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Minnesota’s first footgolf course opened in April 2014. Now, less than two years later, there are 21 courses operating statewide, according to Maciek Gralinski, the founder of FootGolf Minnesota.

The game’s rules mirror those of golf, except that players kick a regulation soccer ball into a 21-inch hole. Courses install the cups off the greens, and to protect the courses, soccer cleats aren’t allowed.

Elliott Gonsioroski, of Inver Grove Heights, playing recently at the Inver Wood Golf Course, said he found the sport “a lot less mentally demanding” than golf. Gonsioroski played for the first time at the Bloomington course last spring.

“It was just really, really fun,” he said. “Soccer is a flat surface. This is just all kinds of levels. Sometimes, the ball goes nowhere near [where] you thought it would go.”

Gralinski, who has consulted on the design for about half the courses in the state, cited various reasons for its growth.

Courses like that it brings in extra revenue without many start-up costs or much additional maintenance. Players, he said, like that it appeals to all skill levels.

“You don’t need to be a soccer player to kick the ball,” he said.

Julie Watrud, co-owner and manager of the Apple Valley Golf Course, said they installed their nine-hole foot golf course early this season after receiving calls from people who had played at other courses.

“It’s been so many families,” she said, adding that in some groups of players some will golf while others play footgolf alongside them.

The sport originated about 10 years ago in Europe, and according to Gralinski, the inventor is up for debate. Word has it that a retired soccer player went to golf courses and kicked the ball to the greens. “As long as the ball touched the flag, that was in the hole,” he said. “It kind of took off all over.”

When, in 2012, the first official footgolf world cup was held in Hungary, there were five or six courses in the United States. At last count, he said, there are 421 footgolf courses nationwide.

The sport is good news for golf courses that have struggled to attract players in recent years. According to Warren Ryan, communications director of the Minnesota Golf Association, numbers of golfers have been down for years. In 2005, he said, there were 30 million golfers, and in 2013, he said, that had plummeted to 24.7 million golfers.

Ryan and club managers attribute the decline to the economy, a generational shift in interests and dual-income families having less time.

Ryan said the common saying in the industry is that golf “takes too long, costs too much, and it’s too hard.”

Helping keep numbers up

Inver Wood Golf Course manager Matt Moynihan said golfing numbers have been down since 2001. Now, his course gets about 50 people per week playing footgolf, which helps.

Sloan Wallgren of the Mendota Heights Par 3 said it installed the footgolf course last year right after Labor Day, and the course has had an additional 1,500 customers this season since mid-May, due to the sport.

“And they’re buying pop and candy bars, so it’s really helping increase our revenue this year,” he said.

Footgolf typically plays a little faster than golf, which can mean that footgolfers often need to play through regular golfers.

Some courses set aside special hours, like Inver Grove Heights, where footgolfers play from noon to 5 p.m. on weekdays, slower times for golfers. In Mendota Heights, footgolf is off limits on most weekdays due to golf leagues.

However, most courses intermingle the two sports, said Gralinski, which has caused some friction.

“The major issue where there’s problems is people who are new to this, meaning the footgolfers, and they don’t know the rules and etiquette of golf,” said Gralinski.

Jesse VanRiper, head pro at Majestic Oaks Golf Course in Andover, where they’ve had about 675 rounds of footgolf played this season, said they now talk etiquette to everyone who signs up for a tee time. Now on their second season, he said, they are considering doing leagues next year.

An entry point to golf?

At Brookland Golf Park in Brooklyn Park, course manager John Lindman said they have had about 190 total footgolfers this year. They tried to launch a league night this June and didn’t have enough interest but will try again starting in August.

Lindman said he hopes the sport encourages young people to eventually pick up a golf club. “It’s a nice avenue for people,” he said, “kind of an entry point.”

Warren said he’s a bit skeptical about that. “They are similar,” he said, “but they are pretty different.”

“I don’t know if it will be a fad or a trend that continues,” he said.

Still, some courses have already rebranded themselves.

“We’re a dual-purpose course,” said Watrud. “We’re not just a golf course.”

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer and photographer.