Sole in one! Players get a kick out of 'footgolf'
Shah Alam (Malaysia) (AFP)
Her eyes fixed on the flag in the distance, Jamiatul Akmal Abdul Jabar takes a run-up past her cheering friends and kicks a football down a golf course in Malaysia.
This is "footgolf", a novel fusion of two of the world's most popular sports that is growing fast and attracting people to the fairways.
It follows the rules of golf, but players leave their clubs at home and instead tee off with their feet try to complete each hole in as few kicks as possible.
Jamiatul was having a go at the sport with her friends on a converted course with 21-inch (53-centimetre) holes outside the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
The 38-year-old said she had considered golf "such a boring game" but was rather taken by footgolf.
"You feel that this is something new, something to experience," Jamiatul, an avid futsal player, told AFP. "I'm planning to book another (session)."
Thousands of players are now kicking balls on footgolf courses in about 36 countries, and the sport has been governed by an international federation since 2012.
Several World Cups have been staged, although the 2020 edition originally due to take place in Japan has been postponed to next year due to the coronavirus.
The sport's origins aren't clear, but one of the earliest recorded tournaments was in the Netherlands in 2008.
- Boost for courses -
In Malaysia, people started playing footgolf in 2018 at the Bukit Jelutong course outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, which had been abandoned but was given a makeover by Footgolf Malaysia.
Jeffrey Cottam, who co-founded the organisation, said initial attempts to start the sport were resisted by course owners who balked at the idea of letting footballers onto their greens.
But he finally managed to set up at Bukit Jelutong, and the company now manages two footgolf courses in Malaysia -- the second is in the southern state of Johor -- with a third on the way.
More than 2,000 people play each month in Malaysia, Cottam said.
"Footgolf, like golf, isn't about strength and how young you are," he told AFP. "It's more technical... It's not about beating people. It's about beating the course."
He also hoped the growing popularity of the sport could give some help to ailing courses.
Golf has fallen out of favour in many countries, with young people largely uninterested and few having the time to spend a whole day playing the sport, leading to many courses closing.
But footgolf is giving them some much-needed revenue -- in the US, for instance, the sport is now played on more than 500 courses, according to the American Footgolf Federation.
Danny Chia, a Malaysian professional golfer who plays on the Asian Tour, also said footgolf might help courses.
"There are a still a lot of golf courses out there that are not doing very well," he told AFP.
"This could be a new avenue for them."
© 2020 AFP