These golfers really fling it
At 6 feet 2 inches and 225 pounds, James Fahey looks every bit the professional lacrosse player he is. On the golf course, the Boston Cannons defenseman cuts an imposing figure. But it’s his “club” of choice that turns heads.
Fahey uses a FlingStick to play his newfound sport, FlingGolf, an entertaining hybrid of golf and lacrosse.
“It’s awesome, because you only need one stick rather than buying a bunch of clubs,” said Fahey before a recent outing at the Wenham Country Club. “The way you grip the FlingStick is the same way you’d grip the shaft of your lacrosse stick to shoot, and the mechanics of the swing and footwork are parallel to a textbook overhand shot in lacrosse.”
Fahey, 22, never golfed while growing up in Boxford, or while attending St. John’s Prep and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, from which he graduated last year. But when Alexander Van Alen of Ipswich and Steve Bloom of West Newbury decided to take their new invention of FlingGolf and partner with Major League Lacrosse, Fahey was intrigued.
“It’s a sport that doesn’t require as much skill as golf regarding different shots and clubs, but that’s what makes it more attractive to your everyday nongolfer,” said Fahey. “I can see this sport taking off.”
FlingGolf is now offered at courses throughout Eastern Massachusetts, including, to Boston’s north, Murphy’s Garrison Golf Center in Haverhill, Ould Newbury Golf Club, Middleton Golf Course, Cape Ann Golf Course in Essex, and Unicorn Golf Course in Stoneham; to Boston’s south, Cedar Hill Golf Course in Stoughton, Ledgemont Country Club in Seekonk, Foxborough Country Club, and Norwood Country Club; and to Boston’s west, Cyprian Keyes Golf Club in Boylston, Maynard Golf Course, Needham Golf Club, and Juniper Hill Golf Course in Northborough.
“The great aspect of FlingGolf is that it integrates so seamlessly with traditional golf,” said Richard Luff, owner of Sagamore Golf in North Hampton, N.H. “On Thursday, we hosted a business group made up of golfers and nongolfers. The FlingStick allowed the nongolfers to get out on the course and play right alongside traditional golfers, and still be able to enjoy the beauty of being on a golf course.
“It seemed like a much simpler way,’’ he said, “to get people out onto a golf course without the complexities and conventions associated with traditional golf, like 14 clubs, a 140-page rule book,” and a steep learning curve, he said.
Newton’s Kevin Osgood of Sterling Golf Management, which owns or operates 10 public golf courses in Greater Boston, agreed.
“Since golf has slowed down since around 2004, we have been looking for new ways and new ideas to keep business growing, and FlingGolf was one of them,” said Osgood.
Van Alen, who grew up playing lacrosse in Philadelphia, invented FlingGolf after tossing around a golf ball with a jai alai basket on local Ipswich fields.
“I got about 80, 90 yards, and was able to shape shots with different throws and spins,” he said. “I decided that I could make a sport out of this if I could design something that could throw the ball 200 yards.”
Van Alen worked with product development firms Fikst in Woburn and Tool Inc. in Marblehead for more than a year to finalize the FlingStick design, then hired Somerset Plastics in Connecticut to make the specialized head that could cradle a golf ball. Essentially, FlingGolfers use a FlingStick to throw the ball toward the hole, instead of hitting it as you would with a golf club or hockey stick.
“It is a more naturally athletic swing,’’ he said. “You don’t have to be as precise as golf, and you vary your swing depending on the shot you need to take. Swings can be overhead like a lacrosse shot, or a golf/baseball swing, and anything in between.”
In early 2013, Van Alen and Bloom established PlusOne Sports, the parent company of FlingGolf. Among the original board members was Walter Lankau, who at the time owned Stow Acres Country Club and was president of the National Golf Course Owners Association.
Lankau “immediately saw how FlingGolf could positively affect golf courses the way snowboarding did for ski resorts in the ’80s and ’90s, by bringing out new young players,” Van Alen said. “The first course that allowed it was Candlewood Golf Club in Ipswich. That’s where I did a lot of prototype testing.”
FlingGolf is appealing on several levels. It’s easy to get started, with most players, including young children, able to pick up the swing within 15-30 minutes. Since only a single FlingStick is required, the initial investment is low (FlingSticks run $99 to $149). And you can play in the same foursome as golfers, accommodating dissimilar groups.
“It’s a game that can incorporate the whole family,’’ said Fahey, “as the adults golf and the kids FlingGolf.”
Following a demonstration in early 2014, Luff thought the game had potential, but his staff was less enthusiastic, he said. Van Alen said the company has experienced similar reactions as it unveiled FlingGolf.
“A bunch of different regions started up with FlingGolf when we first rolled out, with places like Minnesota and Virginia picking up the new sport, as well as faraway places like Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Canada, and resorts in Mexico,” Van Alen said. “Just this season we have started focusing on the Boston area, as it’s our home base.”
That led to FlingGolf’s relationship with the Boston Cannons and Major League Lacrosse.
“I think it’s a great fit because of the rapid growth of lacrosse in the region, and there are lots of local publicly accessible courses looking for a younger crowd,” Van Alen said. “Lacrosse players are a natural crossover to pick up the sport, but also hockey and baseball [players]. All of these sports have an element of them in FlingGolf.”