While most amateurs would trundle around 18 holes in four or five hours, speedgolfers have been known to romp through 18 holes — usually a distance of between five and six miles — in under 40 minutes.
A fast-paced, time-efficient alternative to regular golf, speedgolf is essentially golf played as fast as you can. The aim is to get the lowest score when the total number of strokes is added to the number of minutes taken to complete the round.
Rob Hogan won the 2013 and 2015 speedgolf world championships and finished runner-up in 2014. He shot 83 and 79 last year in times of 42 and 39 minutes, giving him a score of 243 points.
“I’m looking forward to going to Chicago,” Hogan told CNN ahead of the two-day event. “I’m a bit nervous, but I know I’m able to perform.”
“I played all sports when I was a kid. I played tennis at a high level, golf at a high level. I started playing speedgolf in 2012 when I was untrained in running. I started training at distance running simply for speedgolf and reached a reasonably high level at that too.”
Speed and stamina
When Hogan made his world championships debut in 2012, finishing seventh, it was his speed across the greens that really stood out.
“When I started this game I ran my first ever competitive round in 42 minutes knocking about 10 minutes off what was the norm at that point and that was completely untrained. When I get to the first hole, I hit it as far as I can and run as fast as I can along the fairway.
“They talk about 99% perspiration, but that is 110% in my case. I stick the foot down to the pedal.”
The Irishman’s philosophy of the game is simple, just like his pre-tournament routine.
“Before I play I like to have a big mug of tea. Then when I’m standing on the first tee I just try to get everything out of my mind and that just kind of works for me.”
The field will be divided into elites and amateurs, with 70 people expected to compete altogether.
Previous events have attracted elite distance runners. At the 2013 world championships, Olympians Bernard Lagat (who won 5,000-meter silver at Athens in 2004) and New Zealand’s Nick Willis (1,500m silver at the 2008 Beijing Games) finished 24th and 13th respectively out of 25 participants.
In 2015, 33-year-old Willis, who became the oldest 1,500m Olympic medalist with bronze at Rio in August, bettered his previous performance to finish 10th.
‘It’s just a blast’
“We think the sport itself is just tremendous,” Jim Kosciolek, the founder of Speedgolf International, told CNN. “It’s more fun than regular golf and it’s more fun than a five-mile run.
“If you’re a runner it gives you something distracting that’s a bit like interval training, and if you’re a regular golfer it’s just a blast. I think a lot of golfers who try speedgolf will tell you that it’s the most fun they’ve ever had playing golf.”
While early versions of the game had caddies carry players’ clubs — “that got a bit chaotic,” explains Kosciolek — the game now involves a player carrying up to seven (although usually fewer) clubs in a lightweight, hand-held bag. Kosciolek thinks it provides a solution to some of the problems that afflict regular golf.
“Speedgolf teaches you that you don’t have to stand over the ball for 15 seconds before you hit it,” he says. “You’re not frozen in a position having all the worst thoughts you can have before you pull the trigger. You just hit it.
“Rather than trying to figure out if you should pick a 52 or 54-degree sand wedge, speedgolfers would have just a few clubs and hit it. Most of us don’t strike purely each time anyway, so it eliminates some of the nonsense from golf that only matters at the very top level.
“The next time people play regular golf they’ve gained a kind of confidence because they remember that moment they just ran up with a wedge and hit it perfectly without even watching it. You’re going to have those moments.
“And putting teaches you that your first read is usually right. There’s no time to go round the other side of the hole. And if you’re 30 feet away you’re trying to two-putt, which is all people really try to do anyway. It’s surprising how well you play when you play speedgolf.”
Hogan also notes the infectious appeal of the sport.
“Last year in this event I was accompanied in the cart by an elderly club member for whom it was the first time watching speedgolf. He told me after we played, ‘I didn’t know what to expect but I think that’s the greatest sport I’ve ever seen.'”
This year’s competition clearly has a lot of live up to.