GREENFIELD — According to the Professional Golfers Association, 500 golf courses in the United States have closed since 2006. Blamed in part on the recession, the negative effect on the links is expected to continue, the PGA said, even as the economy recovers.
Howard Holtzclaw and his family aren’t taking the downturn lying down. In fact, they’re coming out kicking.
Shekinah Golf Course, on Davis Road in Greenfield across from Brandywine Park, has been converted from a traditional par-3 course into one for footgolf.
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Footgolf, a combination of soccer and golf, is a craze that took off in Europe over the past decade and is gaining traction in this country. Five footgolf courses opened in central Indiana in the past year.
“We weren’t really making money, and we thought maybe this would help turn that around,” said Holtzclaw, son of Shekinah owner Marlene Holtzclaw. “We did a little research first, of course, on footgolf. It’s very much an up-and-coming sport.”
Alli Frazier is an early believer. A competitive soccer player and occasional golfer, Frazier tried out the Shekinah footgolf layout on Saturday with her brother and parents.
Frazier, a 2014 Greenfield-Central graduate and former midfielder for the Cougars, said the sport is accessible to experienced “footballers” as well as to novices.
“You can adapt to it real easily,” she said. “My mom has never played soccer, and she had so much fun. My mom and dad, neither one, have played soccer, and they both loved it.
“It’s just a fun, easy family sport. Anybody can do it.”
Essentially, footgolf is golf played with a soccer ball utilizing mostly traditional golf rules. Instead of using clubs to hit a small dimpled golf ball toward the green, players kick a regulation soccer ball down the fairway and into a 21-inch wide cup, keeping count of their kicks along the way. Holes at the nine-hole Shekinah course are in the 150-yard range. And, unlike many footgolf courses, which maintain a regular golf course while placing the soccer-ball size cups off to the side of the green, Shekinah has gone all in on footgolf.
“We took the golf out of it completely,” said Howard Holtzclaw, who helps run the course with his sister, Donieta Holtzclaw. “We put the 21-inch cups actually on the green themselves. The amount of investment was fairly minimal.”
The Holtzclaws’ father, the late Lewis Holtzclaw, built Shekinah in 2001. In Hebrew, Shekinah means “heaven came down.”
When Lewis Holtzclaw created Shekinah, it’s unlikely he or anyone else could have predicted the footgolf craze. Its origins are debated, although the sport began to pop up in several European countries in the mid-2000s. In 2008, the first official tourney was conducted in the Netherlands.
It didn’t take long before United States golf courses latched on to footgolf as a way to diversify financially and possibly attract a different set of customers. More than 500 footgolf courses, roughly the same number of traditional golf courses that have shuttered the past 10 years, are in operation in the U.S.
In Indiana, the sport has a key backer. Ted Bishop of The Legends in Franklin and the former PGA of America president, opened the state’s first footgolf course in Franklin last year. Bishop is also a founder of the Indiana Footgolf Association.
“I think the thing that excites me is that you’ve got the chance here to bring people in who are soccer-crazy and to give them the opportunity to go to the golf course, experience some things at the course,” Bishop told pga.com. “And I think it would be ludicrous to think there won’t be a percentage of those people that might say, ‘Hey, you know what? I think I’d like to try and play golf.’”
Shekinah is sanctioned by the IFGA and the U.S. Footgolf Association. In addition to Greenfield and Franklin, there are footgolf layouts in Pendleton, Fishers, Westfield, Fort Wayne, Frankfort and Leo.
For Howard Holtzclaw, with the usual golf holes gone from Shekinah, he isn’t trying to attract new links players. Sitting directly across from Brandywine Park, where hundreds of local youngsters descend each week for recreational and travel soccer leagues, Shekinah is in perfect position to convert some of the soccer crowd into footgolfers, according to Neal Singco.
“When we first heard that they were switching over, I called him and I told him that we’ve got do whatever we can to help the footgolf course,” said Singco, the Greenfield Area Soccer Club director of coaching and longtime board member. “Because it’s a great opportunity for our kids.”
Between the soccer club and its partner program, USF Real, close to 1,500 boys and girls take part in soccer programs at Brandywine in the spring and fall seasons, Singco noted. In addition to local squads trying out footgolf, he envisions travel clubs from around the state who visit Greenfield to take on local teams popping by Shekinah for team-bonding soccer exercises.
“It’s a fun way to do the technical work,” Singco added. “The technical work being kicking: long game, short game, finessing the ball. And in situations you don’t normally have it, like bending it around a tree, over a hill and over sandtrap and all that stuff.
“It adds a good little twist to the game that all the kids love to play. And it’s always fun to watch that ball drop into that great big cup.”
A formal grand opening at Shekinah is planned for Saturday.
Frazier, the former Greenfield-Central soccer standout and current University of Indianapolis sophomore, had one question for the Holtzclaws over her family’s weekend sneak peek.
“We asked if they have season passes,” she said. “They haven’t done that yet, but we will definitely be returning multiple times.
“We’ve played golf there, and they’ve just done a really good job with the transition. They’ve just made it a whole different experience, and it’s awesome.”
The first footgolf tournament was organized in the Netherlands in 2008. Today, over 500 footgolf courses exist in the United States, with eight Indiana courses sanctioned by the United State Footgolf Association. The newest of those USFGA courses is Shekinah in Greenfield. Footgolf is a combination of soccer and golf, with rules similar to that of golf. Essentially, players kick a regulation size soccer ball until they strike it into a 21-inch cup on the green. A few other footgolf rules:
2. Wait to play until the ball has completely come to rest. (It is not legal to stop the ball from rolling with the wind).
3. Kick off your ball from a position up to two meters behind the round markers (tee markers).
4. The order is established based on the score of the previous hole. The player with the best score will be the first to kick off on the next hole followed by the second, etc.
5. The player farthest from the hole is the first to kick the ball.
6. If the ball lands in a water hazard, retrieve or replace it within two steps from the closest land point from where the ball entered the water, receiving one penalty point, or you can place the ball at the position of the previous kick and receive one penalty point.
7. Only on the greens may the balls be picked up to be cleaned or replaced.
Source: pga.com, usfga.com