CARPENTERSVILLE – On a Sunday evening at Bonnie Dundee Golf Club, Michael Contreras prepared for his opening shot. Standing about 4 feet back from his ball, 221 yards separated him from the pin.
With the shot lined up, Contreras ran toward his ball, swung his leg back, and thrust it forward through the soccer ball, sending it slightly right of the fairway.
It's a strange sight to see on a golf course. And although it is untraditional, that’s the sight of watching someone play footgolf, a sport that has taken over weekend evenings at Bonnie Dundee. After 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, the front nine holes of Bonnie Dundee transform into 18 holes of footgolf. With it, a new crowd is brought to the course.
“It was a little different – it took a little digesting to absorb it,” said Jim Opp, Bonnie Dundee's course manager and golf professional of 38 years. “But the more you think about it, if I can use our property better, and if I can use it when there is no one else around, all the better for us."
In many ways, footgolf is simply golf played with a soccer ball. Players are given a soccer ball, one they must kick into a 21-inch cup in as few shots as possible.
Like golf, the holes vary in length. At Bonnie Dundee, they range from the 221-yard opening hole to the 12th hole, a 60-yarder that rewards anyone who gets a hole-in-one with a free round of footgolf – something that has yet to happen.
Perhaps the biggest difference from footgolf and traditional golf is the type of people who come to play the respective sports. Since March 31 – when footgolf opened at Bonnie Dundee – the sport has attracted drastically different age groups, from 60-year-old grandmothers to grade school-age children. Footgolf also tends to be a more lighthearted and less serious experience than traditional golf.
“Our main goal is to break the boundaries that prevent some people from coming out to our course,” Bonnie Dundee Assistant Golf Professional Michael Roeser said.
The idea of bringing footgolf to the course had been kicked around for a while at Bonnie Dundee, but it wasn’t until Opp heard of the game again while attending a PGA show in Orlando that they decided to commit.
The fit made sense. The area around Bonnie Dundee has a large interest in soccer – the Dundee Park District has a soccer league with more than 30 teams. And most golf courses tend to die down on weekend evenings.
“The first day [of footgolf], the golfers saw people coming in with soccer balls and were like, ‘What are you doing?’” Roeser said.
No matter the obscurity, confusion or initial oddness of the sport, there is a following. The American FootGolf League introduced the sport to North America in 2011, and Bonnie Dundee has already seen a rise in participants.
The course sees about 25 to 30 players a day, and that’s with limited hours. Most of them grew up playing soccer, rather than having a traditional golf background. And interestingly enough, most come from out of town, some out of state, and there was even one man who flew his cousin in from Mexico just to play.
“I think it’s here to stay," Opp said. “I think it will continue to grow.”