In July, Tomahawk Hills became the third area golf course offering FootGolf, a variation of golf played with soccer balls.
Like regular golf, FootGolf is played on a nine or 18-hole course. At Tomahawk Hills, the new nine-hole green wends its way around and between golf course fairways.
Heart of America golf pro Nate Richardson at Swope Park says fairways are shared at that course, which opened in 2014.
Within the year, the soccer-golf hybrid was drawing almost as many players as regular golf.
Traffic at Swope Park, he says, remains strong but has declined some since the opening of FootGolf courses at Drumm Farm in Independence and Tomahawk Hills in Johnson County.
Tomahawk Hills golf pro Jay Lispi says the first full week's turnout for the new sport was less than a typical daily total for conventional golf. But, he says, FootGolf was sampled by a wide variety of age groups from middle schoolers through senior citizens.
Martin Higgins, Jack Fangman and Seve Sites, all in their early 20's, were among those taking on the new nine-hole course.
The basic rules are the same as for golf, they say. Each hole is rated for a par value and there are prescribed penalty strokes if the ball lands in the rough or in an unplayable position in a hazard. Order of play and etiquette are similar to regular golf.
Among the differences, there are no wooden or plastic tees for the soccer balls and the cup is 21 inches in diameter — huge compared with a golf hole but actually the same ball-to-hole diameter ratio.
Kicking style varies, but players often use the soccer-style side-of-the-foot kick, especially in making critical putts.
Fangman helped explain the popularity of the new game with younger players. “I've always been a soccer guy!” he enthused. He joined his first recreational soccer team at the age of four.
Thirteen-year-old Gracie Moser agreed. She said that she and her soccer friends Kate Midiros and Landry Hancock had also started playing soccer as young as three.
The girls, who now play on the same soccer league team, found the FootGolf course “a good place to have some fun and hang out with friends.”
While FootGolf's star is rising, the popularity of conventional golf has slipped in recent years. Several area golf courses have closed.
Golf pro Lispi says there are several reasons including $45 to $50 green fees, $1,600 sets of golf clubs, a lengthy learning curve and time.
“Today's people are short on time,” Lispi says, “and that is where FootGolf comes in. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to play it. A round of golf is four to five hours."
Nine holes of FootGolf is priced at around $7 in Kansas city, with the top price $12 for 18 holes. It's a couple of bucks cheaper for kids.
An estimated 24.5 million people in the U.S. play soccer at some level, which is about the same as play traditional golf. But soccer wins big time with millennials, while golfers are declining in numbers. And if that trend continues, FootGolf may be alive and kicking for a long time.
Steve Bell is afternoon newscaster and business news reporter for KCUR. He may be reached at 816-235-5173 or by e-mail as email@example.com.