Any course. Anywhere.
As those passionate syllables oozed out of Zach Hall’s mouth in a challenging sort of way, he continued evangelizing for a burgeoning hybrid sport that combines the concepts of golf and lacrosse. It turns out he’s just one of a growing legion lauding FlingGolf, which is complementary to golf in the same way snowboarding found its niche within the ski industry.
“Anyone with a shred of athletic prowess can pick it up within 10 minutes,” said Hall, 32, tournament operations coordinator at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, Calif. “And one comment I hear constantly is, ‘It’s so much easier than golf.’”
Modeled to be played on golf courses — layouts require no modifications to host the game — FlingGolf’s appeal is such that only one lightweight half-pound FlingStick, ranging from 41 to 51 inches long, is needed. The stick resembles a golf club with grips but the club head is replaced by a cesta, which was proto-typed on the design of a jai alai curved racket.
Here’s the premise: Flingers start by picking up a regulation-size golf ball, take a running start on drives, cock the FlingStick over the shoulder or back and release before the tee marker. As simple as that.
Depending on size, strength and motion, a player can fling the ball anywhere between 100 and 200-plus yards. On secondary shots, players are allowed to retreat up to five paces along the line the ball traveled and then fling again before reaching the mark. Over time players develop touch and finesse in the same way golfers shape, fade, draw or flop, shots.
On the green, putts are read and executed similarly, except the ball is pushed from the cesta notch before the mark – perhaps while using a side saddle stance — and toward the hole.
As for other relevant points, the game is predicated on a simplified version of the Rules of Golf, which FlingGolf founder Alex Van Alen reviews. Scoring mirrors golf’s stroke or point accumulation — ala the Stableford system. Course wear and tear, besides the rare divot, is almost nil besides foot traffic. And a round of FlingGolf takes almost half the time it takes to play a regular round of golf.
“We’re not setting out to solve golf course problems. What we’re trying to do is create something that is more appealing to the younger generation; something that is going to be faster than traditional golf,” said Steve Bloom, 53, FlingGolf general manager, adding that it takes about 45 minutes to play nine holes with his 11-year-old son.
Said Van Alen: “If you’re playing FlingGolf and there is no one ahead of you, you’ll move at a faster pace than golf, because you’re not taking practice swings; you’re more accurate on shots; you’re taking fewer shots out of the rough because you’re really just picking the ball up and throwing it; and you’re not forgetting your putter back in the cart.”
The genesis for the sport began five years ago when Van Alen had been goofing around by hurling golf balls with his lacrosse stick. He thought, what if he could develop a stick that replicated a golf shot? After several prototypes, he and Bloom brought a high-end carbon fiber FlingStick to market.
The company’s website features an interactive Google map that shows which courses across the U.S. offer the sport. A variety of basic executive courses, par-3 designs, resorts and high-end 7,200 layouts do. For the most part, the demographics of those picking the game up are between the ages of 13 and 43. Older golfers with back-related injuries, for instance, have sometimes found new life in FlingGolf.
Five years ago, PGA professional Brett Mowbray, golf operations manager and director of golf at Massanutten Resort in West Virginia, noticed a FlingGolf magazine ad. It piqued his interest. He’s been hooked ever since.
Over a four-year span, the resort has accrued more than $100,000 from nearly 5,000 FlingGolf rounds.
“I’ll say this: if you’re a golf resort and you’re not offering this, you are missing out,” said the 48-year-old Mowbray, who added he sometimes sees mixed foursomes of FlingGolfers and regular golfers.
A couple years ago, Hall, as the “Director of Millennials” at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, was tasked with creating more fun ways to play golf. As he was hanging around the 24-hour driving range — yes, 24 hours — it dawned on him that his late-night crowd consisted of kids just hanging out.
“All the kids weren’t golfers and I thought, ‘This is my audience right there,’” Hall said.
Hall grabbed a FlingStick and started heaving balls, hoping it would draw attention. Gradually it did. Haggin Oaks recently hosted the Major League Lacrosse All-Star FlingGolf Invitational this past summer.
For beginners, Hall advises visiting the range first to get a feel for it and to play from the forward tees.
“The best analogy I can use for moving to the forward tees is that it’s like playing a course with nothing but an 8-iron,” he said.
In any event, the small FlingGolf staff in Massachusetts is looking to develop more formalization for leagues, sponsorships and perhaps a handicap system for 2018.
Van Alen is clear that his intent is not to replace golf. If golf is a tree trunk, FlingGolf can certainly be a hefty branch, along with FootGolf, Disc Golf and even Topgolf. For him, though, the sky is the limit.
“We certainly respect the game of golf,” Van Alen said. “We love the tradition of golf, but we want to be a legitimate new sport played by millions of people and that opportunity is there. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be in the Olympics.”
Ken Klavon was the online editor and a senior writer at the U.S. Golf Association for 12 years. He has covered golf for 22 years.