New sport gains foothold in Myrtle Beach golf market

ablondin@thesunnews.comJune 9, 2014 

— Woods, irons and putters won’t be required to play a round at Meadowlands Golf Club in the coming weeks.

The course is introducing FootGolf to the Grand Strand, which requires only a soccer ball and, as one might guess, a foot. The fledgling sport is a combination of soccer and golf, and is played at a golf course facility on shortened holes that are incorporated into existing golf holes. The rules generally mirror the rules of golf, with 21-inch-diameter cups.

“We are all very excited about this venture and it is proving to be much fun,” said Meadowlands head pro Jason Monahan, who coaches youth soccer and initially thought of the concept a couple years ago. “With my soccer background, I’m combining two sports that I love.”

Monahan expects to have a grand opening for the FootGolf course on July 12 or shortly thereafter, when it will officially open for public play seven days a week. Golf on the 7,054-yard Meadowlands Golf Club will continue unabated, as the two courses and sports will coexist.

“The last thing I want to do is upset the apple cart. I don’t want to deter any golfers,” Monahan said. “We’ll never turn away a regular golfer. They will always have the right of way.”

An inaugural exhibition FootGolf tournament is being held at 1 p.m. Saturday. The format is a best ball pro-am and each team of four will be joined by a player from the Myrtle Beach Mutiny professional soccer team, and proceeds support the Mutiny. Players are asked to bring their own soccer balls to the event. The entry fee of $35 includes a cart and lunch.

With many Strand courses searching for ways to increase revenues in a fairly stagnant market that includes approximately 100 layouts, Monahan believes he’s found one answer.

“I saw the potential the golf course could have not just with this tournament but future business,” he said. “It’s a phenomenal way to create additional income. A lot of courses are struggling with revenues. This FootGolf appeals to a market that we might not have ever seen at our golf course.”

Traditionalist golfers may cry foot foul, but Monahan wants them to give the sport and its players a chance to accompany them at the same facility. A letter explaining the project was sent to the semi-private course’s approximate 300 members.

“There’s always the possibility of backlash, and I supposed it’s the way we respond to it that ultimately tells the story,” Monahan said. “I don’t think it will create any negative response. I think it will generate excitement and curiosity.”

FootGolf play will likely be limited to 3-7 p.m. tee times this summer to limit the number of golfers impacted.

The 18-hole FootGolf course has a par of 72 and is approximately 2,400 yards, and fits on the front nine of the Meadowlands golf course. It takes approximately 90 minutes to play a round. Par-3s are typically between 50 and 100 yards, par-4s are 100 to 160 yards, and par-5s are 160 to 240 yards.

Cups have lids that can be used when they’re not in play. “I think it will be rare if a ball ever hits it, comes to rest on it or rolls into the hole,” Monahan said. “But things may happen over the first month that will cause us to make adjustments.”

The FootGolf holes utilize some tee boxes, and FootGolf greens are cut to fairway height and are generally to the sides of fairways and greens in areas of rough.

A par-3 golf hole will usually have one FootGolf hole, a par-4 will have two and a par-5 will have three running with and alongside it.

Monahan and Mutiny players gave the FootGolf course a test run Monday, and a golfing foursome teed off in the middle of the FootGolfers to see how the golfers would be affected and to test pace of play. “It’s a go,” said Monahan, whose golf shop assistant at Farmstead Golf Links and Meadowlands Golf Club is Mutiny center-midfielder and team captain Max Weston.

The FootGolf course will require little maintenance. While golf holes have to be moved daily because of foot traffic, FootGolf holes can remain for 4-6 weeks.

Monahan is ordering FootGolf scorecards with hole depictions, and tee box signs are being made to display the hole, distance and par. “We’re going to do it right,” Monahan said. “I want it to be exactly like the golf course. We don’t want to compromise anything. I want to make sure it’s done professionally, properly and in line with what anyone would expect when they come to play our golf course.”

Holes have been designed to avoid larger water hazards, and for soccer balls that find the water, there will be 23-foot telescoping pool poles in PVC pipes near the water’s edge.

Soccer cleats and golf shoes with spikes will be prohibited, though footwear won’t be limited in the exhibition tournament. The recommend footwear is an indoor soccer turf shoe, though the new style of casual golf shoes with rubber soles rather than spikes will also suffice.

The golf dress code, including collared shirts, will be maintained for FootGolf.

The projected initial 18-hole fee will be $10 for juniors and $15 for adults, with $3 ball rentals, and eligible players will have the option of renting a cart.

Segments on FootGolf has been featured on Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News and several other recent national broadcasts, and Monahan expects it to become more popular with the upcoming World Cup of soccer in Brazil. “We are expecting this to explode shortly after the World Cup,” he said.

Meadowlands has become an accredited FootGolf facility through the American FootGolf League based in Palm Springs, Calif., which introduced the sport of FootGolf in North America in 2011 and is member of the Federation for International FootGolf. Monahan said he discovered the AFGL when researching his idea.

Meadowlands is the only 18-hole FootGolf accredited facility within a four-hour drive of Myrtle Beach, though the nine-hole Beau Rivage Golf & Resort in Wilmington, N.C., is listed as an AFGL facility. There are 130 accredited FootGolf courses in 31 states, though none in South Carolina. FootGolf is being played in 22 countries.

“It’s going to take a little time to build, but we’re the only one within four hours so there’s a big market,” Monahan said. “We’re already getting calls to come play and we’re not even open yet.”

The AFGL handicap system, built in collaboration with a company in Georgia, passed its initial test in December 2013 and is still under development. Visit www.footgolf.net for more information on the sport.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284 or on Twitter @alanblondin, or read his blog Green Reading at myrtlebeachonline.com

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