SportsEvents Magazine

JAN 2018

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Page 33 of 75

January 2018 34 SPECIAL FEATURE: Awards & Recognition Issue Roberto Balestrini was searching for soccer games on TV from his native Argentina when he saw a show about a popular European sport that combined soccer and golf. Balestrini watched while two professional soccer players kicked a soccer ball on a golf course. He was hooked. After talking with his wife Laura about the concept, the couple who call Palm Springs, Calif., home, registered the American Foot- Golf League (AFGL) as a business. With the help of some friends, the AFGL expanded to Mexico, Canada and Puerto Rico. While creating a new sport in the United States is not easy, FootGolf in North America has been taking hold and growing since 2011. The first course opened in Wisconsin in 2012 and today, the sport is played under the Federation for International FootGolf (FIFG). Balestrini was named president of the FIFG and Laura Balestrini is president of the AFGL, the governing body for the sport in the U.S. In 2012, Balestrini was named one of the "10 Most Innovative People in Golf by Golf Inc . magazine and the sport is now played in all 50 states and 32 countries under FIFG. While played on golf courses, the sport is played with a #5 soccer ball with a 21-inch cup positioned on the rough away from where golfers play. Players wear golf attire and instead of using golf clubs, use their feet to kick the ball into the cup. Cleats are not allowed. The Balestrinis said footgolf is exposing a new generation to golf courses because the fast-paced game is affordable and safe for people of all ages. By estimates, more than 10,000 people book footgolf tee times each month at AFGL-affil- iated courses in North America and because footgolf is played on existing golf courses, entry to the sport is easy. By using the same landscape as golf, the golf industry has welcomed AFGL as a way to offer the two sports and expose golfers and soccer players into a combined sharing of space. With low start-up costs, footgolf may help golf maintain its popularity, bringing younger audiences and athletes from different backgrounds. But Balestrini hopes to expand beyond golf courses to schools, park districts, and other areas and he plans to develop a professional footgolf league. It may not be long before footgolf in the U.S. goes professional. In 2017, almost 2,000 players competed in qualifiers for the U.S. FootGolf National Championship and in 2016, the AFGL represented the nation in the FIFG World Cup. With a background in soccer and Laura's family history as golfers, the duo is the perfect match for leading footgolf in the U.S. and beyond. This year 30 courses in three regions are hosting AFGL Tour qualifying tournaments for the FIGA World Championships. Points will be earned and go toward the U.S. National Ranking 2018. Other courses will host AFGL Qualifiers for the U.S. FootGolf Nationals, but will not have ranking points. Glen Lakes Golf Club in Foley, Alabama will host the first AFGL Tour East Region February 17 for juniors, men, women and seniors, and the U.S. Open FootGolf Tournament 2018 will be April 26 at River Ridge Golf Club in Oxnard, Calif. n The U.S. Open FootGolf Tournament 2018 American FootGolf League Founder – Roberto Balestrini President – Laura Balestrini

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