Kicking it in Old Fort

FootGolf combines soccer and golf for a different sport with a familiar feel

Fred McCormick

Mere minutes from the Swannanoa Valley, tucked in the shadow of Old Fort’s Jack’s Mountain, lies a manicured oasis. Locals have long known about the Old Fort Golf Course, which opened its doors in 1961.

The nine-hole course served the community well until recent years, when it began to fall into disrepair. But a change in ownership, a familiar face and a new sport have come together to create a brighter future for what’s now known as Jack’s Mountain Golf Course.

FootGolf is a precision sport, much like the sport from which it borrows its name. The course in Old Fort is one of the few places in Western North Carolina where it can be played.

Black Mountain resident Don Talley played FootGolf for the first time on July 31. He enjoyed it so much he returned the following day to play another round.

The origins of FootGolf aren't easy to nail down, but the first nine-hole tournament played on a golf course occurred in 2008 in the Netherlands, according to the American FootGolf League, the governing body of the growing sport in the U.S. Currently, there are almost 500 courses throughout the country in 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

When Black Mountain residents Larry Deal and Deena Wade were in the process of buying the golf course and the surrounding property earlier this year, they met Fred Edwards. For more than a decade, Edwards was general manager of the Old Fort Golf Course before he took a similar position in Tryon, where he's been for the past 11 years. He agreed to return to Jack's Mountain Golf Course in the same capacity and had a suggestion to draw more golfers.

Edwards was familiar with FootGolf through his friendship with Dale Minick, who runs the Lake Lure Golf Club. FootGolf has been played there since 2015.

FootGolf largely follows the same general rules as golf, but it's played with a regulation size 5 soccer ball kicked into a 21-inch cup.

"I would watch this FootGolf thing," Edwards said. "It worked well being played alongside golf. The one rule of etiquette is if you're playing and you're holding someone up, from either sport, let them play through."

FootGolf represented a new revenue stream for Jack's Mountain Golf Course, Edwards told Wade and Deal.

"The course was losing money every year (before they bought it)," Edwards said. "They asked me what could be done to bring the numbers up and I said 'You need some help. I know FootGolf is a possibility.'"

Wade and Deal had never heard of the sport. But it fit well with their vision for the 80-acre property that they plan to develop as Jack's Mountain Preserve.

"Connecting with Fred was big for us," Wade said. "One of the first things we told him was that we wanted to transition this golf course into an ecologically green course, using none or as little toxic pesticides as possible. We really wanted to protect the environment around here. We also want to create the kind of environment where people will come and spend a day in the this beautiful setting."

Edwards began laying out the FootGolf course on a golf course designed by John R. Van Kleek, who designed golf courses worldwide. In the mid-1930s, Van Kleek was a supervising architect for renovations made to the New York City Park Department's golf courses.

"FootGolf is supposed to be played in half the time as golf, but with similar rules" Edwards said. "Our first two (FootGolf) holes are laid out over our first golf hole. The two sports complement each other really well."

The FootGolf course at Jack's Mountain opened in mid-July and among the first wave of people to play the course was Black Mountain resident Don Talley. He played twice two days running.

"I don't play golf, and I hadn't played soccer in a number of years," he said. "But it was easy to play, and it's a lot of fun."

In 2015, Southern Tee, an executive par-3 golf course in Fletcher, introduced FootGolf, according to Heather Jarrett, who manages and owns the course with her husband Doug. Like Wade and Deal the Jarretts were looking to find a way to attract more people to the course.

"We were losing the younger, middle-age customers and strictly getting senior golfers," she said. "We decided we needed to find a way to reach out to that younger age group that maybe doesn't have time to play golf."

Southern Tee FootGolf is an 18-hole course. It has brought more kids and soccer players out, according to Jarrett, but there is still room for the sport to grow.

"We've got a huge soccer community in the area," she said. "And the sport is still relatively unknown."

At Jack's Mountain Golf Course the response has been positive, Edwards said. "It's a good golf course for a FootGolf design," he said.

Talley, who said he plans to continue playing the sport, agrees. "It's a great way to spend day," he said.