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How do you invent a brand new sport? We spoke to the creator of FootGolf, Michael Jansen

What’s the last new sport you can think of? There’s not many, are there? But in 2007, a group of Dutch men created something that is now played throughout the world.

The origins of both football and golf have been disputed for centuries.

While the current versions of the sports were undoubtedly played in the 15th and 19th centuries respectively, China can probably lay claim to earlier iterations of both sports, with estimates claiming a form of football known as ‘cuju’ was played in China almost 2000 years ago.

However, the birth of FootGolf, a hybrid sport of both football and golf, has a very precise conception date.

“We came up with FootGolf in 2007, but didn’t host our first event until 2009. We were an advertising agency that wanted to go broader than just advertising, so we came up with new products and services,” the co-creator of the sport Michael Jansen tells Dream Team.

He continues: “FootGolf was one of three ideas we had. You think of the idea, and we had a vision to put on an event that would launch the sport.”

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But what many football fans would be unaware of is the role the former Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds winger Willem Korsten played in the creation of the brand new sport.

“My business partner is Bas Korsten, whose brother Willem played for Leeds and Tottenham Hotspur in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” Jansen says.

“Willem told us a story about his time at Spurs. After practice the team would go from the training field and would see how many times they would have to kick the ball from the pitches to the dressing room door.

“He said the team enjoyed playing that, and we thought it was an interesting idea.
“It’s like golf, but then has the football element in it, and before you know it, you’ve combined the two ideas and come up with FootGolf.”

Willem Korsten in action for Spurs, 2001

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Willem Korsten in action for Spurs, 2001

Spurs and Leeds fans may struggle to remember Korsten, who played 30 times over two years in England before injury forced him into early retirement in 2002.

Little would the Spurs squad know at the turn of the millennium that a jovial post-training game would be the genesis of one of the world’s fastest growing sports.

The first event in 2009 was a bombastic affair, with Korsten inviting fellow football professionals and early FootGolf adopters to give the new sport a go.

Stars such as Pierre van Hooijdonk and Ricky van Wolfswinkel were in attendance, but Jansen knew there were still hurdles to overcome to ensure FootGolf hit the mainstream.

One such obstacle was the potentially conflicting environments of football fans and golf lovers.

Died in the wool golfers are perhaps not the most welcoming to new ideas, added to the idea of bringing in the sometimes boisterous crowd of footballers, the two worlds are not the most natural of bedfellows, and the initial games of FootGolf occasionally saw some golfers turn their noses up at it.

“It was definitely the case. I remember the look on some of the golfers’ faces when the football crowd came in, it was a look of, why are you here? We’re trying to get away from people like you,” Jansen says.

“But what soccer players do is they like the etiquette, and they like lifting their status to fit within what’s required at a golf course.”

We speak to Jansen on the first day of the inaugural Jansen Cup – the FootGolf equivalent of golf’s Ryder Cup, named in honour of the creator of a sport that is still less than a decade old.

The name of the competition is something Jansen is quick to play down, recognising the importance of those who helped develop it alongside himself, and those who continue to enhance the sport’s reputation.

Michael Jansen (middle) with UK FootGolf’s Kieran Lawry, Mike O’Connor (left) and FootGolf USA’s Roberto and Laura Balestrini (right)

Andrew Butler
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Michael Jansen (middle) with UK FootGolf’s Kieran Lawry, Mike O’Connor (left) and FootGolf USA’s Roberto and Laura Balestrini (right)

“I have to remind people that I wasn’t the only one that came up with it – it was a team effort, and the reason I’m the name on the cup is because I’m the ambassador for FIFG (Federation International FootGolf),” Jansen says.

Despite this, it’s hard to deny the role of someone who was a pivotal part of creating something new and genuinely original.

As we journey around the tournament venue at the Desert Willow course in Palm Desert, California, Jansen is regularly thanked by players from both the UK and US teams.

For some of them, the sport has given them a new lease of life, for others it has provided a much-needed alternative from playing football at a reasonable level to suddenly being thrust into representing their country in an international tournament.

Desert Willow golf course, the location of the inaugural Jansen Cup

Andrew Butler
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Desert Willow golf course, the location of the inaugural Jansen Cup

But rather than reveling in the attention, Jansen is appreciative of those who have taken his idea on board and run with it.

He adds: “On the one hand it’s great, they come up and say thanks because they really enjoy playing it, so that’s a nice feeling, especially if you’ve put a lot of time into it, it’s good to feel appreciated.

“It feels weird, of course, but it’s not as if there’s 100,000 people chanting your name – it’s a group of people who appreciated an idea that you’ve come up with.”

Michael Jansen address Team UK and Team USA at the Jansen Cup

Andrew Butler
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Michael Jansen address Team UK and Team USA at the Jansen Cup

As an advertiser, Jansen has a knack of what should work as a success, but he says coming up with FootGolf was an idea that looked on paper to be a no-brainer – and given the game’s growing appeal, in practice the invention is a winner, too.

He added: “The team of us that came up with it were into football, and we thought, if we were into it then there’d be a chance other people might be into it as well.

“But it’s so nice to see so many countries adopt it, and it was great to create something new, something that people weren’t asking for. When I see this [the Jansen Cup], it’s brilliant.”

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