SportsEvents Magazine

JAN 2018

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Page 40 of 75 January 2018 41 t SPORT Report Balestrini and his wife, Laura, launched the AFGL later that year and it has grown officially from there. "After that, with the help of some colleagues, we did the same in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada," he said. "Today, footgolf is played under the Federation for Inter- national FootGolf (FIFG) in the entire North American continent." Balestrini serves as FIFG president. Since 2012, the FIFG has been recog- nized as the world's governing body for the sport and the AFGL is the governing body for the sport in the U.S. In 2015, Balestrini was named one of the "10 Most Innovative People in Golf" by Golf Inc. magazine for his efforts that, according to the Professional Golf Association (PGA), may ultimately revive the game of golf— or at least utilize its courses in a different way. Today, under the direction of the FIFG, footgolf is played in 32 countries. At the national level, it's expanded into all 50 states (North Dakota was No. 50), the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories in the Caribbean, according to the FIFG and Balestrini. Playing For Kicks Perhaps more like golf than soccer, foot- golf can be played on a golf course or a course specifically designed for the sport. It can be played alone or as a team. Feet and a regulation soccer ball take the place of clubs and the much smaller golf ball. Starting from a tee box, players kick the ball toward a 21-inch cup, avoiding various bunkers, trees, water and hills, just as in golf, and whomever finishes with the fewest number of kicks wins. Unlike golf, footgolf moves at a faster pace and doesn't require pricey equip- ment, making it more accessible. Like golf, it's a non-contact sport so it's a "very safe game," according to Balestrini. Among soccer players particularly, the sport is gaining traction, said Balastrini. "Soccer players and their families are discovering the sport," he said, "and our phone is ringing off the hook with ques- tions and requests for information, mostly tournaments, events and competitions." But, he said, the sport is not just for "soccer people." "People of all ages can kick a soccer ball and walk towards a 21-inch cup located yards away from golf greens," Balastrini said. "But millennials and kids are by far" the most engaged players. Enticing millennials to golf courses, even to play a variation on the traditional game, holds promise. As reported in a 2017 January SportsEvents article, that demographic is losing interest in tradi- tional golf and an overall exodus from the sport has led to the closure of more than 160 golf courses since 2013, according to the World Golf Association. Par for the Course Though international interest in soccer is greater, the U.S. is well equipped to expand the reach of the sport, according to Balestrini. "Europe, South America and Asia have more soccer fans than us but we have thousands of golf courses in America and every day new people discover footgolf, he said. "Recreationally, we estimate around 10,000 players book footgolf tee times every month at AFGL-affiliated courses." Because footgolf can be played on existing golf courses, Balestrini took the game there first. But he said the focus now is on expanding the sport's reach beyond the greens. "We started with golf courses and we are now working with park districts, schools, soccer complexes, churches, municipalities, private companies," he said. "Everybody wants their own footgolf course affiliated with the AFGL to promote or enjoy what Ballestrini calls the best game ever invented!" For now, Balestrini said he is focused on making sure all AFGL courses are up to the sport's standard but he's set ► Retired American soccer player Amy Wambach and others at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Sharif Katib prepares to kick.

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