A contestant holds his finish at the Nissa StreetGolf Pro Championship in Nice, France, in October.
The French City Pro Tour recently converged on Nice for the Nissa StreetGolf Pro Championship, or Nissa Street Golf Contest, depending whom you ask. Jerseys were stitched, the name of one team won't be printed in this publication, many bières followed cheers, and in the end, Le 19ème Trou (The 19th Hole) captured the trophy.
Just as children huddle in a back yard or living room to devise a game, so do street golfers in a back alley or office park. They use a softer, window-friendly ball made from the same material as synthetic wine corks. The tee shot may be played off a small piece of carpet, a rubber tee or bottle cap, but from then on the ball is played down until it finds its objective, be it a lamppost or part of a door or even a natural depression such as a pothole. Golf on pavement is a lot like billiards: The bank shot can be deadly, and the house cues get scuffed fast.
"It's a sensation of liberty to play," says David Lardier, president and founder of Paris Street Golf. "You can play whenever, wherever and with whomever you want. It's a good way to explore new cities and even rediscover your own street."
Free relief from walls is granted, and if a ball settles under a car, the player may place it two club-lengths to either side of the vehicle without penalty. And most important: "Golfers must keep clubs in their bags at all times when not hitting. Otherwise people will think you're a crazy person looking to attack someone," says Guillaume Le Mével, a regular competitor on the French City Pro Tour and the French distributor of the game's ball, which is made by an American company called Almost Golf.
"We can't afford to go to a golf course, so we find our own course on the street," Le Mével says. "Sometimes you have to show people the ball, let them feel it, and then they smile because they know you're not going to damage their car or hurt their children. If they're traditional golfers, they want to try it."
Holes are routed just about anywhere competitors can imagine: bus stations, alleys and parks.
SPREADING THE WORD
hat some street golfers lack in technique, they make up for with artistic talent. Finding golf holes in cityscapes is inherently creative, and there exists a surprising number of ambitious short films about the sport. The promotional graphics for events are always highly produced.
"Europeans are good at organizing sports on club levels," says Robert Peterson, the founder of Almost Golf. "They love to draw flags, sing songs, talk trash. But most important, they enjoy the day in a very social way." Peterson, incidentally, left Almost Golf to start a new company, GlowGear.net, and plans to soon introduce a nocturnal form of street golf.
What's clear is the game is finding perches in pavement through grassroots, not a top-down governing body. Depending on which border you cross, it's called urban golf, cross-golf, offgolf and other names. In May, an event billed as the European Urban Golf Cup is scheduled for London. Will the revolution hit the United States? A decade ago, Peterson ran 40 similar events on college campuses but says "getting the insurance was torture." Rule No. 1 of street golf: Keep The Man out of it.