WITH the sun slowly setting in the horizon, the sky is transformed into a lovely shade of orange. One foot on a football lying between two yellow miniature ball ‘tee’ markers, I set my sights on the white flag flapping in the distance. The air is crisp and the breeze, gentle; I can feel all my senses sharpen. “Kick straight and you should be fine,” whispers Jeffrey Cottam, general manager of FootGolf Malaysia, who’s standing beside me.
With a look of determination, I give the ball the hardest kick I can muster and off it lobs across the greens of the first ever FootGolf course located in Bukit Jelutong, Shah Alam, Selangor.
Unfortunately, with little to no experience of playing football or in this case, FootGolf, I look on in despair as I see the ball landing in the shrubberies nearby.
“Hey! That’s not bad for a beginner actually,” says Cottam encouragingly as I chuckle sheepishly at my terrible attempt at keeping the ball in a straight line as he’d instructed. “Yeah! The ball did go quite a distance and that’s a good start even though a bit wayward!” chips in Cottam’s business partner and good friend, Jason Winter, who happens to be the managing director of Footgolf Malaysia.
New to the game
FootGolf, to the uninitiated, is a precision sport where players are required to kick a football into a cup in as few shots as possible. Its name is a portmanteau of football and golf, thus, the game combines the two sports. However, the rules of the game are closer to that of golf than football.
Explains Winter: “You’re not allowed to run after the ball and kick it repeatedly. There are also no referees. FootGolf strictly follows the golfing etiquette where you have to behave and control your emotions on the golf course. No tackling is allowed and there’s also no gameplay. Instead, you keep your own scores through an honour system.”
He elaborates: “Basically, you have to be responsible for scoring your own score and signing your own score card and people expect you to not cheat. It’s more self-regulated. But of course, when you play with another person, they’ll be the one monitoring you when you sign each other’s card.”
Seeing my perplexed expression, Cottam chuckles before simplifying: “Think of it as a slightly easier version of golf because you don’t have to putt a small ball using a metal stick. You may also think of it as more about going for a leisurely walk in a nice golf course while sort of playing football at the same time.”
And most importantly, he adds: “It doesn’t necessarily need to be a competition between you and someone else because like golf, it can be a competition with yourself. And that is one part of the beauty of golf that transcends into FootGolf.”
As we stroll along the beautifully manicured FootGolf course, I couldn’t help feeling at peace with the world. Far, far from the madding crowd and with only the sounds of birds chirping around me, it’s certainly a rejuvenating location.
The course was initially an old abandoned pitch and putt course belonging to Sime Darby. And then Winter got to it and completely redesigned it. The Australian, a graduate in landscape architecture, has a fondness for building immaculate greens, even as a child.
“I used to dig up holes in the garden to emulate a golf course and then whack a plastic ball into them,” he recalls. “So, after I graduated, it didn’t occur to me to find any other job other than to be a golf course designer.” It didn’t take long before Winter made his dreams come true when he accepted a job to design golf courses in Kuala Lumpur. He has been living here for the past 23 years.
Meanwhile, Cottam, who used to work in the programming and operations industries, handles the day-to-day management of the company. Hailing from the corporate world, the Malay-British citizen confides that after 20 years of being stuck behind computer screens, he decided that enough was enough.
“When I turned 40, I realised that I couldn’t do it any longer. That was when I devised this FootGolf plan that would take me out of the office and to the outdoors. I was then introduced to Jason through a mutual friend who knew about our respective plans. And before we knew it, the FootGolf course was opened.”
Not a new game
FootGolf is actually not a new sport for people in the United States, South America, Europe and even Australia. Apparently, it’s a fast growing sport in many countries around the globe today, including Southeast Asia.
However, the history of this game is rather vague. Some believe that it came about in the late-1920s and 1930s where a game with roughly similar rules called codeball attained brief popularity in the US.
Others believe that Swiss footballers have been playing a variation of it since the late-1980s. Several Scandinavian countries are also said to have started playing the game under different names and with different rules in the 1990s.
The game actually attained some semblance of international recognition in 2008 when the first ever official FootGolf tournament was organised by Michael Jansen and Bas Korsten in the Netherlands. It’s believed that both men learnt of the sport from Korsten’s brother, a Dutch footballer, Willem Korsten, who recalled playing something similar during his time with the British club Tottenham Hotspur between 1999 and 2001. Players at the club were known to end their training sessions by kicking the ball from the pitch back to the changing rooms in as short a time as possible.
That very first tournament was played among a mix of Dutch and Belgian professional footballers. To this day, both Jansen and Korsten are credited as the creators of the game, and also for the uniform and the setting of the basic rules, which later became recognised internationally.
Currently, FootGolf is governed by an international body known as the Federation for International FootGolf (FIFG) that was set up in June 2012. In the same month, eight countries came together and played the first ever FootGolf World Cup in Hungary.
And then in January 2016, the second FootGolf World Cup was held in Argentina with 230 players from 26 participating FIFG member countries.
More than just a game
“Playing FootGolf isn’t just about winning. Sometimes, it can be a romantic getaway for couples. You can bring your girlfriend here for a stroll and watch the sunset while you kick some balls,” suggests the affable Cottam.
He also believes that it’s a great way to get the children out of the house once in a while. “You can make this into a fun family outing where everyone can enjoy the game and be outdoors, away from the electronics. It can become a precious bonding moment between parents and children.”
Nodding in agreement, Winter adds: “I love constructing golf courses but I always find it such a waste because only a small amount of people actually gets to come in, see it and enjoy it. So with FootGolf, which requires minimal gear and only a small fee, we are happy to see more people coming in to the golf course and enjoying themselves.”
With the sun gone and darkness enveloping the fairway, we hurriedly make our way towards the store room at the entrance of the golf course. As I make preparations to take my leave, the duo tells me that they have bigger plans than just opening up a FootGolf course.
They’re determined to raise the game to the national level and hope to one day mould enough homegrown talents who can go on to represent our country in the FootGolf World Cup tournament.
“Currently, one international school has signed up to introduce the game to the students. But ideally, it would be nice to have government schools participating in the game too. After all, it’s not a rich person’s game and if you bring your own ball, we’ll even give you some discounts!”
For details, visit www.footgolfmalaysia.com.my
For updates on latest events as well as tournaments, visit www.facebook.com/footgolfmalaysia