Game-changer: FootGolf comes to Chautauqua

During a weekend where professional golf returned to its birthplace at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews for the British Open, golf received quite the makeover at Chautauqua Golf Club.

Fans of soccer and golf alike gathered on one of the most muggy afternoons of the season Sunday to play FootGolf — a sport where players kick soccer balls from tee boxes into holes that are nearly 2 feet in diameter.

“From a golf standpoint, golf is golf. It’s traditional, and it is what it is,” said Trevor Burlingame, head greens superintendent at the golf course. “For most people to spend as long on a golf industry as some of us have, change is kind of hard, but I like this — this is fun.”

FootGolf plays to a very similar likeness as golf. Competitors are required to line up behind tee markers on every hole and kick a soccer ball as close to the enlarged cups as they can. Troy Moss, head golf professional, was hesitant about FootGolf at first, but noted the opportunities that could promote golf at the same time.

“I don’t know if it’s designed for the true golfer,” Moss said. “Who knows? Maybe it will take off. Soccer is huge, and there is a FootGolf federation that has leagues.”

In recent years, FootGolf has gained popularity in the United States and around the globe, a trend evident in the formation of the Federation for International FootGolf and the American FootGolf League.

Moss and Burlingame designed the makeshift par-35 course that measured 894 yards for nine holes. Holes 10, 11, 12, 13, 17 and 18 on the Lake Course were used for the event, and 24-inch holes — 3 inches more than a standard FootGolf hole — were dug into the fairways. The soccer ball and enlarged cup is a slightly smaller ratio than a golf ball and a traditional golf hole.

The par-3 fourth hole required players to play under two trees and was difficult for most players, as well as the following fifth hole that measured 150 yards — the longest hole on the course. The par-4 eighth hole was especially troublesome for younger kids, whose soccer balls kept rolling down a steep incline on the Lake Course’s 17th hole.

Though FootGolf did not take an excessive toll on the golf course’s maintenance, Burlingame said digging holes in the fairway up the course was difficult at first.

“My crew went and dug nine holes in the middle of the fairway, and some of my crew grimaced to the thought of digging a hole in the fairway that they take care of so well,” Burlingame said. “Mentally, that wasn’t easy. For the time being, it’s temporary, and as we learn more about it and go forward with it, I’m sure there’s ways to work around it and put covers over the holes so it doesn’t interfere with golf or normal maintenance.”

Families made up most of the groups at the event, and children were often seen lowering themselves into holes to pick up their soccer balls. A tee shot resembled a corner kick in competitive soccer.

Whereas a typical round of golf is usually formal in etiquette, FootGolfers cackled and talked as fellow players wound up to kick their ball, often shouting and dancing around their ball in hopes their efforts would make the ball go in the hole.

“There’s a lot of laughter and giggling and families having fun, and you like to see that,” Burlingame said. “There’s a lot of families over at the Institution and in the area looking to do sporting events as a family that doesn’t take up four, five, six hours like a typical round of golf does sometimes. It doesn’t take an $800 set of clubs — it takes a soccer ball and a foot, and you can go to town.”