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Fling on the fairways

Fling on the fairways

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BLACKSBURG — A new kind of game is hitting the fairways at Blacksburg’s The Hill municipal golf course — a cross between golf and lacrosse with a few baseball moves added.

It’s called Fling Golf, a game in which players swap their 13 clubs for just one carbon-fiber FlingStick. The same golf ball is aimed at the same holes but instead of hitting it, players hurl it from a modified lacrosse stick.

It can be a faster game than traditional golf, making it ideal for a social distancing world. No practice swings, less waiting around. Everyone has just one stick and walking is a good way to go.

The Hill golf shop manager, Jeff Kleppin, said he encountered Fling Golf at a trade show last year and knew it had the potential to draw new people to Blacksburg’s golf course. It would also add something different for traditional golfers and families.

“We’re aiming for millennials with Fling Golf,” Kleppin said. “But we can see all kinds of people enjoying it. It would work for non-golfers who come to play a round of Fling Golf alongside friends playing traditional golf. We might even offer a summer camp in Fling next year.”

Fling Golf is known for having a much quicker learning curve than the traditional game, said Blacksburg golf instructor Cam Owens. While a beginner could take golf lessons for half a day and not reach the skill level to enjoy playing, novice Fling golfers can spend 30 minutes practicing on the driving range and be ready to go.

“They may not be great, but they can have fun,” said Hill golf instructor Lee Velez. “Fling Golf is good for beginners, good for serious golfers. It changes things up. When you start Fling, you might as well relax because you’re going to suck at first.”

All players need to start playing is a FlingStick — Fling Golf’s tool for launching shots and hitting putts. While the ball doesn’t go as far as one struck with a conventional golf club, it has a better chance of going straight. Scoring is akin to regular golf — the fewer the shots, the better the score — but, take a one-shot penalty if you go out of bounds, lose your ball, go into a hazard or into a bunker.

The best piece of advice is don’t overthink this game, according to Fling Golf creator Alex Van Alen. Swing as hard as you can, he says. Remember the hop, step and throw from your baseball days. Throw the ball from the FlingStick overhand or underhand; fling it side-armed like a baseball bat or overhead like a javelin. It doesn’t matter; it all works in the right situation.

Van Alen grew up outside of Philadelphia combining athletic equipment together in weird ways to create original sports he’d play with his brothers. They tried football on skates, ultimate Frisbee on dirt bikes, sledding on Big Wheels, but only one game persisted — golf with lacrosse sticks. Decades later, Van Alen developed a new stick that gave him more throwing distance and accuracy. After sneaking into golf courses to test his prototypes, he showed his best FlingStick to a board member of the National Golf Course Owners Association.

Course owners didn’t need to make any changes to their golf courses, yet had an easier game to lure non-players into the sport. Van Alen introduced Fling Golf and his original FlingStick to PGA pros at the 2015 PGA Show and got a warm reception. The company is based in Massachusetts. Since its roll-out, Fling Golf has been played on over 1,000 golf courses in more than a dozen countries, with FlingSticks sold to players and courses in every state in the United States.

PGA pro Brett Mowbray at Massanutten Resort near Harrisonburg was an early adopter of Fling Golf, introducing it to his course in 2015. He promotes it hard and sometimes has almost as many Fling golfers as traditional golfers playing rounds. When inexperienced golfers come in, he often tries to sell them on Fling Golf because they’ll move much faster through the course and won’t create logjams.

Among its players, Fling Golf has achieved cult status, with many making it a mission to be the first to “liberate” golf courses that have never had Fling Golf played on them before. Some have liberated dozens of courses in such far-flung places as Morocco, Costa Rica and New Zealand.

The Blacksburg municipal course was liberated recently. Although staff had tried out the FlingSticks, the course didn’t see its first nine-hole game until a couple of customers played a round last week. The pair were not golfers, but had watched a Fling video on YouTube and decided to try it.

“They took their time; I don’t think they had great scores, but they seemed to have fun,” Klepper said.

Fling Golf rates at the Hill are $20 per game or as long as the customer wants to play. The rate includes a FlingStick rental. Tee times can be booked by calling 443-1131.

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