KICKING THE ball on the golf course was once just a way to unleash frustration after scoring above par.
Now, it's how you play the game - FootGolf, that is.
FootGolf, a mash-up of soccer and golf, challenges players to kick a regulation soccer ball into a 21-inch-round hole. Cobbs Creek Golf Course on Lansdowne Avenue started offering the sport about a month ago and hasn't even had an official opening yet (that's planned for spring).
But while FootGolf may be new to Philadelphia, it's been growing internationally. Twenty-five countries have joined the Federation for International FootGolf. The American FootGolf League, which accredits courses like Cobbs Creek, was founded in 2011. The West Philly course is the only one in Pennsylvania to have been accredited so far.
Tee-to-hole distances are shorter, ranging from 60 to 270 yards, compared to 100 to 600 yards for traditional golf. However, the rules are similar for both. There are pars specific to each hole, a one-stroke penalty for hitting the ball into a hazard and an official scorecard. Players have the option of walking between holes or renting a golf cart.
Cobbs Creek General Manager Cliff Easum said anyone can play FootGolf.
"Golf's hard," Easum said. "It takes time to learn. It takes a lot of practice. FootGolf isn't hard at all. We've seen 10- or 12-year-olds already out here that just can beat the heck out of me."
The tee lengths can be adjusted for younger players, allowing Cobbs Creek to host FootGolf kids birthday parties. However, kids aren't the only ones getting in on the action. Soccer players are obvious naturals at the sport, and Easum said they love the hilly, challenging nature of the Cobbs Creek course.
Billy Casper Golf, the international firm that manages Cobbs Creek, introduced FootGolf as an alternative that might attract new people to the course. "This allows the facilities - these beautiful open spaces - to be utilized by a broader segment of the population," said Mark Wesolek, a regional manager of Billy Casper Golf who has led the FootGolf initiative.
The new ideas, and revenue, come at a welcome time for the golf industry. "The primary reason why this is really working right now is that the golf industry is having struggles in certain areas for sure," Wesolek said.
Golf equipment sales and rounds played per year are down, according to a report by Business Insider, which suggested the lack of a Tiger Woods-caliber superstar, the economy and poor weather have contributed to the decline.
Cobbs Creek was deemed a good FootGolf location because it has two 18-hole courses - the Olde Course and the Karakung Course. For now, though, both games are being played on Karakung.
There haven't been clashes between the upstarts and the traditionalists. Yet.
"One of the things that can be a concern with FootGolf is sharing the golf course - those traditional golfers sometimes look at the FootGolfers with disdain," Wesolek said.
Added Easum, "People who are here playing golf, they are paying more money. It's a completely different experience, obviously. We kind of tell the FootGolfers that golfers kind of have the right of way, but it hasn't been a problem so far. We'll see what happens when it starts getting busier in the spring."
FootGolf is a much more affordable way to get some time on the green. Cobbs Creek charges $12 per person. It's suggested to bring your own soccer ball, but you can rent one for an additional $3.
A typical game of FootGolf takes two hours and plays 18 holes.
Speaking of which, no greens are defiled to create the soccer-sized holes FootGolf requires, Easum said. FootGolf holes are drilled on fairways or to the side of the greens. The cups come from the AFGL.
Another characteristic FootGolf shares with the traditional game is attention to attire.
The AFGL's regulation uniform is indoor soccer shoes (no cleats), knee-high argyle socks, a polo shirt, golf shorts and a flat golf cap. However, Easum said tennis shoes and comfortable workout clothes are acceptable for playing at Cobbs Creek.
FootGolf's popularity is growing - the AFGL has accredited 264 courses in 41 states so far.
"This has really caught on like nothing else in the golf industry," Wesolek said. "It's been amazing to see the growth."