Feature Article - February 2015
Find a printable version here

Out of the Ordinary

Making Fun Park Games Work

By Chris Gelbach


Foot Golf Kicks Off

Unlike disc golf, FootGolf is ideally suited for use on existing golf courses. In fact, it was designed for it. For this reason, its best use is for park districts and clubs that wish to boost interest in underused golf courses. Like disc golf, it too is experiencing rapid growth.

According to Roberto Balestrini, founder of the American FootGolf League, more than 300 FootGolf courses have been installed on existing golf courses in 43 U.S. states since 2011. And because it can be played on existing golf courses, it can be implemented with minimal initial costs.

"Out of the 300 courses, we don't have a single one that has lost money," Balestrini said. "The average golf course recovers at least 10 times their initial investment based on $1,500 for nine holes or $3,000 for 18 holes with flags and everything."

In the sport, players kick a regulation soccer ball into 21-inch holes, which are typically installed in the rough at least 20 yards away from the green and away from the typical landing areas of golf balls. Eighteen holes of FootGolf can normally fit onto a nine-hole golf course.

Because the average person can only kick the ball 60 yards or so, according to Balestrini, one hole of FootGolf can be set up on a par three hole of a golf course. Two holes can typically fit on a par four, and three holes on a par five. With this setup, a foursome of FootGolfers can play 18 holes on a nine-hole course in roughly the same amount of time that a golf foursome can play nine holes.

"In that way, you can send back to back a foursome of golfers and FootGolfers if you wish," Balestrini said. "Usually, you charge the same for 18 holes of FootGolf as you would for nine holes of golf."

In FootGolf, the ball spends much more time rolling on the ground than it does in golf. Players also need to wait until the ball floats back to shore if they hit the ball into a water hazard. For these reasons, FootGolf is less suited for courses that are exceptionally hilly and feature a lot of water. "FootGolf is not for every golf course," Balestrini said. For this reason, it's important to consult with a knowledgeable expert when considering a course's feasibility and design.

According to Balestrini, one of the plusses of the sport is its ability to attract millennials, which he says is FootGolf's top demographic. "Not many 25-year-olds play golf twice a week," Balestrini said. "So, with a soccer ball, you can bring in people that have never spent a penny in a golf facility before."

Mini Golf Putts Along

While the decline in golfing's popularity has created an opening for sports like FootGolf, it may also be auguring a return for mini golf to its more whimsical roots. Chris Foster, vice president of sales and marketing for a builder of mini golf courses and other custom-fabricated structures based in Jackson, Wis., noted that in the 1980s, more mini golf courses shifted to putting-style courses. It is a trend that has now started to regress.

"You're seeing more brightly colored obstacles and even mechanized obstacles becoming more prevalent," Foster said. As examples, he cited a few recent projects that used whimsical factory elements with factory gears and conveyor belts that lift the ball up and drop it into another location. These features are typically more streamlined and sophisticated than the windmills of yesteryear.

Each of these fun games presents its own unique challenges and opportunities. And doing them right is crucial for facilitating their maximum profitability and customer appeal.

According to Foster, the scope of a course's design often hinges on whether the course is being designed as a pay-to-play attraction or as just a free amenity being added to a resort or other facility. Fee-based attractions typically offer the most elaborate and sophisticated course designs.

In park settings, Foster has seen recent clients still favoring naturalistic courses that are nicely landscaped as opposed to embracing the mechanized or blacklight features that are dominating other new courses. A more natural approach often blends in more seamlessly to a park environment, and can also cut back on the greater maintenance that is required with mechanized features.