Critics in Portland don't get a kick out of footgolf

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PORTLAND — The nine-hole South course at Riverside Municipal Golf Course closed Sunday.

On Monday, Mayor Michael Brennan was on hand to introduce the sport of footgolf, which begins play Friday.

On Monday night, Congress Street resident Janet Daigle spoke to City Councilors about her opposition to playing footgolf on the nine-hole, 3,000-yard course.

“It will drive golfers away for good,” she warned.

For much of the month, Daigle has criticized city staff and Riverside General Manager Ryan Scott for making Riverside the first course in Maine to offer footgolf, saying it will irreversibly damage the course that already loses revenue because it closes too early.

“You don’t cut your revenue in half to draw more people,” she said.

Scott on Oct. 15 said the Riverside North course remains open, and it is time to introduce the new attraction.

“It seems like fun,” he said. “We are trying to get people out, whether they are golfers or not.”

While preparing to tee off at the South course Oct. 15, Daigle said the change of course use and footgolf fee structure should be vetted by the city Land Bank Commission.

Footgolf is a phenomenon believed to have started in Europe about 15 years ago. It now has a governing global organization, the Federation for International FootGolf.

It is played at tournaments throughout Europe and at about 250 American courses, including three others in New England, according to the American FootGolf League website. It is played with golf’s rules, substituting feet for clubs and soccer balls for golf balls, with holes widened to 21 inches. 

The Riverside footgolf season is scheduled to last through Nov. 30, with fees beginning at $6 per person for nine holes. Balls can be rented for $5 and cart rentals are $5.

“We don’t look at it as losing money because we have the North course,” Scott said.

Scott said it has cost about $2,250 to set up the course, with $1,250 spent on the widened cups. Forty soccer balls have cost $500.

Since 2009, the latest the Riverside South course has closed is Oct. 20, Scott said. By contrast, the nine-hole public course in South Portland is scheduled to remain open until Nov. 2

Depending on where a footgolfer “tees” off, the Riverside course is 1,725 yards at its longest, all set away from regular tee areas and greens.

“I am not aware of any course that puts (the hole) on a regular green,” Scott said.

Daigle said she worries about gouges and divots in the fairways from kicking soccer balls, and said the footgolf cup installed below and to the side of the first hole is already an impediment.

She said she has seen golf shots go into the cup, which presents a penalty. Scott said golfers can take a free drop and continue play without a scoring penalty.

In following the international rules, Riverside also requires footgolfers to wear golf apparel, and prohibits cleated shoes (indoor and turf soccer shoes and sneakers allowed). Errant shots landing on a green must be carried back to the footgolf course, and Scott said golf tee areas and greens will be roped off.

“There are not going to be hard spikes chewing the course up,” he said.

Daigle is not the only Riverside golfer concerned about footgolf and what may be an early closing time for the South course.

“I look forward to golf, I make any excuse to play,” city resident Landon Bathe said Oct. 17.

While not a Riverside member, Bathe said he would have enjoyed another opportunity to play this year.

“That is relatively early (to close), I would say, especially because it is warm out,” he said.

South Portland resident Pierette Bichnell said she is especially concerned about simultaneous play.

“I think the idea of having two greens and flags is disturbing to the golfer,” she said.

She also agreed the South course closed too early.

“Depending on the weather, we could play two or three weeks more of golf,” she said.

Sagamore Hampton Golf Club in North Hampton, New Hampshire, was among the first New England golf clubs to offer footgolf, introduced last summer.

“We were looking at the bigger picture and demographics. We could be headed for leaner times,” President and owner Richard Luff said Tuesday. “Millenials under 40 are not playing nearly as much golf as their parents did.”

Luff and clubhouse manager Kate Blais said footgolf was not universally welcomed by golfers, but did attract new players.

“We were pleasantly surprised when it took off, Blais said in an email Tuesday. “We had players from Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York come to our course specifically for footgolf.”

Luff said tee times and the course layout will be tweaked next year so traditional golfers and footgolfers are more aware of each other’s presence.

“There were some initial worries from the crew, but really, there has been zero damage,” he said.

While it brought a younger crowd to the course, Luff said he was also happy to see a club member bring out his grandchildren for footgolf and a group of women celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday on the footgolf course.

“We are definitely doing it next year,” Luff said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Congress Street resident Janet Daigle, left, objects to using the Riverside Golf Club South course for footgolf, saying it will damage the course, drive away golfers and cost the city revenues. Riverside General Manager Ryan Scott, right, said footgolf is gaining popularity and will bring new people to the course.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.