Summer Fun Guide 2014: Kick Off

FootGolf is billed as a game for all ages. We bring three generations to see for ourselves.

The girls sense their advantage the minute we step onto the course.

I'm still holding my soccer ball and my father (whom they call Papa) is awkwardly kicking with his toe, while they fire precise passes to each other.

We haven't even teed off yet, but the feeling is that they've got this. Sure, they're only half our size, but they've been playing soccer since the age of 3 — and now Natalie is 7 and Audrey is 10.

We're here — at Mastick Woods golf course in the Cleveland Metroparks — to play FootGolf, a new sport that began in Europe and just debuted in Northeast Ohio this spring with the opening of this 18-hole course and a nine-hole one at Shawnee Hills in the Bedford Reservation.

The rules are simple. You tee off and try to get your ball in the oversized hole with as few kicks as possible. Kickers get a tee time, just like golfers, and play the greens in order. Using the same fairways, many of the FootGolf holes are within 20 feet or so of the regular golf greens.

It looks easy. The first flag is only 100 yards away. Giving it my best shot, though, I only get the ball about a third of the way. (Did I mention my only soccer experience was coaching Natalie's team when she was 4?)

We've heard that this course has been popular with teen and college-aged soccer players, many of whom run the entire way and are done in 45 minutes, but also with families like mine, who usually take about two hours. There are plans to put in a forward set of tees for younger kickers this summer, but we're playing the real thing.

The course is a par 71 and word is that the best score achieved so far is a 59. "I'm going to break it," says Audrey, who, fresh off the three goals she scored in her last Avon travel team game, is feeling confident.

It's warm and sunny, with blue skies and chirping birds, but the girls are focused on their scores. Papa has taken them to golf here many times before, but this is different. We are all equals; roughly kicking the ball the same distance. After the first five holes, it's anybody's game.

But, by the seventh hole, Papa can no longer resist the lure of the greens. He jaunts back to his car and returns with both his clubs and, sensing the girls could use a break, a golf cart stocked with vitaminwater. We carry on, with him hitting first.

For us, the biggest challenge is putting. In soccer, the ball is passed quickly, and it takes a while to pick up the soft touch needed to sink the ball.

With a little luck, I finish tied with Audrey and six strokes ahead of Natalie. Papa has managed to play a solid 11 holes of golf, while still cheering the girls on and making them laugh by kicking a golf ball one hole and then using his club to hit a soccer ball.

We set no records, but we have found a new way to enjoy a beautiful day together.

Share this story: