A whole new ball game

By Li Ying Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-15 20:48:01

Will Chinese people fall in love with the combination of two age-old sports?

As a game that has already been popular in the West, footballgolf is only in its infancy in China, but there are reasons to believe that it will become a hit in the future. Photo: Courtesy of Mission Hills China

Golf is known as an elegant game while football is seen as a passionate and robust sport. But what happens when the two sports are combined, and a football is booted along a neat golf course?

"It felt terrific. I was so excited when kicking a football into a hole on the greens," said Man Heli'ao, a golfer who partnered with another player in August to finish runner-up at the footballgolf qualifying trials for the Mission Hills World Celebrity Pro-Am, in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. It was the first time the sport was introduced to the Chinese people.

Footballgolf, or footgolf, is a newcomer in the sports world. The game borrows the same structure and rules of golf, but instead of players using golf clubs to hit a golf ball into a hole in the least number of shots, players use their feet to kick a football. The player who takes the fewest kicks on each hole will be the winner. Each round of footballgolf is completed over 12 or 18 holes, depending on the course layout.

The game has developed quickly in Europe and the US. The UK-based One Stop Golf website describes it as the game for people "who wish they could play golf or football well but do not have the energy to run around a pitch."

In 2007, up to 50 people from Sweden and Germany alone expressed their willingness to compete in the first Footballgolf World Championship, according to Joakim Wiberg, president of the World Footballgolf Association (WFGA). In 2014, 250 people from 21 nations competed at the championship.

"Footballgolf is strongest in Denmark and Germany today, with Denmark having about 70 [footballgolf] courses," said Wiberg.

Although the combining of the two sports has been a success, the required skill sets for golf and football are very different. People often ask the question which sportsmen footballgolf favors the most, golfers or footballers.

In Man's opinion, golfers have the greater advantage in the sport, although he admits that his football training from childhood helps him better control the direction of a ball.

"It is the ability to read and consider the lines of a flying ball which is emphasized in golf, that has led me to win at the game," said Man.

However, Luan Chen, a retired footballer who also participated in the match in August, disagrees. Luan believes football skills are far more useful. "I rarely play golf, but my skills at long passing and arching balls have placed me in a favorable position," said Luan, once a professional player with Beijing Guo'an Football Club.

Zhu Dingyao, vice president of the golf and leisure resort Mission Hills China, believes promoting footballgolf will raise the profile of golf in China and allow more people have fun on the golf courses.

"In China, football is one of the most popular sports with up to 26 million participants, while golf has only 4 million. We want to let people know that there are amazing courses where they can play footballgolf, and that these courses are available and in close proximity to them," said Zhu.

But the ultimate question is, does footballgolf have the potential to be popularized among Chinese people?

Although still in its infancy, there is reason to suggest that it will be a hit. "When we opened the application process for the trial match in August, the 30 available spots were quickly reserved and we had to open another 30 spots to allow more people to join," said Zhu.

Liu Jin, a reporter with the China Golf magazine who also played in the trial match, agrees that the sport will attract Chinese people but it could be hard to promote due to a lack of golf clubs willing to provide their courses.

"Kicking a ball around a golf course, or digging a bigger hole (on a green) can damage courses, which may lead to the reluctance of golf clubs opening their doors," said Liu.

"The most practical way is that golf clubs spare a piece of lawn or practice range for the sport," suggested Liu.

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