Telford's Tom Wood is flying the flag for England at the FootGolf World Cup
It’s a winning combination of two of the country’s biggest sports. FootGolf is, as the name suggests, a hybrid of football and golf, and it’s rapidly growing in popularity around the world.
Every week more than 30,000 players take part in fun and competitive games across the UK.
Played on a golf course, the aim is to get the ball into the hole using only your feet in the fewest number of shots possible. The sport even has its own World Cup and this year’s event, involving teams from 40 countries, will kick off in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday, May 27.
Among those representing England will be Shropshire player Tom Wood, who is part of the 34-strong squad flying out to the USA.
The 32-year-old began playing the game in 2014 after attending the opening day of a new 18-hole course at The Shropshire Golf Centre in Muxton.
“I fell in love it with straight away,” says Tom. “I’m naturally a competitive person but it’s also really fun. It’s a good way to exercise with your friends.”
It’s widely accepted that the sport of FootGolf, as it is known today, was created in the Netherlands by Bas Korsten and Michael Jansen in 2008. It is said to have been loosely based on a post-training game played by Korsten’s brother – footballer Willem Korsten – during his time playing for Tottenham Hotspur.
“It’s essentially played to golf rules but with standard size-5 footballs which are kicked into the bigger holes,” says Tom.
Just like golf, the game is played over 9 or 18 holes and par 3s, 4s and 5s. Courses tend to include many of the same features and hazards as the traditional game. But the hole lengths are shorter and the holes are larger at 21 inches wide.
“The holes are about 100-300 yards long, with golf they are usually 200-600 yards long. You need to have a good technique, be able to read the fairway and green as a golfer would and have power behind the kick like a footballer would,” explains Tom, who has also helped to design courses including the one at Horsehay Village Golf Course.
Tom qualified for the England World Cup squad after winning last year’s Midlands Tour, which was organised by The FootGolf Association of England.
The father of two has played for the national team on a number of occasions, including competing in the Jansen Cup, which pitted the best players in the UK against their US counterparts.
He is delighted to have secured his place at the fourth FootGolf World Cup after narrowly missing out on the 2016 World Cup in Buenos Aires and 2018 in Marrakesh.
Tom says he is looking forward to meeting other players from around the world.
“At the first World Cup, there were about eight teams, now there are 40 nations and 1,000 players," he says.
“As well as playing as a team, there is also a tournament for the players to compete individually as well, to be crowned world champion.”
In a bid to help raise the profile of the game, each squad was asked to recruit a well-known face and former Manchester United player Alan Smith will represent England.
“He lives in Orlando and has played FootGolf before,” says Tom, who is a self-employed resin floor layer.
When it comes to training for their games in Orlando, where they will be playing in temperatures of 35C, Tom says practice makes perfect.
“We keep repeating the skills until they become second nature. The more we do this, the more we can improve. Some of the team have been keeping fit and lifting weights.”
Tom believes the beauty of FootGolf is that the sport is extremely accessible and suitable for all ages.
“You don’t need any equipment besides a standard football and you can just turn up and play.
“Anybody from nan and grandad down to the kids can play and it’s really fun. At 32, I’m among the youngest in the team.
“It tends to be a game that people play when they retire from football, it’s a natural progression as it’s a lot less strenuous.”
Tom is now on the lookout for any businesses that would be willing to sponsor him to support his FootGolf ambitions.
“The FootGolf Association of England is following all the protocols to become a recognised sport by Sport England but for now it remains an amateur sport that has no funding.
“Trips like this to the USA come at our own expense, so we do rely on good will and sponsorship to help us along our FootGolf journey, and if anybody would be interested in a sponsorship opportunity then please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org”
For more information about FootGolf, see fgaengland.com