COURSE CARE
I Think You Will Get A Kick Out Of This! June 10, 2014 By Larry Gilhuly

Minimal equipment, lower cost and faster rounds – another way to address economic sustainability on a golf course.

There is something about the game of golf that stirs the emotions. The sideways shot, fat chunk, missed short putt and missing the ball entirely are just some of the many ways the human internal temperature can be raised. What if I were to tell you that there is a new way to play golf that eliminates almost all of these negatives without affecting the competition, the enjoyment of being outdoors or the fun of being with your friends? While traditional aspects of golf can be found in this new format, the difficulty of the sport, the time it takes to play and the cost are all reduced making golf far more accessible and enjoyable. Where is this happening? It could be at a golf course near you, it’s an alternative format called FootGolf.

A recent visit was made to the first golf course to introduce this combination of golf and soccer - the Meadow Park Golf Course in Tacoma, Wash. Meadow Park is operated by the City of Tacoma and consists of 18 holes with an inner nine-hole course called the Williams nine. The Williams nine is comprised of four par 4s and five par 3s, has never had tee times, and offers the perfect experience for the beginning golfer or those that simply want to hone their game. As with other golf courses in the area and across the Northwest Region, Meadow Park has seen a reduction in play over the past several years. The corresponding drop in revenue was certainly a concern for Chris Goodman, director of operations. As with every golf course, finding numerous ways to attract new customers had been tried with little success. However, while perusing the Internet, Chris saw an article about FootGolf, a new sport that combined golf and soccer that was having success in southern California. Interested, he learned more and with no real advertisement or fanfare–until the local media got ahold of it–the sport was introduced on the Williams nine in late April. Here are the results and observations as shared by Mr. Goodman and several of the staff members working behind the counter at Meadow Park:

  • The startup cost was approximately $4500. This was needed for the larger-than-golf-sized holes required to accommodate three different sized soccer balls. The 21-inch holes–holes are not put on greens–with flags are arranged on the nine-hole golf course to form 18 holes that generally range between 50-150 yards in length. Multiple FootGolf holes are created on each traditional hole with the par-3 holes generally of a shorter variety.
  • During the month of May 1,200 golfers played the Williams nine and another 1,100 played FootGolf. A common theme among those giving FootGolf a try was that they had never before set foot on a golf course. During the first month of use, the new “golfers” added over $11,000 in new revenue during a time of year that is habitually known for less-than-ideal weather.
  • The lack of tee times has been eliminated. Due to the popularity of the sport and “word-of-mouth” advertisement, tee times on the Williams nine are now needed.
  • The cost of 18 holes is essentially the same as nine holes of golf. One of the most common criticisms of traditional golf is the cost. However, with no expensive clubs to buy and a green fee of $12 for adults and $7 for youth, FootGolf offers nearly two hours of affordable entertainment.
  • The time it takes to play 18 holes of FootGolf is the same as nine holes of golf. Golfers and those playing FootGolf essentially play at the same pace, thus pace of play has not been an issue. It usually takes from 90 minutes to just under two hours to play nine holes of golf or 18 holes of FootGolf.
  • Youth soccer teams are using the facility for outings at an increasing rate. Think about this one for a minute. At a time when the golf industry is clamoring for more players, we have to fight the big three negatives – too difficult, too expensive and takes too long. This form of golf hits all three of these negatives out of the park. According to the head pro, Meadow Park has already hosted numerous youth soccer teams with many more scheduled in the future. At half the cost of alternative ways to have a team party or birthday, playing FootGolf has proven very popular according to those using the facility. Also, it has been noted that some of the children exposed to FootGolf are now expressing an interest in coming back to try the traditional golf format.
  • Adult leagues will be starting with forms of golf–scramble, alternate shot, stableford, Chapman, Ryder Cup style team competitions, etc.–being introduced. Mr. Goodman mentioned that focus groups will soon be invited to introduce several types of competitions that can be done with adult soccer groups. As Mr. Goodman mentioned, soccer players are team-oriented players, thus FootGolf is well-suited to traditional team-golf formats. Leagues are already a huge success at other venues and have produced significant revenue–e.g., carts and beverages–during times of day when the courses were previously not being used.
  • The rules of golf are followed, but there is a heavy learning curve for participants. While all of the previous positive situations have occurred, it would be naïve to think that introducing this form of golf goes without negatives. The Rules of Golf are still used to play FootGolf and, when followed, there are no problems. However, every person interviewed mentioned that FootGolf is so much fun that human emotion–loud laughter and shouting–often explodes the first few times out. Mr. Goodman mentioned that this will be a constant learning curve for the participants and those behind the counter as many FootGolf players have simply never been on a golf course before.
  • Since opening, the staff has had only three complaints. With all the added revenue and over 1,000 players in May, one would think that the interaction between golfers and FootGolfers would be less than cordial. However, Mr. Goodman reports the exact opposite. According to Mr. Goodman there have only been three complaints during the first month of operation. Two players were disturbed by the excess noise from a nearby group, and one older player simply did not think that a golf course was any place for this type of “nonsense.” I have a feeling if the persons complaining owned the property, needed revenue to remain operational and had open tee times in the afternoons, he may have a different perspective.

FootGolf is not meant to replace the game we all love to play; it is simply a smart way for golf courses to add revenue during daytime hours that were previously unused. FootGolf is a great way to introduce youth–and others–to the beauty of a golf course and possibly get them to take up the traditional game. One thing is for certain; those observed playing the game of FootGolf at Meadow Park on the day I visited were certainly having fun and absolutely not “kicked” off!

Source: Larry Gilhuly (lgilhuly@usga.org

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