Slowly bedding its way into the Irish sports scene is the concept of FootGolf. Famed for its novel cross-correlation of Football and Golf, enthusiasts of both codes have dipped their feet into this new skillset.
Viewed upon as a typical Stag and/or Hen Party outing, it is easy to see why much scepticism has been placed upon the sport of FootGolf as a whole. However, keen to stress the competitiveness of the game in Ireland is one man called Gary Mullin.
Mullin, a Galwegian, is the captain of the Irish FootGolf team that will be making the trip to Morocco, Marrakesh to be exact, in mid-December for the 2018 FootGolf World Cup. The FootGolf World Cup pits competitors from 37 nations against one another while there is also a team competition of the best ranked countries, based on the individual event.
As the days count down to this universal event for the sport, the Galway native caught up with extratime.ie to discuss the rise and development of the sport on these shores following its success in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in the not so recent past.
The competitive side of the game in Ireland has had a humble rise in comparison to its UK and Dutch counterparts in Europe. From digging holes on previously unused golf courses, to scaling the heights of an international event such as the World Cup in 2016 it has been a labour of love for those closest to the game here.
Mullin is no stranger to the travails of this having set up his own course in Co. Galway after first getting in contact with the game in Westport, Co. Mayo.
“There was one (course) that just got set up in Dublin (Footie Tallaght) but, there was also a course close to me in the west in Westport. After going down there once with my friend I’ve been hooked on it since then.” He said.
“I ended up going to a Par 3 golf course near my house that was actually closed. I got in contact with the owners of the land (having watched his friend play in England previously) and thankfully they let me loose on it digging holes for the course.
“I took it over for a couple of years in 2015 before the landowners took back control of the property.”
Sceptics initially brushed aside the idea of FootGolf as a competitive sport on the whole given its association with being a social event rather than a sport.
However, FootGolf has proven to be a massive source of revenue for golf clubs and courses which may have been struggling following the economic downturn post 2008 which saw recessionary times ravage these shores. It is now one of the fastest growing sports in the world thanks to the efforts of Gary Mullin and the likes.
Initially, scepticism emerged from the potential damages that footgolfer’s may cause on golf courses. Traditionally seen wearing football boots and following no real etiquette, it is easy to see why golf clubs held a reluctance to invite this novel sport onto their turfs.
Despite that, this is not the case. Those adhering to FootGolf rules must wear astro turf style footwear or trainers while also still following the same etiquette as golf with the only major difference being a larger ball and pin to aim for.
“It’s much shorter than a golf course.” Mullin, captain of the Irish team, revealed.
“You would comfortably fit eighteen holes into a nine-hole golf course.
“The concept is the same as golf in terms of scores and etiquette of play. I think the simplest way of understanding it is think golf, and larger holes.”
The development of the competitive game here has been slow to say the least. With many sports in competition with this sport still in its infancy, it has been difficult to attract a competitive core to the game.
However, Mullin is hoping that the coming weeks can raise the profile of the game with an inclusive sport being high on the agenda for all concerned in the not so distant future.
“We probably have too much competition.” The Galway native admitted.
“A lot of the people that wouldn’t take up the game would probably play another sport with their local team and there’s a cross-over which can be difficult to break in to.
“We want to attract more ladies to the game because unfortunately we had two spots available for ladies for the World Cup, but we had no ladies playing on the tour.
“In the senior category we have five players and we’d hope to build that up. There’s a good bit of scope for growth yet and with more courses coming, more areas of the country will become more aware of the game and hopefully we will see the numbers grow.”
This will be Gary’s, and Ireland’s second bow at a World Cup, and given the high standard of play on offer, the tournament has the potential to be a memorable occasion for all involved with the Irish team.
“The quality is really high.” The Irish Tour winner of 2015 declared.
“There’s a lot of ex footballers who are playing. Most have a background in golf. There’s a mix of people with experience in both fields.
“We’ve Tiarnan (Magee) from Tyrone and the two of us here from Galway, myself and my brother, along with people from all four corners of the country. That’s massive in terms of gathering support and sponsors for the event with all four corners of the country represented.
“The most enjoyable part of the competition is the mixing with people from different cultures. There’s 37 different countries being represented and there’s a good chance you can be thrown in a group with people from different parts of the world which is always a nice added bonus for being involved!”
It is hoped that this event can increase awareness for the sport of FootGolf as a whole in Ireland. To change the mentality of the sport towards a highly-publicised competitive environment will be difficult, but it is achievable as echoed by the talented Galway native.
“My goal for the sport is to see it become an officially recognised sport by the national governing bodies and Sport Ireland.
“Hopefully a legacy of this World Cup, if it goes well, we can attract more exposure and sponsors going into the future years. It would be great if we saw the game being broadcast live on TV.
“It’s only when people play in the high-level competitive game, they realise the skills and techniques required.
“We want help that side of the game grow here, and we have a lot of good players here that may have all the attributes to that could make them world them world class footgolfer’s and they don’t even realise it yet!”
To those of whom that would like to follow the action in Morocco from December 9-16, you can follow the action on the FootGolf Ireland Facebook page while the Federation for International FootGolf (FIFG) will also stream the tournament on their respective page.