Three different colored flags dot the lush green hills and grassy glens of Sun Valley Golf Course.
The red flags lining the outer perimeter indicate the area in which the regulation course is played; the white flags along ground level designate the course’s par 3 green. And those yellow flags? Those point out the holes for footgolf.
What? You think I made that up? Believe it or not, it’s a real sport. And Sun Valley Golf Course has already begun to offer the activity to customers willing to give it a shot.
Jeff Donaldson, who co-owns the golf course on Military Road with his wife Carmen, said the sport -- as its name suggests -- is a combination of golf and soccer. When compared to the lifespan of its mother and father sports, footgolf is relatively new in the United States. In fact, Donaldson is still learning more about it.
“It’s all new to us,” he said. “I’m more of a golfer, but from the research I’ve done, it looks like the official sport started in the United States in 2011. There [may be] more than 500 courses right now.”
And now Sun Valley has been added to that list. The nine-hole footgolf course fits nicely into Sun Valley’s existing par 3 green. Donaldson said nine, 21-inch cups were installed onto the grounds in preparation for the new addition. With a collection of brightly colored size five soccer balls available for rent at the clubhouse, Sun Valley is ready for the kickoff.
The game is structured around the same rules as golf. Players “tee off” and aim to land the ball in the cup in as few tries or strokes as possible. Penalties add points to players’ scores if the ball lands out of bounds or in hazards, much like golf.
"It's scored exactly like golf," said Donaldson. "If you get next to a tree, you can't move it. You either take a penalty and drop it away from it or try to hit it. If you go in the sand, you play it out of the sand. If you go in the water, you retrieve it and add one penalty stroke."
The player with the lowest score after nine holes wins.
The only differences are players are using their feet instead of clubs and the ball is much larger in size. Best of all: You don’t have to be a seasoned player to pick up the sport and play a round with friends.
“From what I’m gathering, it’s more of a social sport,” he said. “Anybody can do it. You don’t have to have a ton of athletic ability to kick a ball.”
That does, however, help. During the first week footgolf was available at Sun Valley, Donaldson said a team of college students gave it a shot.
“They were some guys from Briar Cliff and one of the guys was a soccer player and he shot a 31, so he’s got the course record,” Donaldson said of the 33 par footgolf course. The record has since been beaten.
Footgolf may be the first sport besides golf to be played at Sun Valley since it opened in 1959.
“This is kind of our first venture outside of traditional golf,” said Donaldson. “We got a par 3 course and what we call a regulation course that’s a little longer on the outside. But this is really the first time really anything has been added in our four years that [Carmen and I] have been here.”
In other parts of the world, mainly Europe, footgolf has become an organized sport, complete with players donning knickers, tube socks and Ben Hogan caps during tournament play. The United States also has its fair share of competitive footgolf leagues. The sport continues to grow, which is partly why Donaldson thought to add it at Sun Valley.
“We have the perfect layout for it,” he said. “We have the only par 3 course around and I think it’s perfect for a par 3 golf course. And we just want to keep up with the times. We heard it’s really popular out on the West Coast and down South. It’s coming this way so we thought, ‘Why not try it?’”
Donaldson said the sport is likely to attract a wide range of people. Odds are soccer players will have an edge and enjoy the variety. Likewise for golfers familiar with the game’s structure and rules.
“I don’t know – it’s new to all of us! But we will find out.”
Footgolf is available to Siouxlanders at any time during Sun Valley's opening hours.