Dillon Kerans remembers his first impression when his friend asked him to go footgolfing last summer.
And he remembers telling his friend just how ridiculous it sounded: kicking a soccer ball across a golf course into an over-sized hole.
“I’m a purist at heart and I like to play games the way they were intended to be played,” said Kerans, a 2012 Maize High graduate. “I didn’t want to give it a shot because I don’t even like soccer, but I gave it a try and came away falling in love with it.”
Kerans and his friends are part of a movement that has become one of the fastest-growing sports. The number of courses accredited by the American FootGolf League has jumped from 22 at the start of 2014 to 432 currently operating in 48 states.
The group is so passionate about the sport that Kerans and two friends, Jared Brant, a 2011 Bishop Carroll graduate, and Cariatsefer Cuellar, who recently moved to Wichita, are pooling together their money to make the drive to Chicago for the AFGL U.S. National Championship on Saturday.
“I really do believe it’s only a matter of time before this sport explodes,” Kerans said. “It’s almost like investing in Apple back in like 1987. It’s one of those things, the way I see it.”
Explaining the craze
Footgolf is similar to golf with a few exceptions. Instead of striking a golf ball with a club, players kick a soccer ball with the same intent: get the ball in the 21-inch hole in the fewest amount of strokes.
Footgolf courses are primarily played in the rough on golf courses with an 18-hole footgolf course able to fit on nine holes of a golf course. The length of holes are reduced, as the footgolf course at Clapp Park is a par 70 with an average length of 121 yards.
But that’s not why thousands are giving this game a try.
“Footgolf offers players a chance to use their soccer skills on a different landscape and then you’ve added the social element of golf where you can play with your buddies,” said Harvey Silverman, editor of “This Is Footgolf” magazine.
It appeals to those who want to play with a competitive nature and the group that wants to try something new with a handful of friends.
“Honestly, it’s so much fun,” Brant said. “There’s a lot of humor seeing your friends out there trying to kick a soccer ball. Sometimes they’ll slip and fall and it’s just a fun time all around.”
Kerans, Brant, Cuellar, and Garrett Fitzmier now make it a weekly event to play a round of footgolf, an activity that has brought them closer.
“It’s the perfect mix between hanging out with your friends and the high intensity of competing in a game, but still having a good time,” Cuellar said. “The game gets you walking around outside and being active.”
Can golf and footgolf co-exist?
There is still pushback from golfers and some courses, which are more traditional and believe there shouldn’t be another game played on a course designed for golf.
But Silverman, who has also been a golf marketing consultant for two decades, thinks golf courses are turning away an easy opportunity for additional revenue. During an era where courses are shutting down across the country, Silverman believes golf courses will eventually come to accept footgolf.
“I think they will once they realize this is a bigger business opportunity than they thought originally,” Silverman said. “The other thing this sport needs to overcome is getting people more familiar with the game and where it’s available.”
In Wichita, Clapp Park is the only one of the five public courses that offer footgolf. That’s by design, according to Shana Appelhanz, who works in the golf division for the city of Wichita.
Footgolf is certainly growing, but it will be awhile before it expands to any other locations. Appelhanz said the city is focused on growing the game at Clapp and will be rolling out a new footgolf campaign this coming spring to promote its footgolf course.
“We want to make sure that we do it right,” Appelhanz said. “We’re really working with promoting with Clapp and we want to give it some time to build up before we introduce it to any of the other four golf courses.”
A Chicago dream
The three friends are nervous and excited for Saturday’s U.S. National Championship in Chicago.
They are excited to see where their skills stack up compared to those around the country, but they are also nervous to be playing alongside some of the biggest names in the game. Julian Nash, a retired MLS player turned footgolfer, and Christian Otero, widely recognized as the No. 1 footgolfer in the world, will be in attendance.
“It’s going to be breathtaking,” Brant said. “The possibility of being paired up with (those guys) has really got me nervous. I want to compete against them and I want to beat them, but just the experience is going to be incredible.”
But the real goal in the 36-hole qualifying tournament is to finish in top three in a field of more than 100 competitors, which would automatically place them on the United States team for the 2016 FIFG World Cup in Argentina.
This whole footgolf thing doesn’t seem ridiculous to Kerans anymore.
“It’s funny looking back on it because I went in with a completely closed mind and now I love it,” Kerans said. “It’s crazy to think now we have a chance to go to Argentina because of it.”
FOOTGOLF IN WICHITA
Where: Clapp Park, 4611 E. Harry, is the only Wichita public course that offers footgolf, while Pine Bay, 6615 S. Grove, is the only AFGL-certified footgolf course in the area. Andover Municipal offers footgolf, although it is not recognized by the AFGL.
Pricing: Green fees for adults is $12 per round and $8 per round for kids at both Clapp and Pine Bay.
What to know: Soccer cleats are not allowed, but bringing your own soccer ball is. An average round of 18 footgolf holes is roughly the same as nine holes in regular golf, and playable in about 90 minutes. The ball must be played in a single movement, much like putting in golf – pushing the ball with your foot is a no-no.