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Footgolf: Golf with a kick – and only at Foster Golf Links in Tukwila

The flag rattles, the ball drops straight in.
The flag rattles, the ball drops straight in. 'It sounds just the same, baby. It still sounds great,' says Warren Orr of kicking a standard-sized soccer ball into the 21-inch cup.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Tukwila Reporter

Dog legs to the right, dog legs to the left.

Shots that go up, shots that go flat and low.

Shots that curve, shots that stop.

Shots that land in the sand.

Par 3s, par 4s, par 5s.

Sounds like golf? Almost. This is golf with a kick – footgolf – a combination of golf and soccer that follows the rules and scoring of golf.

The only place to play regulation footgolf in King County is at the Foster Golf Links in Tukwila, not far from that bastion of soccer, Starfire Sports, home of the Seattle Sounders.

"You'll get tested, just like golf," but the course is set up to challenge the footgolfer, says Warren Orr, the Foster Golf Links PGA professional. "We did not make a course that was a walk in the park, so to speak."

Laid out in the park-like front nine of Tukwila's golf course are 18 holes of footgolf. The holes are about 75 yards to roughly 240 yards long, using existing golf fairways and criss-crossing some. A footgolfer will walk (or drive a cart) about 2,500 yards in 18 rounds, while for a golfer it's about 4,800 yards.

Unlike golf, footgolf tees are moved frequently to keep the course fresh and offer new challenges, simply by sticking two colorful stakes in the ground. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to set the course.

Footgolfers prefer tees in the rough, so they can get their foot under the ball a little more, Orr said.

Fairways will get longer to challenge teenaged boys who play elite soccer and shorter for those attending a 40-year-old's birthday party, Orr said.

"We are going to make it more enjoyable for them," he said.

Footgolfers and golfers don't share the same destination – a green.

In golf the cup is moved every two or three days. But that's not practical with a 21-inch cup that's big enough to hold a soccer ball.

Besides, the golf course doesn't have hole cutters big enough to dig such holes. "We just have our backs," he said.

One reason the golf course added footgolf was to further its connections to Tukwila's youth, Orr said.

"And, sometimes golf is not the avenue to meet some of the citizens," Orr said. "Golf has its image."

It seems to be working. Orr says that close to 90 percent of those playing footgolf have not set foot on the course. Most are young people, but not all and that's not the goal anyway, he said, and families have come out to play footgolf together.

Footgolf has met with some skepticism, mostly from golfers.

Footgolfers tend to run and bounce around – golfers are more orderly. And footgolfers are a little louder, Orr said.

The 21-inch cups aren't a hazard: they are covered, so they look similar to a sprinkler head. Besides, most of the cups are placed in areas where a golf ball shouldn't be, he said.

Someone might get hit in the head with a soccer ball, but Orr points out that happens with a golf ball, too.

"We feel a lot of the hesitation from some of the golfers was the not-knowing factor," Orr said.

But rarely do golfers and footgolfers meet on the course.

Footgolf is played only on Saturday and Sunday, with a start time of 3:30 p.m. The last golfer tees off at 2:30 p.m., so there may be some overlap, Orr said.

The first public rounds of footgolf were played in early June. In the first five weeks, more than 320 rounds were played. "We are very happy with that," Orr said. That number was expected to double in the following four weeks.

The footgolf course hosted more than 100 players in a tournament Aug. 2 put on by superfans of Sounder soccer, the Emerald City Supporters. Afterward, they gathered to watch the Sounder's game in the clubhouse.

For Orr, footgolf is the melding of his two favorite sports. "It's a blast," he said.

He's the driving force behind footgolf in Tukwila and hopes it takes off. And he hopes eventually to see some of those footgolfers try golf too.

"We felt it was another way to make that connection, to say, 'Come down here, see what we have,'" he said. "It's another thing that Tukwila Parks and Rec has to offer, what your tax dollars go to work for."

COST TO PLAY

$15.50, plus tax, for a total $18. Footgolfers get a discount on golf carts to promote their use. To book a tee time, call Foster Golf Links at 206-242-4221 or go online at www.fostergolflinks.com. Footgolfers can also schedule group events.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Here's golf and soccer pro Warren Orr's review of some of the footgolf holes:

• First hole: Footgolfers use the golf tee for this hole. "We wanted to tell them, 'Yes, you are going to be on a golf course'." It's hard to hit onto the fairway because of its slope. There's long grass, undulations and elevation changes. It's a par 4.

• Fourth hole: The way to the fairway is through the trees and there's a side hill and a bunker to carry. It's a par 5.

• Eighth hole: One of the most difficult, the 205-yard hole starts by a cottonwood, plays along the river's edge and through a tree line. It's a par 5.

• Ninth hole: Check out the visuals. "The bald eagles' nest is right up on top of the tree." It's a par 3.

• 14th hole: It's "a long beast of a hole," 230 to 260 yards depending on the placement of the tee. At the finish, footgolfers climb a hill, although it's not a huge hill. It's hard to stay on a ridge for an easier shot in.  Hit a little chip shot onto the green, with some back spin. (Footgolfers strike down on the soccer ball to create back spin.)

• 15th hole: This 75-yard hole is built to create that chance for a hole-in-one – "to have that moment," Orr says. The player stands high, looking down on the green. And the feeling, "That might go, that might go, that might." Someone had "that moment" on one of the first weekends of play.

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