Winter Haven course gears up for debut of 'Footgolf' - CBS 3 Springfield - WSHM

Winter Haven course gears up for debut of 'Footgolf'

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'Footgolf' is coming to the Willowbrook Golf Course in Winter Haven this month. 'Footgolf' is coming to the Willowbrook Golf Course in Winter Haven this month.
WINTER HAVEN, FL (WFLA) - Zack Shriver looked out of place.

In a land of bland polos and tan khakis, the 21-year-old sported a red, white and blue jersey and a tattoo sleeve.

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He jogged up to his tee in shorts. The noon sun glinted off the grass at Largo Golf Course, but it looked dim compared with Shriver's neon cleats.

A Budweiser perspired in his right hand as he readied for his first shot. Shriver stepped back, placed the beer on the ground, and then:

BOOM!

A beauty.

He kicked his ball straight down the fairway.

Shriver and his two buddies, Hunter Maricle and Danny George, are soccer players. Shriver plays for Louisberg College in North Carolina, George plays at Florida Gulf Coast University, and Maricle played the last three seasons at Virginia Tech.

The three headed out to the Largo course at about noon recently, at a time when the course would have been empty, said Jason Wilson, the course's golf supervisor. The three brought their own soccer balls.

In October, Largo began offering a new sport, footgolf, at its city golf course. Footgolf has brought in a new demographic as well as a new revenue stream.

The sport is coming to Polk County and Winter Haven's Willowbrook Golf Course in August.

"Right now we are the only course in Tampa Bay offering this, but soon we won't be," Wilson said. "And that's almost a good thing, to help the sport grow."

When asked if he was sure other courses were going to begin offering the sport soon, he said he didn't have any proof but had a hunch.

"It would be foolish not to," he said.

The sport is simple to understand, especially for anyone who knows traditional golf. Footgolf is played on a golf course with a regulation soccer ball.

Footgolfers tee off from the same tee boxes as golfers, but their holes are placed at shorter distances. Willowbrook's course will feature holes ranging from 54 to 215 yards long.

The holes are 21 inches in diameter, 14 inches deep and usually are placed off to the side of the traditional fairway. The holes have covers so when footgolf isn't being played, Wilson said golfers don't even know the holes exist.

All of the other rules are the same as golf. The player with the lowest score wins.

No clubs, just feet and socks and shoes.

Largo's course record is 60, though the three college players said they've seen the score beaten unofficially.

The right-footed Maricle set up for a tough tee-off and kicked it with his left foot because of the hole's position off to the right.

Shriver and George hooted and giggled as he prepared, but he got the last laugh as his left-footed kick rolled near the green and set him up in prime position for a birdie.

"That is a joke," George laughed as the guys sauntered down toward their putts. "An absolute joke."

Willowbrook isn't bringing footgolf just as a public service. The sport has reinvented how the Largo Golf Course makes money, and Willowbrook is following suit.

"We looked into Footgolf and thought it would be a good opportunity," said Joe Koly, general manager at Willowbrook. "We can get away with it without altering the golf course."

Koly said he expects to pay about $3,000 to get the course ready for kickers. That price includes new scorecards, holes, flags and balls.

That cost estimate was true for Largo when it installed its course. In terms of profit, the sport has brought in almost $40,000 from footgolf since its October inception, Wilson said.

At noon on a weekday, when the course would normally be empty, he pointed out a group of four people from Lutz who were kicking and running around on one hole, the three college students playing on another, and one more group riding carts with soccer balls in tow on a third hole.

"How great of an idea is this, getting people out here at our worst time (for golf)," Wilson said. "It's a lot tougher than people think. It's a finesse game but it's a game that everyone can play if they can kick a ball."

Although Koly said he is expecting some pushback from traditionalist golfers, the times when Willowbrook will promote Footgolf won't be times when the course is busy with regular golfers. Largo doesn't offer the sport until after noon on weekdays.

"The object is to offer this amenity without affecting the everyday golfer," Koly said.

Despite the different look and average demographic - the average footgolfer is between 10 and 40 years old, Wilson said - the two sports can use the course at the same time. Wilson said traditional golfers do more damage to his tee boxes than the kickers.

"They coexist completely," Wilson said. "It's just like a normal golfer. You would have to wait for them to clear the hole either way."

If Largo is any indication, with almost a third of all rounds purchased at the course being footgolf rounds, it could be a game-changer.

"We've had grandfathers come out and play golf and at the same time their grandkids are playing footgolf," said Chip Potts, Largo's recreation program manager. "That's uncharted revenue, that's people who never otherwise would have stepped foot on a golf course. And we're just beginning to tap the surface of it."

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