A player teed up on a recent Saturday afternoon at Steel Canyon Golf Club in Sandy Springs and nailed a hole in one. His buddies had the usual response.

“Gooooooooaaaalllll!” they shouted.

Victor Vazquez watches a FootGolf shot go in the hole at Steel Canyon Golf Club along with fellow players, from left, Julio Martinez, Cesar Martinez and Rodrigo Garcia. (Phil Mosier)

If that sounds more like soccer than golf, it’s because the men were playing a combination of both. FootGolf, as it’s known, involves kicking a soccer ball into an oversized golf hole drilled into the fairway of a regular course. The sport was invented in Europe in the 1990s, but only recently came to America, where there’s now a professional American FootGolf League.

Steel Canyon appears to be the only course in the immediate metro Atlanta area that offers FootGolf, though farther-flung courses in Blairsville, Rome and Social Circle have it.

“The first time I heard it, I was pretty skeptical,” said Scott Busch, the owner and general manager of Steel Canyon, about the newfangled European sport. But when another course operator told him it was a hit, he gave it a try. He configured the Steel Canyon links for FootGolf last year, figuring it might fill in some wintertime business.

Cesar Martinez kicks from a tee, while Victor Vazquez looks on. (Phil Mosier)

“It actually sort of exploded,” Busch said, describing it as drawing thousands of players by word of mouth. “We’ll get entire soccer teams coming out,” including the Oglethorpe University squad, he said, adding it’s also popular for kids’ birthday parties and groups of millennials.

FootGolf’s rules are much like that of regular golf, and so is the goal: get the ball in the hole with as few tries as possible. The difference is kicking a soccer ball instead of hitting a golf ball with a club, and doing it on an abbreviated course. At Steel Canyon, the 18 FootGolf holes – each 22 inches wide, Busch says – are drilled into the front nine fairways on a shortened course-within-the-course. The FootGolf course yardages range from 46 to 160 and the holes have golf-style pars of 3 to 5 kicks.

Arturo Lozano holds the flag while Freddie Funes sinks a putt and Alex Flores looks on. (Phil Mosier)

Superimposing a FootGolf course onto a regular course can spark some cultural clashes, Busch acknowledged. Especially in the beginning, he said, “golfers were freaked out to have soccer players right in the middle of the them” and vice versa. Steel Canyon has adopted a special time just for FootGolf players to minimize that mixing.

However, some conflicts were still evident during the recent Saturday game. The director of a junior golf competition playing nearby holes twice had to ask the FootGolfers to quiet down, and another group of golfers said that if they had known FootGolf was underway, they would have played at another course. Busch said the junior golfers arrived late for their tournament and would not have shared the course with FootGolfers otherwise.

Freddie Funes drives the ball down a fairway while Rodrigo Garcia watches. (Phil Mosier)

The tradeoff is opening up the pleasures of the golf course to people who wouldn’t play otherwise, Busch said. Aside from the kicking, FootGolf has the similar appeal of spending time talking with friends in a strolling game across the landscape.

“It’s a lot easier than golf. That’s the primary appeal,” Busch said, adding that only about 7 to 8 percent of Americans play golf. And it can be appealing even to a golf course owner.

“Sometimes I have more fun … playing foot golf,” Busch said, calling FootGolf “all of the fun … with none of the grief.”

For more about FootGolf at Steel Canyon, see steelcanyongolfclub.com.

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