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FootGolf — the game played exactly like it sounds — works to get toehold in Maryland

David Andler, a professional FootGolf player, has dedicated himself to spreading the game, especially in Maryland.

Shouts of “Superstar! Superstar!” met Baltimore resident David Andler as he walked into the Carroll Park Golf Course clubhouse, where the employees know him by name.

They exchanged handshakes, and as soon as greetings were done, they asked, “Where’s your daughter today?”

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Andler might be a nationally ranked FootGolf “superstar,” but his 3-year-old daughter, Lillian, has her own fame in the FootGolf community through his Instagram account.

Lillian is also a big reason Andler got involved with the little-known sport of FootGolf — a game that is literally what the name suggests: golf played with a soccer ball.

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Andler, 50, had been an avid golfer since he was 35, but once his daughter was born, he didn’t have time to spend hours at a course.

He still received the Baltimore Classic Five’s newsletter, though, and one day saw an announcement for a “FootGolf scramble” on Thanksgiving morning in 2016.

“I was like, ‘What is that?’ ” Andler said. So, he looked it up.

The rules are close to golf’s, with adaptations to account for kicking instead of swinging and shorter holes since soccer balls don’t fly as far as golf balls.

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A nine-hole golf course can accommodate an 18-hole FootGolf game, which would take about as long as the round of golf. Over 500 golf courses in the United States offer FootGolf, although rules about playing times differ from course to course. All the courses include holes with a 21-inch diameter, and the games are played with a regulation No. 5 soccer ball.

The sport is promoted and overseen nationally by the American FootGolf Federation and is governed internationally by the Federation for International FootGolf.

After playing soccer from a young age into his 40s and golf for 12 years, Andler was interested in a sport that combined them.

He signed up and was paired with Timonium resident Nathan Shuey, 36, who had recently discovered FootGolf through signs he saw on the road.

The Thanksgiving tournament was the first time either had tried to play competitively. Neither knew they would become two of the best players in the nation — Shuey is ranked No. 4 in the men's division and Andler is No. 4 in the senior division.

David Andler, one of the founders of Maryland FootGolf Club, tees off during a round at Fairway Hills Golf Course Fri., June 7,
David Andler, one of the founders of Maryland FootGolf Club, tees off during a round at Fairway Hills Golf Course Fri., June 7, (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

After playing in the scramble, Andler didn’t return to play again until May 2017.

He played terribly. But he tried again and found he improved. Then he went back again and improved some more. After he went back a fourth time and had an even better score, Andler realized something.

“It occurred to me, something’s different about this than in golf,” Andler said. “Because, in golf, when I had good scores, they were always followed up by bad scores.”

Andler also realized, without clubs, he could bring his daughter while he played. Practice time turned into daddy-daughter time, and before Lillian turned 2, she set the record for youngest player to complete a hole.

As Lillian improved at FootGolf, so did her father, and another FootGolfer, Steve Liberto, noticed. He suggested Andler could do well in the senior division.

Andler paused at “senior,” but at 47, Andler qualified for the division, for competitors age 46 and older.

On a whim, he signed up for a tournament in New Jersey. He finished second in the senior division and was just one bad shot away from tying for the lead.

Then he saw he lost to someone who was nationally ranked.

“I was like, ‘I’ve barely done this. He said he’s been doing it for four years,’ ” Andler said. “And after that point, I was just hooked. I was like, ‘I’m going to play this until I’m good at it.’ ”

David Andler, one of the founders of Maryland FootGolf Club, with his 3-year-old daughter Lily Andler, shakes hands with co-founder Nathan Shuey of Timonium following a round at Fairway Hills Golf Course Fri., June 7,
David Andler, one of the founders of Maryland FootGolf Club, with his 3-year-old daughter Lily Andler, shakes hands with co-founder Nathan Shuey of Timonium following a round at Fairway Hills Golf Course Fri., June 7, (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

By that point, Andler’s first FootGolf partner, Shuey, had also realized he was much better at FootGolf than regular golf, and his competitive nature had driven him to see how good he could get.

In July 2017, Shuey, Andler and Liberto started the Maryland FootGolf Club, which plays out of Carroll Park and is focused on promoting and organizing FootGolf throughout Maryland.

They continued to compete in tournaments, and five months later — two years after Andler started — Shuey and Andler were on their way to Morocco to represent the United States in the FootGolf World Cup.

“The experience of representing the United States in a sporting competition — no one is going to invite me to represent the U.S. in soccer,” Andler said. “There are no other sports that I’m anywhere near the level of being able to do this. So, of course I took that opportunity.”

Until then, Andler had focused on both the management and social side of the club, but he decided to hand the reins over to the current president, Jason Molidor, and focus on his professional FootGolf career — while also running local record company Morphius — hoping the club’s success would increase with his personal success.

The competitive edge of the club, which Andler said has 30 members, caught Sebastian Moorefield’s attention.

Moorefield, 26, like Andler and Shuey, checked out FootGolf because he was curious, and stayed because he found he could be competitive.

Maryland FootGolf Club member Sebastian Moorefield of Arlington, Va., watches Nate Shuey of Timonium tee off in a round at Fairway Hills Golf Course in June 2019.
Maryland FootGolf Club member Sebastian Moorefield of Arlington, Va., watches Nate Shuey of Timonium tee off in a round at Fairway Hills Golf Course in June 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Moorefield is from Arlington, Va., and while Northern Virginia has a club of its own, it’s more recreational. So, Moorefield decided to make the commute to Maryland, where the prospects of the sport catching on seem better.

“There's plenty of courses, there's a huge soccer population [in Maryland],” Moorefield said. “Just out of sheer numbers, it has to be possible.”

Even though the game is built around the rules of golf, players like Andler — with a golf background — are unique among FootGolfers. Right now, most are people more interested in soccer than golf.

Andler said he probably has more golf experience than 95% of them.

The golf background gives him an edge — he understands more about risk management, the advantage of following the fairways and how grain (the tilt of the grass toward the sun and water) can affect his game. But the lack of experience among players can create a clash between FootGolf and traditional golf culture.

FootGolf is played on a regular golf course next to regular golfers, and it theoretically works. But while the rules of the game are similar, the rules of etiquette are not.

In FootGolf, players aren’t encouraged to be quiet when a shot is being taken. The players, if they’ve never played golf, might not think to walk outside the line between the ball and the hole. And they are often dressed in patterned tees and crazy-colored socks instead of polo shirts and khakis.

“The more hoity-toity golf courses, they don’t let the FootGolfers play at all times,” Andler said. “The culture just isn’t always 100% compatible.”

On the reverse side, Moorefield said he’s had trouble getting soccer players involved if they can’t be loud.

But they still hope Maryland’s soccer culture leads to FootGolf getting off the ground.

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Until then, they welcome all the interruptions from curious golfers as a way to spread the word about the game. Andler even invited one golfer who showed some foot skills to come play with them.

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But the best thing that could happen for the sport, Andler said, is to get more professional athletes playing it. Some professional European soccer players and golfers have done promotional work with the sport, and some Baltimore Blast players have played a round for charity purposes.

The sport isn’t just limited to soccer players and golfers, though. Andler said it has a short learning curve, and it would be great to have other athletes try it out.

“I would love to see one or more of the kickers for the Ravens coming out and playing FootGolf,” Andler said.

FootGolf at Fairway Hills Golf Course in June 2019.
FootGolf at Fairway Hills Golf Course in June 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)
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