A new sport is slowly gaining traction around Texas that involves using golf clubs – but not spending five hours on your local municipal course waiting for that group ahead to pick up the pace.
Last October, Olympic medalists Bernard Lagat and Nick Willis helped put the new sport on the radar of runners by competing in the World Speedgolf Championships. Although they both struggled and even ran a slower time than the overall winner, both had rave reviews of finishing 18 holes in less than 50 minutes.
There are only a couple differentiations between “regular” golf and speedgolf, but enough to make it as if it’s an entirely new game. Players generally carry no more than six clubs in a small bag otherwise the weight would slow them down. When they aren’t hitting a ball, they’re running. On a putting green they are allowed to leave the flagstick in the hole (a penalty in regular golf), and there’s no waiting on the person ahead to finish. You play through, as every minute counts.
For most golfers, the last one is a big plus. Too many rounds are plagued by the inevitably slow group ahead, taking too much time on each shot or generally just not caring about their pace of play. And for runners, the average course is between five to six miles providing a quality workout on a wide open green space and stopping every couple hundred yards to swing a golf club.
A final score is the total number of strokes combined with the total amount of time. If a player records 80 strokes in 50 minutes and 30 seconds, their score is 130:30.
In Texas, former professional golfer Scott Dawley is spearheading the movement. After bouncing around on various circuits attempting to gain entrance to the PGA Tour, Dawley took a break and went to a desk job. “After two years I knew being inside all day wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I made a change,” he said.
While making another go at the tour, he picked up running because he had added a few pounds and knew that greater fitness would help his game. By random chance, Dawley met 2012 Speedgolf Champion Chris Walker through his newfound love of running and got connected with the game. At the same tournament where Willis and Lagat competed last October, Dawley finished fifth with a combined score of 7-over.
Back home in Houston, that success is helping build a movement. Speedgolf Texas was launched and even selected to host a 2015 professional tournament, held in mid-March at the same course used for the PGA Tour’s Shell Houston Open.
Dawley reports he’s been able to attract speedgolfers of all ages–both male and female. He hosts monthly tournaments that are an easy sell to club managers because they’re on and off the course so quickly. In addition to what’s happening in Houston, the events have branched out to Austin and San Antonio with Dawley serving as the driving force before turning it over the local hands for continued growth.
Where he has admittedly been lacking until recently is getting in the running communities. Convincing the typical golfer is a tough road, especially since many drive a cart for all 18 holes rather than walk. Carry a bag and run instead? The odds aren’t in his favor. Here in Austin, a runner scene was found.
Running enthusiasts in Austin might recognize the name Dude Spellings. After a short stint with the St. Edwards Cross Country team in college, Spellings got in to triathlons and ultra events. In 2004 he ran 12 ultra-marathons and two marathons. For those counting at home, that’s one ultra a month. The following year he did a 143-mile trail run over three days, but soon after realized his two favorite hobbies – golf and running – consumed too much time.
“When I met Scott Dawley through a mutual friend, I immediately knew that I’d be participating in speedgolf because I had been wanting to try it since I was in high school,” Spellings recalled.
The two worked together and helped kick-start the Austin area tournaments currently held at Bluebonnet Hills Golf Course with an eye on Avery Ranch in the near future. Never costing more than the green fee – which usually comes at a reduced rate – the low-key competitions are a great way for any individual of any ability to try it out.
Both Spellings and Dawley recommend speaking with any club manager of their favorite course and explaining what speedgolf is if interested in playing. The latter has never been turned down, pointing to the numerous positives that any business owner would agree to – paying the green fees, out of any other player’s way when starting first, and off the course in less than an hour.
The duo is looking for ways to grow the game while also knowing it will take more ambassadors to help garner awareness. In their experience, to get a person hooked they need just one round.
For more information on Speedgolf Texas, visit speedgolftexas.com. To get in contact with either Scott or Dude, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.