The lone figure on the CityPark Nine Golf Course in Fort Collins doesn’t have an expensive golf bag; no cart or clubs, either. Just what appears to be a stick with an ice cream scoop-like head and a golf ball. It’d be easy to dismiss him as lost or scavenging for forlorn balls, but in one fluid motion he swoops up a golf ball with his stick, sweeps it overhead, rocketing it 100 yards down the grassy field. The deft move is better than most traditional golf shots on the course. The ball arcs, landing on the fairway, and rolls towards the green.
Welcome to FlingGolf, an emerging sport being played on golf courses across Denver and the Front Range, that involves players using a FlingStick to hurl regular golf balls like lacrosse attackmen. The new activity is taking root on golf courses throughout the U.S. and has already appeared in 28 different countries.
Using various overhand, sidearm, or underhand throws, players can pitch, chip and even shape or bend shots. There’s also an attachment to the FlingStick, called a slug, that contains two golf balls inserted into the stick’s head to enable something resembling traditional putting. Scoring is tabulated like traditional golf.
Initially, Alex Van Alen, who attended University of Colorado and Colorado State University, wondered how far he could throw a golf ball with a lacrosse stick. The game’s inventor eventually designed the FlingStick which can catapult a golf ball 200 yards. “That was my holy grail,” he says, “to be able to get on the golf course and do everything golfers do with golf clubs.”
This summer, Van Alen pitched the concept to investors on ABC’s Shark Tank. That, paired with golf’s rise in popularity as a socially distant sport during the pandemic, contributed to five consecutive years of increased sales. Van Alen says that they doubled production and added new merchandise such as shirts and hats to the line, expanding FlingGolf’s reach. In 2019, the company did $140,000 in sales and plans to exceed $1 million this year.
Van Alen compares the sport to snowboarding when it started as an alternative to skiing. “There is a lot going on in Denver,” he says. “And it coincided with lacrosse there. A bunch of guys are playing at a bunch of different courses.”
One of those guys is Barry Katz, a 66-year-old FlingGolfer—or “Flinger” as he calls himself—from Denver who has been playing the sport for six years. His home course is Harvard Gulch in Denver. “I’ve never been a golfer, but I like the golf course and my kids all play,” he says. “For me, [FlingGolf] was something I was able to do.” Currently, he’s played at golf courses in five states and an exclusive resort in Costa Rica. This December he plans to FlingGolf in Hawaii.
Not all courses, however, welcome the new trend. Some traditional pros have not heard of FlingGolf, while some clubs ban it altogether, citing safety and speed of play reasons. But Katz and Van Alen are quick to point out that, comparatively, FlingSticks cause less damage to a course since it’s more accurate and never leaves a divot.
Denver courses are coming around to the concept. Scott Rethlake, director of golf for the City of Denver, says that they allow FlingGolf on all of the city’s seven golf courses, but that to date there have not been many players. “I think it is a way for people who don’t play the traditional game to get outside and enjoy the game,” he says.
Lowering the barrier, for what can traditionally be a pricey sport, is part of FlingGolf’s appeal. Simply put: it’s more economical to buy one club than lug around seven to 14 clubs. The time spent perfecting a swing is also less of an issue.
That’s how Ken Pytluk initially got into the sport two years ago. His son was frustrated with golf, so the two started playing FlingGolf together in Fort Collins after Pytluk, 48, discovered it through social media. The sport was easier to pick up and play. Today, Pytluk is the Colorado FlingGolf ambassador, spreading word on his Instagram account, @kenzo_flings. He lives in Fort Collins and holds demos at various golf courses to introduce the activity to new players.
“We are not trying to convert regular golfers. We’re just trying to get another demographic of people on the golf course,” says Pytluk, who noted most golf pros have never heard of the sport.
Katz, for one, is relieved to see the trend take off. “I’m thrilled people are finding and playing [FlingGolf] every day,” he says. “I feel like the lone wolf out there a lot.”