Freedom Soccer Club coach Ed DeVincent had been searching for a team-building activity for his rising U-11 boys program, yet wanted to shake things up and get his kids off the soccer field at the same time.
The alternative venue was unorthodox, as was the activity itself. But when the coach found out about a new sport called footgolf building steam at the McDaniel College golf course, it seemed like a good opportunity to think outside the box.
"Just to get the kids together doing something besides training, besides practice," said DeVincent, who is also Liberty High School's athletic director. "Everybody knows golf, but a little footgolf, [it's] something different. … Everybody's having a great time."
Footgolf is played exactly as it sounds, combining the sports of soccer and golf. Replace players' golf clubs with their own feet, the golf ball with a regulation No. 5 soccer ball, and the small holes with flags on the green with wider cups dug out of fairways around McDaniel's course – the only one of its kind in Carroll County – and players are ready to begin.
The nine-hole golf course features 18 footgolf holes, each with a red marker indicating where players tee off. Holes have their own pars, and each player keeps track of his or her own stroke count for scoring.
Players are asked not to wear cleats on the course, but rather indoor soccer shoes or even tennis shoes instead.
It's unclear when the sport officially began, but with the backing of the American FootGolf League and a clear set of rules, it has become easy for local courses to adopt and operate.
As it does for golfers, the college charges $10 for adults, and $8 for children. Carts, as well as soccer balls, are available to rent.
While the course has been operating under a soft-opening in the last week, the college is planning a grand opening for July 26, though an official time has not been determined.
Head golf professional and Terror coach Mike Diehl said the addition of the footgolf course was partly out of necessity.
In the 17 years he has been involved in the golf program at McDaniel, the course's numbers slowly declined from their once prosperous counts. Golf crowds were coming in less often, and with the course conditions losing favor with some of the regulars, the school was forced to seek out other avenues of revenue.
"We did some research, found footgolf at a couple of facilities in Silver Spring, Chesapeake," said Diehl, who visited the courses and found that those organizations had been experiencing similar problems, and turned to the new sport to bring in more people. "The more the footgolf goes, the more money we can hopefully make. The golf course can, in turn, benefit from that with the conditions and buying new equipment and making it better all around."
Diehl estimates the college has spent roughly $5,000 on the initial instillation of the footgolf course, as well as recent upkeep projects.
When DeVincent and his cast of boys soccer players, parents, and little brothers and sisters took to McDaniel's course Wednesday evening, there was just as much competition among the participants as there was fun.
"The coach of the team thought it would be a good idea to have team unity," said Mike Spath, who took on the 18-hole course with his two children. "I've been playing soccer my whole life, and never thought of something like this. It's a great idea."
DeVincent's 8-year-old daughter, Hannah, said, "It's fun, it helps you with your accuracy, how far you can kick it."
Since the sport is still new, especially to Carroll County, so Diehl said he's not sure how successful it will be at bringing in new clientele. While it could just be a flash in the pan, in interest the golf course's new venture has reached groups looking to hold fundraisers and events. Memberships, leagues or tournaments all have the potential to bring in, and retain, new customers.
But, with a distinct difference in clientele between the two sports, Diehl said there is still much to figure out in how the course markets itself going forward.
"The hardest part for us is to figure out how to coexist golfers and footgolfers," he said. "That seems to be the one question golfers and footgolfers ask."
While the college hopes that the new sport will drum up additional interest in the course's original intended use, the 40-50 new customers over the last week since footgolf opened has Diehl optimistic.
While there are some people looking for a different athletic outlet for their team or family, others may be in search of something completely outside the box.
"It's very hilly. You have to play the slopes," said DeVincent as he sank a shot for par. "I'm much better at this than I am at regular golf, by the way."