After playing a few holes, they were surprised at how difficult the game proved to be.
Justin, 34, and Aaron, 31, both played soccer growing up. Even so, they had trouble keeping the ball on a straight trajectory during drives.
“Slow down and try not to kill it,” Aaron Halbert offered as a tip.
In a “gentleman’s agreement,” he said, the group set its own par for each hole.
One hole behind, Joe Scholl, 44, and his daughter Heather, 21, also muddled through their first footgolf game.
“I golf, but not too well,” Joe Scholl said.
The Halberts and Marrs watched from a distance as Joe Scholl kicked the ball out of the tee box. They offered commentary as the ball landed and rolled straight into a water trap.
“Gotta kick it where it lies,” Brad Marr joked.
Heather Scholl waded a short distance into the pond and plucked the ball from the water after the wind blew it out of reach from the bank.
This, the group agreed, illustrated an important advantage footgolf has over its forebear: In this game, the ball floats.
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