by Laurel C. Wemett
“If you can kick a ball and walk, you can play FootGolf,” says Jed Rotella, owner of West Hill Golf and Country Club in Camillus. While interest in traditional golf has begun to wane in recent years, FootGolf is attracting folks of all ages to golf courses, including some who have never swung a golf club. At West Hill, built 55 years ago by Rotella’s parents, 2018 marks its third season offering FootGolf. The Central New York course is among several in the Finger Lakes region where FootGolf is now played.
What is FootGolf?
FootGolf is sometimes called a hybrid sport because it combines soccer and golf. It originated in Europe, spreading gradually to the U.S., where it started on the coasts. It follows the rules and etiquette of golf, but requires less equipment as players’ legs take the place of clubs and regulation soccer balls replace golf balls.
To protect the greens, players wear athletic shoes without cleats. The soccer ball is kicked into 21- inch holes marked with flags. Hole distances typically range between 100 to 300 yards since the soccer ball cannot go the distance of a golf ball.
Like golf, the game relies on players to call their own violations. At West Hill Golf Club, Syracuse University male and female sports teams play this precision game for team building and skill development. A nine-hole game of FootGolf takes about an hour, about half the time of a comparable round of golf and costs less than standard golf.
At Victor Hills, one of the oldest family-owned semi-private golf facilities in the Rochester area, the two games can be played simultaneously on the club’s Executive nine-hole course where oversized FootGolf holes are off to the side of traditional golf holes. Like counting golf strokes, the players can compute their scores by keeping track of the number of kicks made on each hole.
“The idea for FootGolf at Victor Hills originated with Uncle John,” explains Maggie Dianetti Broker, the club’s Food and Beverage Manager. The large 63-hole golf course, started by her grandparents Jack Dianetti, Sr. and his wife Audrey almost 50 years ago, is owned today by brothers Jack Dianetti, Jr., Jamie Dianetti, and their siblings. When John Zito, their brother-in-law and the grounds superintendent, learned of FootGolf’s popularity on the West Coast, he and his son Jake, a Division II athlete, saw its potential to attract future golfers. “It was a combination of two things that I have spent my whole life doing – working for my family’s golf course and playing soccer,” says Jake Zito.
Victor Hills introduced FootGolf in 2015 and in 2016 over 2,700 rounds were played. By 2017, teams were playing in greater numbers. Mike Broker, Maggie’s husband and vice president of the East Rochester Youth Soccer League, now brings traveling soccer to Victor Hills as part of Monroe United Recreational Soccer League.
At Genesee Valley Golf Club, one of three golf courses overseen by the Monroe County Department of Parks, Golf Services Manager Dave Granata calls FootGolf an “untapped market.” Granata, new to the club in 2018, says 300 rounds were played on the facility’s south course in 2017 but with expanded marketing efforts, he expects to see the game grow.
In comparison, at West Hill in Camillus, there were approximately 3,000 rounds of FootGolf in 2017. This year it can be played there on Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday on West Hill’s front nine-hole course “when it is typically slower and to help fill the gaps,” says Rotella.
Rotella, the Dianettis, and other course operators relied on the American FootGolf League (AFGL) for help in adding FootGolf to their golf courses. The AFGL, the governing body for the sport in the U.S. since July 2012, is an official member of the Federation for International FootGolf (FIFG), the regulating organization for this new sport being played around the world. There are matches, tournaments and even a World Cup.
From Team Practice to Just Plain Fun
Vince Correa, the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) in Canandaigua, brought the college’s Lakers soccer team to Victor Hills during the preseason in August 2017. “They loved it,” says Correa. “It takes a lot of skill.”
Some members of the college’s soccer team had already played golf at Victor Hills. “You chip, drive and putt,” says the coach, using the familiar golf terms, “but there’s no change of clubs. It is all about adjusting your body to make a shot and you don’t have to carry a bag full of clubs.”
Growing up playing sports, and with a background in education and psychology, Maggie Broker knows the benefits of FootGolf as both a gross motor and fine motor sport for all ages, youth in particular. “In FootGolf the hole in the ground is a finite space as opposed to a soccer field where the goal box is much larger. As the player gets closer to the hole, he/she has to home in on the target where there can be more room for error.”
“FootGolf is a game that the kids can play side-by-side as the parents either golf or play with the kids,” says Zito. “Youngsters become familiar with a golf course and get out having fun as well.”
FootGolf will be incorporated into Victor Hill’s First Tee Time Club, the summer youth program overseen by Zito. “My whole goal is to develop basic knowledge and skills with games and activities so that when the youngsters arrive at the appropriate age, they can make the decision for themselves if they want to continue and take up golf
“In an era of heavy screen time, the benefits of getting outside are immense,” adds Broker. FootGolf offers fun for family, friends, co-workers, or business colleagues. Corporate events, birthday parties or fundraisers are all options. Guests at her daughter’s birthday party kicked soccer balls across the green toward the big holes. At another party for a 90-year old woman in 2017, celebrants of all ages enjoyed FootGolf. The group, dressed in coordinated team outfits, was “super spunky,” recalls Broker.
Watch Jake Zito demonstrate FootGolf at Victor Hills at https:www.youtube.com/watch?v=KromIjUzMQo
Find out about FootGolf
at the following courses accredited by the American FootGolf League or visit footgolf.us to find a course near you.
Genesee Valley Golf Course
1000 East River Rd.
Rochester, NY 14623
Victor Hills Golf Club
1450 Brace Rd.
Victor, NY 14564
West Hill Golf Course
2500 West Genesee Turnpike
Camillus, NY 13031