Urban Golf growing in popularity
Rounds take place in unusual locations
European Cup held in London earlier this year
This is golf with a difference. Forget immaculate clubhouses, perfectly manicured greens and pristine bunkers.
Instead, think car boots, plastic buckets, plant pots and brass gorillas.
The third edition of the European Urban Golf Cup (EUGC) took place in May this year and it saw a new breed of golfers pitch and putt their way across a bizarre set of obstacles throughout east London.
“50% of players play urban golf for fun and the other part play for competition,” EUGC co-founder David Lardier told CNN at Stratford’s Olympic Park, which served as an impressive backdrop for the 120 participants vying for the much-coveted winner’s trophy.
“It’s normal that there is a competitive spirit because it’s a cup and there is a winner, but firstly it’s very convivial and there is a friendly spirit.”
While some golfers are known for their own individual fashion senses – Ian Poulter and his loud clothing, for example – Lardier wanted to give his tournament its own unique touch.
Each player was given a t-shirt that bore the words “God save the Queen,” a reference to the British National Anthem.
Urban golf is very much a labor of love for the 30-year-old Lardier, who is the CEO of DL Live – an event and digital communication agency launched in January.
Due to his work commitments, he plays urban golf two or three times a week but often uses evenings and weekends to prepare for tournaments like the EUGC.
With the concept still catching on, Lardier has had to face his own obstacles in organizing the event.
And when it comes to health and safety, Lardier has discovered you can never be too careful. As we’re talking, a volunteer comes running through the door to tell him that the tournament is at risk of being canceled due to a lack of monitors on the course.
That’s nothing compared to the difficulties he has faced in France, where the police have been called several times. After a brief discussions, the gendarmes always let them continue – with the lure of such a strange sport proving too much to resist for some officers, who sometimes have even joined them for a few holes.
“We had the permission from the Olympic Park, so it’s just a question of organization and it’s not a problem with the public,” said Lardier.
“In Cologne last year we had permission from the local area and there weren’t any problems. But in Paris, it’s different because, just in Paris, we play without authorization but the authorities still let us play.
“If people call the police they come, but we have never had any problems with the authorities. Sometimes they ask about it and want to try the sport for themselves.”
Sometime known as street golf, urban golf was born in the late 1990s when a group of Germans took to the streets of Berlin armed with real balls and clubs and began creating makeshift holes for themselves around the city.
In essence the sport is about bringing golf to your neighborhood.
“They were playing in the street and it wasn’t a real challenge like today; it was not a sport, it was just a fun game with friends,” Lardier explained.
“In France in 2003, another group of friends who lived in Paris decided to play golf in the park, in the street and city because they wouldn’t like to go outside of the city into the suburbs to play real golf.”
Those early days of the sport were hazardous for passers by, not least because Lardier admitted that several members of the public had been hit by stray balls.
“A few years after people started playing street golf, U.S. brand almostGOLF launched a little ball especially to play in the street,” said Lardier.
“You can’t break anything, you can’t injure any people with it so street golf was born in Germany, France and later England and other countries.”
Urban golf has come a long way since its birth, thanks in no small part to Lardier and his EUGC co-founder Sascha Bien.
The event has taken place each year since its inception in 2013 – in various European cities – and the number of participants have surged.
Fifty-four players from France and Germany took to the streets of Paris to contest the first cup, their number growing to 96 the following year in Cologne, Germany. This year in Stratford, 120 on the starting list.
A host of nations are now also represented, including the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Hungary, though absentees include Spain and Italy.
“After the first competition we decided to open the event to other countries because it was logical for us to have a lot of European countries, as we wanted to develop urban golf and the value of urban golf.
“Not just the practice of the sport itself, but the values, philosophy and the spirit. And for us it was important to organize a big event like the EUGC.”
Lardier is a big believer that golf can create camaraderie between countries and should be used to bring people together.
These values are a factor when it comes to deciding who will host the next tournament. For the London edition they chose the charity Community Golf, a not-for-profit organization that looks to get people into playing golf for free.
One member of the victorious French team, Nicolas Thiebaud, has enjoyed playing urban golf so much he has decided to set up his own organization – Lyon Street-Golf.
“I set up a street golf association in Lyon for lovers of street golf and to find new players for all the events in France and the European cup,” he explained.
“So far, I found five players who play hard and are very motivated. I know this association can create a movement in Lyon and I hope that things will pick up, not only in France but all across Europe.”