World’s Best FootGolfers Come to Poppy Hills
Sept. 23, 2014
FootGolf has a Lionel Messi, and his name is Christian Otero.
The Argentinean is the No. 1 FootGolfer in the world, and he validated his ranking with an eight-shot win during the West Coast U.S. Open at River Ridge Golf Club in Oxnard on Sunday.
Otero shot a two-round score of 7-under 125 on the 2,987-yard par-66 layout, battling windy conditions with a 2-under 64 and a 5-under 61. He also took home a nice check of $5,000 from the American FootGolf League-sanctioned event.
“The sponsors are starting to fund some players, so it’s growing up a lot,” Otero said. “There are going to be many more professional players soon.”
Otero and four other top-ranked FootGolfers traveled up to Poppy Hills on Monday to play in an exhibition with kids from the First Tee of Monterey County. The driving range was converted into a five-hole FootGolf course, with cups 21-inches in diameter hidden behind bunkers and on top of ridges. Joining the First Tee kids were:
- Nick Iron (the top-ranked player in the U.K.)
- Julien Babel (the top-ranked player in Switzerland)
- Alex Koser (the top-ranked player in Germany)
- Gabor Gelencser (the top-ranked player in Hungary)
FootGolf is what it sounds like — golf with a soccer ball. FootGolf has adapted most of the rules, etiquette, and even the zany outfits that golf boasts.
The driving range made for a fun and strategic course, with its fast fairways, swinging elevation changes and shallow bunkers. The holes played as par 3s about 100 yards apart, but on full FootGolf courses, par 5s can be 300 yards or longer. Two FootGolf holes are usually designed to fit within one regular golf hole.
“On a flat surface I kick it about 100 meters,” Otero said. “If you have wind helping you, maybe 120-130 meters. If the wind is against you, maybe only 70 meters.”
Otero also boots big drives with topspin to squeeze out extra roll, hooks and slices shots around hazards, and even kicks with both his left and right foot, depending on what the shot demands.
And as you would expect, Otero has a great short game, and considers anything within 15 feet a putt he expects to drop.
“If it’s flat, maybe you expect to put it in from 15 or 20 meters,” Otero said. “Normally from 5-10 meters, you can not afford to miss. From 15 meters it’s a good shot. You might be gaining an advantage on the rest of the field.”
Otero has only been playing FootGolf for two years, but the sport is extremely popular in Argentina, home of this year’s FIFA World Cup runner-ups. At the West Coast U.S. Open in Oxnard, five of the top finishers were from Argentina.
“I used to play football, but not at the highest level,” Otero said. “I had a good foot, so that’s how I got into FootGolf.
“Argentina has a very important league that is played in many cities throughout the country. We play tournaments every week throughout the country. We also try to travel to Europe and the United States a couple times a year.”
While FootGolf is still played on golf courses in Argentina, there is one course that was built exclusively for FootGolf.
FootGolf is now exploding in the United States. NCGAGolf did a story on Haggin Oaks designing a FootGolf course in its 2013 Fall issue. (A worthwhile read if you want to learn about the rules, history and culture of FootGolf.) At the time, Haggin Oaks became the first FootGolf course in Northern California to open. A year later, AFGL founder Roberto Ballestrini says there are now close to 40 FootGolf courses in California.
“It’s not for every course, but we have more than 30 First Tee facilities that now play FootGolf,” Ballestrini said.
Throughout the United States, there are 250 FootGolf courses in 40 states. Poppy Ridge in Livermore is planning to open a FootGolf Course that plays through its Zindandel nine in November. Poppy Ridge was listed on the FootGolf directory as a new course, and General Manager Todd Cook is already fielding calls from anxious players.
“We want it to be a really good FootGolf course where the ball really rolls out,” Cook said. “It’s pretty amazing to see how far the ball rolls out. There’s a lot of strategy.”
And while there aren’t plans to bring FootGolf to Poppy Hills yet, Poppy Holding General Manager Brad Shupe can’t wait to launch the new course at Poppy Ridge.
“I think it’s something that 100 courses could do in Northern California,” Shupe said.
Otero thinks FootGolf could even rival soccer in popularity.
“You play in a very nice environment,” Otero said. “You can play at the professional level, you can play with friends, you can play with family. In soccer, you need people who are the same level as you. In FootGolf, you can have a professional player with a 10-year-old, because you play against the course. I think that is going to make this sport very popular, and it is very fun to play.”