Hitting the fairway: Footgolf aims to take over the United States

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What do you have when you take the complexities of golf and match them up with the physical demands of kicking a soccer ball?

It’s called Footgolf.

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The sport dates back to the late 1920s — when it was still a concept and was known as codeball — but is now finally gaining traction on a global scale as one of the hottest up-and-coming sports, and rivaling both soccer and golf.

AFGL
AFGL

The beauty of Footgolf is that it only takes a soccer ball and a player in order to participate. The objective is straightforward. In as few kicks as possible the player must attempt to get the soccer ball into a cup with a 21-inch diameter.

Just as it is when playing golf, the lengths on most traditional Footgolf courses range from par 3 (the shortest length) to par 5 (the longest).

In the U.S., soccer has made great strides over the years at both the club and international levels, while golf has seen its share of peaks as well during the height of the Tiger Woods-Era, but American Footgolf League (AFGL) founder Roberto Balestrini believes that it is footgolf that has the potential to captivate the country moving forward.

Pro Soccer Talk recently caught up with Balestrini following the release of the Federation for International Footgolf (FIFG) international calendar which features a full-year schedule for the 2017 World Tour, similar to that of the PGA Tour.

“Soccer players retire early in life due to injuries or just because it is difficult for many of them to perform at the highest level when they’re in their late 20’s, early 30’s,” Balestrini told PST. “The AFGL has created a structure where former soccer players can get back into the spotlight playing FootGolf. In a few more years, we will see many of them taking up this sport on the professional level to continue to use their athletic skill in a new way.”

Expectations for Footgolf in the U.S. are very high despite the AFGL’s brief existence. The organization was founded in 2011 but has quickly grown to house over 500 courses throughout the U.S. in 49 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For the time being, North Dakota is the lone state that doesn’t feature a Footgolf course.

While the AFGL’s steady growth is encouraging for Balestrini and those of the Footgolf community, the league president has his sights set on bigger goals in the future.

“The golf industry has welcomed AFGL because we’re introducing a new demographic to the industry,” Balestrini said. “Participation in golf is declining in an average of 1.3 percent per year for the past decade while soccer is increasing by over eight percent. Now golf is doing better and perhaps FootGolf have something to do with it, even in a very small percentage. We’re working on our relationship with the soccer industry now because we had to start on the golf side to initiate relationships with the golf courses to create the necessary structure for the FootGolf to be played around the country.

“There’s a lot of potential for us to work with both sides in order to get where we want to be in the future. We just have to keep working hard and over the next five years I believe we’ll be in the position we want to be at.”

In an effort to help gain more interest from traditional soccer players and supporters, the AFGL recently announced a partnership with the American Outlaws (the U.S. Men’s National Team’s biggest supporter group). The deal includes an American Outlaws-only Footgolf tournament which will be held in March in San Jose, California.

In 2016, the AFGL reported nearly 1,300 members participated in the U.S. Footgolf National Championship., however, that number is expected to double or possibly triple for the coming 12 months.

Images of the American Foot Golf, final day, at the Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Ca., on Sunday, November 6, 2016. Photo by Rodrigo Pena
Images of the American Foot Golf, final day, at the Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Ca., on Sunday, November 6, 2016. (Photo by Rodrigo Pena)

The current format for the AFGL is very similar to that of golf, with tournaments typically played on weekends over the course of one to sometimes three rounds, depending on the difficulty of the competition.

The country is divided into four regions — the Northeast, Midwest, South and West — with regional tournaments sporadically played throughout the calendar year in the lead up to the National Championship at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, California.

While the prize money doesn’t rival that of golf or other major sports in the U.S., several of the sport’s elite expect Footgolf to become just as profitable over the next few years.

Jordan Godfrey, one of the faces of the AFGL, believes its only a matter of time until the sport really hits its strides because of the different avenues that attract players.

“I don’t think we know how far down the line that is but with the right connections between the players and the leadership of the sport I know that we can get it there,” Godfrey told PST. “There’s huge potential that you can take from both sides, with the PGA and MLS and all of European soccer as well.

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AFGL

“You can use formats that soccer players understand as well as formats that fans of golf understand and combine the two in order to capture two large audiences. I think spectators could really enjoy watching the sport too and obviously we’d love to be living the life of the PGA Tour guys.”

Godfrey is one of many footgolfers to join the AFGL after having had a background in soccer earlier in life.

Julian Nash, a former MLS forward for the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, has also made the leap to Footgolf and seen early success during his time on the course. On the international scene, Roberto Fabian Ayala has also completed a similar route to Footgolf after having previous played for top European clubs like AC Milan and Valencia while also representing the Argentina national team.

In 2016, Sharif Khatib finished the year as the number one-ranked player on the AFGL Tour. It was his previously experience around the beautiful game that made him seek a competitive alternative once his playing days were over.

Like many others that have tried out Footgolf, Khatib became enamored with the sport immediately and has surrounded himself with it ever since.

“I grew up playing soccer my whole life and played Division I soccer in college at Loyola Marymount University,” Khatib told PST. “After I got out of college I wasn’t really playing competitive soccer anymore so I was looking for another sport to give me that adrenaline rush and something to compete in. My buddy told me about Footgolf and I was kind of intrigued by it when I first heard about it because of my soccer background and I figured it was a sport I could do well in.

“I went and played and ever since day one I’ve been in love with the sport. I felt like I had the skills to compete at the highest level so I’ve just been pursuing it over the years and been hoping to continue to get better each time I go out on the course.”

Sports are one of many channels that connect people throughout the world, and Footgolf is no different. With 35 official Footgolf federations spread across the globe, the opportunity for travel and to build relationships with players is what makes the sport’s future so attractive.

Angel Reyes — the 2016 U.S. National Championship winner — says that while his experiences domestically with Footgolf have been amazing that the sport’s opportunities to take him abroad have been not only eye-opening but a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It’s definitely a great experience with playing club back in the day,” Reyes said. “Now I play with my Footgolf club [Canyon City] and we have five or six guys that usually travel together and carpool for tournaments. Sharing hotels as well.

“It’s not just the brotherhood of the club either because you get to meet other people from Europe, South America, Asia, Oceania, Africa and many other places. You keep in touch with all these people from everywhere around the world and experience these places that I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to go to. I’m very thankful for that”

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 9

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This is getting good.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League club power rankings ]

Five teams sit within two points of the Premier League lead following nine weeks of play, and Champions League midweek action will only raise the potential for tumult atop the table.

And there are a number of eyebrow-raising litmus tests for mid-table sides once we reach another weekend of PL play.


20. Huddersfield Town — Scorers of four goals through nine matches, the Terriers were stout but non-threatening against Liverpool. Better needed, and fast, with points for the taking in their next six PL fixtures.
Last week: 20
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

19. Newcastle United — The weekend’s loss to Brighton and Hove Albion was the first one in some time which couldn’t be written off due to opponent or injury. That the Seagulls were without Davy Propper and still controlled the midfield is not a good sign for Rafa Benitez‘s punchless attack.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 19

18. Fulham — Fulham has allowed 25 goals through nine matches.

Googles “Most goals allowed in Premier League season.” 100, Swindon Town, 1993-94. 

That’s history-making pace, Slavisa.
Last week: 18
Season high: 11
Season low: 18

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17. Burnley — A week after drawing Huddersfield at home, the Clarets were absolutely worked by Man City. That happens. Chelsea, West Ham, and Leicester are next.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

16. Cardiff City — Huge win for the Bluebirds, who clobbered Fulham to show a bit of hope to their supporters ahead of trip to Anfield.
Last week: 19
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Crystal Palace — Three-straight league losses and a slumping Wilfried Zaha have taken the shine off Roy Hodgson‘s tenure at Selhurst Park. A visit from high-flying Arsenal in next.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 15

14. Southampton — A visit from Newcastle provides Saints an inviting chance to experience breathing room from the relegation race.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. West Ham United — Andriy Yarmolenko‘s injury is a concern for an attack which was coming together. Two-straight losses, but a litmus test at Leicester City awaits the Irons.
Last week: 12
Season high: 9
Season low: 20

12. Leicester City — Maybe the most difficult team in the league to read on a week-to-week basis, the Foxes were a bit hard done by after taking a lead at Arsenal. See: West Ham for prognosis.
Last week: 11
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back wins have Chris Hughton‘s men envisioning a run up the table, and a win over Wolves would be wonderful for those ambitions.
Last week: 10
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

10. Wolves — A 2-0 home loss to Watford? We didn’t see that coming.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

9. Watford — Javi Gracia‘s men are capable of any result in the book on any given week. Can they built on win at Wolves by getting an expected win when Huddersfield visits?
Last week: 14
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

8. Everton — Three-straight wins on the road to Old Trafford, and a fixture worth circling on Sunday.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

7. Bournemouth — There have been few stumbles this season for Eddie Howe‘s men, who simply must handle their business at Fulham this weekend.
Last week: 6
Season high: 6
Season low: 12

6. Manchester United — Where’s the mentality? That’s the question after a comeback win over Newcastle and draw with Chelsea yielded to Tuesday’s loss to Juventus. If Mourinho has hold of this crew, it’ll be just fine when Everton arrives on Sunday. If he doesn’t?
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

5. Chelsea — The draw with Manchester United keeps Chelsea unbeaten, but the Blues have just one win in their last four PL matches. A trip to Burnley three days after Europa League duty is next.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

4. Spurs — Four-straight wins, three away from home and three without conceding a goal. Hugo Lloris and Tottenham are breathing a bit easier and have until Monday to regroup and face Man City.
Last week: 7
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

3. Liverpool — Here’s the good news: Liverpool’s first “slump” of the year has cost them very little and includes a number of “gut it out” results. Expect the Reds to “get healthy” at Cardiff.
Last week: 4
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

2. Arsenal — A tricky week for the red-hot Gunners, who start a Europa League pair with Sporting Lisbon before visiting desperate Crystal Palace. Arsenal has now won 10-straight in all competitions under Unai Emery since losing its first two matches of the PL season.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 9

1. Man City — Kevin De Bruyne is back, and the Citizens are basically beating back anything in their path. A trip to Tottenham is next.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

Champions League wrap: Dzeko dominates again; Real wins (just)

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Another terrific day in the UEFA Champions League saw goals, fine finishes, and star performances across Europe.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]


Roma 3-0 CSKA Moscow

Powerful striker Edin Dzeko scored twice and assisted Cenzig Under’s 50th minute marker as Roma joined Real Madrid on six points in Group G.

How about a little love for Dzeko, by the way? The Bosnia and Herzegovina striker has five goals for Roma in this season’s UCL, and has 17 goals and seven assists in 23 appearances for Roma in the competition.

[ READ: PST’s talk with Dzeko on Serie A chase ]

Manchester United 0-1 JuventusRECAP

A spirited second half wasn’t enough for Jose Mourinho’s men to overcome another sloppy start, as Paulo Dybala’s 17th minute goal holds up at Old Trafford.

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Manchester CityRECAP

David Silva‘s star show could’ve produced 7 or 8 goals, but he’ll settle for the match winner as Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte also scored to send Man City atop its group.

Hoffenheim 3-3 Lyon

Talk about a back-and-forth affair.

Lyon led 1-0 and 3-2, in between overcoming a 2-1 deficit, but fell apart in stoppage time as Hoffenheim kept its UCL hopes alive via a Joelinton stoppage time finish.

Andrej Kramaric had the Bundesliga club’s other goals, while Bertrand Traore, Tanguy Ndombele, and Memphis Depay bagged goals for Lyon.

Hoffenheim and Shakhtar are three points back of Lyon and four behind Man City after three matches.

Real Madrid 2-1 Viktoria Plzen

Wobby Real built a 2-0 lead through Karim Benzema and Marcelo, but Slovakian midfielder Patrik Hrosovsky’s 78th minute goal gave the champions quite a fright at home.

Young Boys 1-1 Valencia

Michy Batshuayi struck first, but this one was all Young Boys. The Swiss side converted a 55th minute penalty through Guillaume Hoarau and out shot the La Liga side 18-8.

Ajax 1-0 Benfica

Dutch-born Moroccan right back Noussair Mazraoui scored in stoppage time to move Ajax level with Bayern Munich and in pole position to reach its first Champions League knockout round since 2005-06.

AEK Athens 0-2 Bayern Munich

Scoreless at halftime, Javi Martinez and Robert Lewandowski scored within a 3-minute run at Bayern. It was a fine leaping volley for Martinez.

Mourinho praises Manchester United effort, Juve center backs

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In case you haven’t heard, Jose Mourinho wanted defensive reinforcements this summer and Manchester United was largely unable to deliver any.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-1 Juventus ]

Was Mourinho slyly pointing the finger again after Juventus beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League?

Maybe, or maybe he just really admires Juventus’ center backs.

The United manager mentioned center back Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini no less than three times in his recap of the loss, praising The Old Lady as well as his own side’s effort. From the BBC:

“Juventus is a different level of quality, I have to be honest. A level of quality, stability, experience, know how. The base of the team they have Bonucci and Chiellini.

“That’s the base that allows them to play with the freedom in attack. ‘Lose the ball, no problem, we are here’. We could deserve a goal for the effort of the boys but it was not possible. I have no complaints with my boys. I have a positive feeling for their effort.”

Bonucci admitted that United tried to sign him from AC Milan this summer before the 31-year-old opted for a return to Juventus.

United hosts Everton and goes to Bournemouth in the Premier League before heading to Turin for a rematch with Juventus. After that, it’s the tiny matter of a Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium.

Man City atop group after blowout in Ukraine

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David Silva shone once again as Manchester City dominated Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 at Donbass Arena in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday.

Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte joined David Silva on the score sheet.

Hoffenheim’s late equalizer versus Lyon means Man City summits Group F at the midpoint, a point ahead of the Ligue 1 side and four clear of Hoffenheim and Shakhtar.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Andriy Pyatov stopped Gabriel Jesus on one of City’s numerous early chances.

It was all City, but the finish wasn’t quite there. Riyad Mahrez was perhaps the biggest culprit, as playmaker David Silva provided ammunition for several goals.

So Silva just went and did the thing himself, making it 1-0 in the 30th minute with a volleyed finish of a blocked shot.

Floodgates opened? It seemed so, as Laporte notched a 34th minute marker, but Shakhtar held into halftime.

Bernardo scored a 70th minute goal soon after subbing into the match.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]