Bend it like Lefty?
As odd as the marriage might seem
— soccer and golf — it appears to be getting, well, a foothold. Roberto Balestrini,
founder of the American FootGolf League,
notes that he has 400 courses throughout
the nation participating. He figures that
number will climb to 1,000 — and it won’t
“It’s ready to explode,” he said.
And why not? Golf participation is
down. Soccer participation is growing. It
seems like a great way to pump some much
needed life into golf courses. “Why not
welcome these guys?” Balestrini said.
It’s a great way to introduce both millennials and minorities, such as Hispanics
— many of whom grew up on soccer — to
the world of golf, he said. Otherwise, most
would never set foot on a golf course, he
This new hybrid game captures their
imaginations, he said. It’s a simple one that
requires no equipment, other than a soccer
ball. Players aim for a hole that’s 21 inches
in diameter. The FootGolf course is laid
out parallel to the regular course, so golfers
don’t mix with the FootGolf players.
This is all quite new. The game dates
back formally to only 2009, when the
first FootGolf tournament was held in the
Balestrini saw the game on TV and
noticed one of the players was a young
Argentinian soccer star he had met earlier. (Balestrini splits his time between
Argentina, where he was born, and
California.) He asked his wife, Laura,
whose father and two brothers love golf,
“Would that work here?” She told him
honestly she was not sure. With her, he set
out to try, forming the American FootGolf
The idea generated press, including a
segment on HBO’s “Real Sports,” which
helped get courses interested in giving it a
try. Some were quite eager, given how they
were seeing rounds dwindle.
These FootGolf players, once introduced
to golf courses, may give golf a try, he said.
Courses could even lure them by offering
lessons. Like many, he’s worried for golf’s
future. Baby boomers still make up most of
“Will they take the greatest sport in the
world with them to the grave?” he asked.
He’s trying to prevent that.
General Manager and
Regional Operating Executive,
Royal Melbourne Country Club
Long Grove, Ill.
One of golf’s biggest criticisms
of late has been
sounded by just
about every top
thinker in the
game takes too
Got to speed it up. Got to make it go,
go, go, go …
Mark Freemott politely disagrees. He
thinks people should try and find the
time to play a leisurely round of golf. It’s
healthy. It’s a sweet break from our fast-
paced lifestyles. You’re outside. You’re in
the fresh air. It’s an antidote for what ails
us; it’s not what ails us.
“You can find the time if you make
it a priority,” said Freemott, the general manager at the Royal Melbourne
He’s big on the game, the way it brings
people together. It’s special and unique.
“I love everything about it,” he said.
However, he’s not a Pollyanna. He’s
fully aware that the club experience
needs to be more progressive and inclusive — as well as true to its roots.
“It’s a balancing act,” he said.
Young members want newer amenities and events geared for families.
Older members still relish their own
customs. Yet the two can fuse, he said.
One event he established highlights
wine, scotch and other drinks. It proved
to be popular with members in their 30s
to their 70s, he said.
Freemont has spent his life in golf,
having worked with KemperSports
since college. He started as an intern and
has moved up the corporate ladder with
a golf club firmly in hand.
He’s worked from coast to coast, from
Whiskey Creek Golf Club in Frederick,
Md., to Bandon Dunes in Bandon,
Ore., to name but two. He was named
KemperSports General Manager of the
Year in 2000, and the Royal Melbourne
was named Facility of the Year in 2014.
“I just really love this business,” he
American FootGolf League
Palm Springs, Calif.