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FootGolf, a hybrid sport with links to soccer, gets a local toehold

FootGolf, a hybrid of golf and soccer, has spiked quickly, with 170 courses across U.S. adapted to the game

So I'm kicking the ball around a golf course in Arcadia. Nothing new there, for I've always been good at the deft heel kick from behind a too-fat tree, or out of a lousy lie.

But this is different. In FootGolf, you're supposed to kick the ball. Obviously, FootGolf is right up my Hogan's Alley.

Constantly on the lookout for another sport to conquer, I'm now trying FootGolf, the fledgling hybrid of soccer and golf. Heard about this? Me neither, till about seven seconds ago. These days, everything in America seems to happen in seven-second bursts. News cycles. Epidemics. Marriage.

Like me, this is a sport that was born yesterday. FootGolf was purportedly first played in the Netherlands in 2009, then exported throughout Europe and across the pond, and came to the U.S. a mere two years ago.

It has spiked quickly, though. There are now 170 courses adapted to FootGolf across the U.S., 25 in California alone. At least three are a manageable drive from downtown L.A. — Arcadia, Valencia and Lake Forest (info: http://www.gofootgolf.com).

Here's how it works: FootGolf is played on standard golf courses, following the established layout. The holes are different — 21 inches, or the diameter of trash-can lids — and set to the right or left of the regular green. A size 5 soccer ball is regulation (bring your own or rent).

Tees are standard; playing times are faster. A twosome can finish 18 holes in about two hours. Foursomes can be split between regular golf and FootGolf.

"Families can go out and the parents play regular golf and the kids play FootGolf," says Karl Smith, from the pro shop at Arcadia Par 3, a.k.a. Arcadia Golf Course.

As with anything new, traditional golfers were skeptical. But at Arcadia the other day, the grandpas all seemed cool with sharing the course. FootGolfers get tee times just like everyone else. But since the holes are located off to the side, we were able to play through without inconveniencing other golfers.

To be sure, it's a funky marriage — golfers and soccer players. My guess is that this hybrid sport won't be showing up anytime soon at Lakeside or Annandale.

But it's a way for muni courses to recoup some of the losses of the past decade, when revenues dropped and costs escalated — minimum-wage laws and healthcare expenses among the biggest challenges.

Meanwhile, golf's attrition rates have been startling.

"For every three who drop, only two new players join," Arcadia General Manager Jesse Sanford says, dating the trend to 2007.

So for troubled courses, FootGolf can seem a lifeline.

Indeed, if you can tie your shoe, you can probably play FootGolf, as opposed to traditional golf, which takes years — and several nervous breakdowns — to learn.

More like soccer than golf, FootGolf is suited to most AYSO-playing 7-year-olds. Tee shots are your basic clearing-kick blast, but the short game relies on reading the terrain and allowing for roll. On bone-dry SoCal courses, over-shooting your putts quickly becomes an agonizing habit.

Sure enough, my scorecard looks much like my regular golf scorecard — bogey, double-bogey, birdie, par, bogey, par.... On the fifth hole, I actually get the kick yips on a four-foot putt, scuffing the shot and missing an easy par.

The good news: The 21-inch bucket-hole, with a removable pin, means you can nail more 20-yard approaches than you would with your Titleist. Soccer players who are used to launching a lot of goal kicks will do well on tee shots. Midfielders who are crisp passers likely would excel at the short game.

"Wait to play your next shot until the ball has completely come to rest," the rules say. "It is not legal to stop the ball from rolling from the wind."

Really, such things are up to you.

Were I a soccer coach looking to liven up a practice, I'd bring my team out here and make them play the first nine holes right-footed, then the back nine with their lefts.

Were I a team parent, looking for a creative team-party option, this would be it.

In its third month of FootGolf, the Arcadia course is seeing about 200 rounds a month, and the general manager says the course is booking more and more tournaments. On Saturday, for example, the Glendora high girls golf team is showing up, and half of the girls will play FootGolf.

What separates real sports from picnic sports? Does FootGolf have any staying power, once the novelty wears off? Is soccer-golf more than a seven-second marriage?

Questions are for lawyers and losers, not competitors like you and me.

All I know is I kicked a 91, a mere 20 over par. And I didn't hurl a 9-iron once.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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