In an era of instant gratification, Casey Polivchak has seen golf fall by the wayside.
The director of golf for the Forty Niner Country Club, Polivchak estimates that there are 1 million fewer golfers now than there were in 2000, a byproduct of economic factors, a scandal that plagued the PGA’s top figure and a social media surge that has people less likely to spend half a day chasing after a ball.
Particularly one that has careened far from its intended target.
Polivchak and Forty Niner introduced Tucson to the relatively new sport, which combines elements of golf and soccer, and is surging in popularity. To be sure, this is not soccer on a golf course: The game is played in the same pattern as golf, with 18 holes tucked into the front nine of the Forty Niner course. The premise is simple — kick the soccer ball toward a 15-inch cup in as few attempts as possible.
Unlike golf, which can take a lifetime to learn and a small fortune to master, FootGolf is lax and inexpensive. If you are someone for whom a peaceful morning on the golf course quickly devolves into a frustrating battle with the clubs, there is a new alternative in Tucson.
“Golf is a hard game,” Polivchak said. “People don’t have the time and patience to learn it. Unless you grew up playing golf, you might not take it up.”
With golf participation on the decline and several hours of the day with light revenue but ample space available, Polivchak and the new ownership group at Forty Niner decided to think outside of the box.
With an endorsement from the PGA legitimizing the sport, Forty Niner went forward, aligned with the United States FootGolf Association and altered the golf course to include new FootGolf holes. Polivchak says the response from the club members and regulars has been positive — there may be a few more drops these days — and that the sport is starting to catch on locally.
“Really it was just trying to stay ahead of the curve,” Polivchak said. “We saw the growth of FootGolf — since 2011, there’ve been 500 courses created, and I’m sure 99 percent of them are on golf courses — so we took something we’re already maintaining, and thought ‘Let’s just utilize that space and create a new revenue stream. There is something about being the first.’”
Polivchak’s hope is that the soccer community latches onto the sport and that it grows beyond Forty Niner to other courses in town, with the potential to form leagues. Polivchak points to the growth of the sport in California, and sees the opportunity for Tucson to become a hub as well.
“We wanted to ride a wave that’s already rolling,” he said. “We’re going to get aggressive with it.”
Brian Connelly, a Tucson native, attended the club’s recent kickoff event, along with his children, daughter Katie, 14, and son Jake, 11. He sees the sport catching on.
“It’s really laid back, not really uppity,” said Connelly, also a golfer. “They want you to have fun. We brought our own soccer balls, got golf carts; it wasn’t too hot … (we) teed off at 5:30.”
With late afternoon starts available, when there are fewer golfers on the course but plenty of daylight left, there is not a ton of jockeying for position. And unlike golf, there are far fewer shanks.
“It’s not stressful! You really don’t hit bad shots,” said Connelly, a residential real estate broker with Long Realty who attended Salpointe Catholic and UA. “When you’re playing soccer, you kick it, and a bad shot doesn’t go very far. There’s really nobody who does bad at this.”