The World Cup is coming to Japan this year. No, not the Olympics, and that is not a typo about last year’s rugby tournament.
Japan will host the global championships of footgolf this autumn when as many as 1,000 people are expected to descend on the Seven Hundred Club in the city of Sakura, Tochigi Prefecture, to compete for the sport’s top crown.
At the risk of stating the obvious, footgolf is a form of golf played with the foot, specifically by kicking a soccer ball into a cup, preferably in fewer kicks than one’s opponents. The sport is played on a regular golf course modified to suit the sport, which of course includes having holes that fit soccer balls.
The Federation for International FootGolf (FIFG) selected the Tochigi golf club to host the first World Cup to be held in Asia. The Seven Hundred Club is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Its footgolf course opened only in 2019 and the club has already hosted events on the Japan FootGolf Association (JFGA) tour.
Tadahiro Kobayashi is president of the Seven Hundred Club, which was started by his father and grandfather in 1980. Though Kobayashi is not from the city and does not live in Sakura, he wants the club to have a strong connection to the local community.
“Local residents often see golf courses as things that are built by capitalists who live in big cities far away. They bulldoze the satoyama (mountains and woods shared and maintained by residents of the adjacent rural communities) and cut down trees, taking them away from the community forever. I don’t want our club to be like that,” he said.
Footgolf is part of that mission, and might also be good for business. Kobayashi cited the declining popularity of golf among younger people in Japan, who are hesitant to spend so much time and money on a leisure activity. “Footgolf is easy to learn. Any-one can just show up and play,” he said.
In the spirit of making things accessible to a wider range of people, the club has a number of other initiatives. For starters, it has introduced electric scooters, which footgolfers can use in lieu of bulky golf carts to get around the course. The clubhouse plans to add a small cafe that will be open to the public, which will serve fair-trade coffee and food made from regional ingredients. Kobayashi is also considering creating a “forest kindergarten” — a style of child care that is held mostly outdoors — on the grounds of the club to give local parents another option for their little ones.
The 2,577-yard footgolf course at Seven Hundred was designed by Yoichi Takahashi, who is not known for creating footgolf courses, but is famous as the creator of the manga “Captain Tsubasa,” a wildly popular comic book series about soccer from the 1980s. The famed manga artist is an avid footgolfer who serves as an official ambassador to the JFGA.
“I want the World Cup to be an opportunity to show that new endeavors are possible at Japanese golf courses,” Kobayashi said.
The tournament is scheduled to run from Sept. 23 to Oct. 4. Kobayashi is ex-pecting around 500 players from more than 30 countries. When coaches and other officials are added, around 1,000 people may be coming to take part in the championship in some form or another, and this does not include spectators. The first week of the event will be dominated by the individual tournament, followed by a four-day group competition with teams from dozens of countries. Fans who cannot make it up to Sakura to take in the action should be able to stream the tournament live online.
“With footgolfers coming from all over the world, I hope the World Cup will be an exciting event for the people of Sakura and anyone else who comes to enjoy it,” Kobayashi said. “Also, since the tournament is being held in Japan, I’m pulling for a Japanese champion!”
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