Hot footing it on the golf course

08/04/2014 10:42 PM

08/04/2014 10:43 PM

This story is part of an occasional series of stories.

Does anybody else remember playing kickball? You know, sort of like baseball with a squishy ball that you kick instead of hitting with a bat? So imagine moving it onto a golf course -- and you’ve got FootGolf. And we’ve got one of the six places to play it in the Metroplex at Mansfield National Golf Club.

Footloose reporter Coleen Daniell and I knew we just had to do this as part of the Let’s Try It! series. Coleen was feeling good since she played soccer in high school and college, coached her daughter for four years and her English dad had coached and refereed soccer for years. She definitely has the resume for this gig. Plus, it was an overcast day with the temperature at a lovely 80 degrees and we had a golf cart. Coleen was on a roll.

Garrett Peek, the general manager at Mansfield National Golf Club, met us in the golf shop and explained the basics, which are basically golf played with your foot, a No. 5 soccer ball and a bigger hole to kick it into. The golf course didn’t dig 21-inch holes into their putting greens. The holes, marked with pins just like for golf, are located along the fairways and covered with plastic lids. Most golfers don’t even know they are there, Garrett said.

Players kick off from the ladies’ tees at holes ranging from 102 yards to 229 yards at Mansfield National. The golf course had 105 people kick off in the first hour on opening day, July 18, and business has been steady since then, Peek said. The course is offering an introductory rate of $5 for nine holes or $15 for 18 in August, plus another $10 for a golf cart (unless you are looking for exercise, definitely get the golf cart!) After this month, prices will go up to about $30 for 18 holes, Garrett said, still a lot cheaper than golf.

And it’s faster, he said. Unlike golf, you don’t have to line up your shots. You walk up and kick the ball, which the course supplies. Once you kick off, you do play like golf, with the person fartherest from the hole kicking first. There’s also no age limit. As long as kids can keep up, they can play, Garrett said.

Loaded with confidence, we let Garrett go first. We oohhed as he put his ball within six feet of the hole. Whoa! Of course, he has played this game before. Coleen was not intimidated. She ran and booted her purple ball toward the hole, watching as it hooked to the left and slid into a ditch, a really deep ditch. Geez, that didn’t look fun at all.

Hmm. I began to realize that there was some actual skill required in this sport. I thought this was just going to be a nice walk/ride in the golf cart while kicking balls to keep us from getting bored. Turns out, FootGolf has an international league. The sport started in Europe in 2009 and spread to North and South America not long after that. Soccer players have taken to it, for obvious reasons, but a lot of them discover that the grass on a golf course is shorter and slicker than on a soccer field, Garrett said. Yeah, but he didn’t tell us that until Coleen’s ball was in the ditch.

All right, my turn. I DID NOT want to go into the ditch, so I aimed right on the first tee, coming within just a few feet of the pin! But then my ball started to roll, and then it built up speed, wobbling another 20 feet before coming to rest next to a drainage hole. Even though Coleen’s ball was hiding behind a levee, mine was still farther away so I got to go again. I aimed and kicked, watching as my ball sped uphill, came up short and slid back down, coming to rest next to the exact same drainage hole.

Coleen (who is a little competitive) was not dealing with the ditch dilemma well. She booted her ball over the hill and two feet from the hole, but then the ball kept going and going, rolling down next to mine in what we began calling the drainage ditch of despair. Garrett was giving us helpful tips and trying to be encouraging. He showed us how to putt -- you can’t roll the ball with your foot, but you can roll your foot over the top and line up a straight shot. He demonstrated as he sank his ball on the second shot, birdying the hole.

OK, we get it. We can do this. Coleen lined up her shot, coming within inches of the hole and making par. But then her ball came up short and rejoined mine in the pit. All right, girl, I love you, but I’m getting out of this hole. I thumped my ball and it settled just a few feet from the hole -- and stopped. Whoop! Yeah, now your turn, Coleen!

As I turned to encourage her, the wind caught my pretty yellow ball, sending it slowly creeping back to the drain.

That. Did. Not. Just. Happen. Except it did.

Coleen and I are not quitters. We were getting out of that gloomy gultch, one way or another. Coleen lined up and booted. She said she would rather be back in the ditch than on the drain. But she didn’t go into the ditch. Her ball settled just a few feet above the hole and she easily putted it in on the next shot.

OK, I’m not giving up. I’m doing this. I take a cue from Coleen and give my yellow ball a whack. Yeah, there’s the power, there’s the speed, heading straight for the hole! My ball spins all the way around the lip of the hole and whirls out the other side. You have got to be kidding.

It only takes me a couple more kicks before I finally sink the thing.

Garrett told us the first hole, despite being the shortest at 102 yards, is the hardest on the course because of the hills. I don’t know if he was just telling us that, but it made us feel better. That and Coleen got to roar down the course in the golf cart, going up on two wheels in a couple of places as I held on to the roof of the golf cart and laughed.

Despite our experience in the golf course gutter, we decided we like FootGolf, and we want to come back. And bring our teen-agers and husbands. Yeah, we’ll just let them kick off first on Hole No. 1. Yep, that’s what we’ll do. Hey kids, make sure you kick it REALLY hard. Aim for that little dip over there, the one with the drain cover.

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