Footgolf's inception: Sport serves as vehicle driving new audiences to local courses

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 3, 2014 

0627 FootGolf

Teens play a round of FootGolf, a game combining golf and soccer, at Loomis Trail Golf Course on Friday, June 20, 2014 in Bellingham, Wash. Players use soccer balls on a traditional course layout with 21-inch diameter cups. The rules are the same as the rules of golf.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

It was a departure from what 36-year-old Mike Hohnholz knew to be true.

He made his way around the Loomis Trail golf course dressed in a bright yellow and green Brazilian soccer shirt, shorts on, turf soccer shoes adorning his feet and a soccer ball held beneath his right arm.

His friend, JJ Ozuna, was similarly dressed, although unlike Hohnholz didn't have the familiarity of what golf course etiquette typically required.

"For me, I play golf a lot, so it feels a bit weird," Hohnholz said. "I almost feel a bit sheepish first coming out because I don't have a collar."

The clear distinction allowing for such casual clothing was the fact that they weren't playing golf. Sort of. They were partaking in a sport new to Whatcom County called FootGolf, which bridges soccer and golf together.

Loomis and Semiahmoo are the first courses in Whatcom County to welcome the fresh iteration of the two traditional sports. Brett Eaton, the director of golf for both courses, spent the better part of two months constructing the project before finally unveiling it to the public in late May and early June.

FootGolf is open to the public every Friday and Saturday after 6 p.m., with even days falling at Loomis and odd days falling at Semiahmoo.

Costs range from $12 for adults to $8 for juniors for nine holes, and $16 for adults to $12 for juniors for 18 holes.

Soccer ball rentals are $3 apiece, although patrons are allowed to bring their own, as well.

On the calm, quiet evening of Friday, June 6, Ozuna and Hohnholz were far removed from the game of golf. The parameters are basically the same: a tee shot followed by putting the ball into the man-hole-sized cups marked by pins.

As Ozuna quickly found out, course hazards are just as hard to avoid with a soccer ball as they are with a golf ball.

"I was confident in myself. I was like 'I know this ball is going to go in the lake. I shouldn't be kicking it.' But I went for it and it went into the lake," Ozuna said. "Took us a couple minutes to get it back with a little bit of help."

Hohnholz had no such trouble, although he was still piecing together the novel experience of playing two sports he loved at the same time.

"I'm still processing this all," he said. "It's pretty crazy to be out on a golf course."

MONTHS IN THE MAKING

Most golf courses sit after 6 p.m. dormant and unused.

Eaton sees it often, looking daily out over the unused trimmed, lush grasses of Loomis and Semiahmoo.

Inspiring patrons to use the courses later in the day is difficult, he said, marking countless hours of revenue that is failing to stream in.

Avenues to attract larger audiences had, up until recently, been fruitless. A simple email, though, is all it took to capture Eaton's intrigue.

The hours that followed led him down an Internet wormhole, first stopping at a Nike ad pitting Rory McIlroy against Wayne Rooney - McIlroy wielding a golf club and Rooney a soccer ball.

"When I first started wrapping my head around it, I was trying to understand how do we get more kids involved in golf?" Eaton said. "We have to have an activity that engages everybody. People sometimes are fearful of coming out on the golf course ... they've never been out there or their not comfortable bringing their family or kids."

The soccer community in Whatcom County is strong. Eaton knows that well, with his 13-year-old daughter Ireland playing for the U-14 Whatcom FC Rangers.

As the director of golf, he began to see a well that had yet to be tapped - an audience FootGolf could reel in.

On the opening night, he welcomed his daughter's Rangers team to the course to play a nine-hole round along with some members of the Bellingham United soccer club.

In a conversation afterward with Ireland, Eaton saw the influence FootGolf could have on those not initially interested in the game of golf.

"We're sitting there at our island, and she said, 'Dad, it's so pretty out on the golf course. I want to go play golf,'" Eaton remembered. "And I'm like, 'Ireland, we can play golf any time, any where we travel.' That really opened her eyes."

Logistically speaking, the FootGolf project has consumed Eaton since he first approached the senior leadership asking for approval nearly three months ago.

He sought their blessing given the sport of golf is one entrenched in history and tradition.

"If our superintendents from both golf courses would have said, 'Brett, no. I don't want to do it.' I wouldn't have done it," he said.

His pursuit continued through the management company and then the membership advisory board, both of which resoundingly showed their support for his endeavor.

It was in a conversation with John Saegner Jr., the Washington state golf association director, that solidified his pursuit as being worthy of all the time and effort he had invested in it.

"He says, 'Brett, you are going to open up avenues for kids to come check out golf who never had an opportunity to be exposed to it,'" he remembered.

Two months later on a clear evening at Loomis, four pairings strolled between holes, enjoying this new 'avenue.'

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

WATCH VIDEO: FOOT GOLF AT TACOMA COURSE

SOURCE: Tacoma News Tribune

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service