UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. – “Footgolf,” a novel sport the rules for which were only worked out less than a decade ago, is beginning to take off in Japan, although its players didn’t quite make the impact they hoped to when Japan made its first appearance in the sport’s world cup earlier this month.
Footgolf is played with a soccer ball instead of a golf ball, and the ball is kicked rather than struck with a club. The aim is to take the fewest number of kicks to complete 18 holes, with each “cup” measuring about 50 cm in diameter.
The rules were established in the Netherlands in 2009, but the sport is now played widely in the United States and Europe, according to the Japan FootGolf Association, established in February 2014.
The first FootGolf World Cup was held in Hungary in 2012, and the second one in Argentina over a five-day period from Jan. 6.
The Japanese team set an ambitious goal of winning the tournament on its debut to raise public recognition of the sport in Japan. Among those selected to join the 16-strong team, based on records in domestic games, was Satoshi Horinouchi, 36, a retired soccer pro who played for clubs such as the Urawa Reds in the J. League premier league.
“We would like to make a great leap forward this year toward further promoting the sport by winning the World Cup,” said Shimpei Matsuura, 43, head of the Japanese association, before the event kicked off in Buenos Aires.
But Japan failed to join a group of eight countries qualifying for team competition on the basis of the results of individual players.
Despite the disappointment, footgolf is thriving as a leisure sport and now has more than 10,000 players, the association said.
At present, three golf clubs, in Tochigi, Hyogo and Shizuoka prefectures, have set up specialized courses for footgolf.
On a recent Saturday, Miyoko Takura, a 50-year-old self-employed woman from Tokyo, played footgolf with two family members at Kento’s Golf Club in Utsunomiya in Tochigi.
“Kicking a ball in the middle of nature made me feel good,” she said. “It’s a sport both men and women can enjoy.”
Former Urawa Reds player Horinouchi said the sport required him to form new skills.
Footgolf “is different from soccer because you need the ball to stop at a targeted place and you have to read the way the ground slopes,” he said.