World Speedgolf Champion.
Hit. Run. Repeat.
In Southern Galway, Ireland, lies the seaport village of Kinvara. Home to just over 1000 people, it’s the definition of a sleepy seaside town, with a way of life in tune with the natural elements. It’s here that World Speedgolf Champion Rob Hogan resides: a lifestyle seemingly in stark contrast to his chosen sport where every second matters.
Rob sees it differently: “I mean I’ve heard people say Speedgolf is a reflection on modern life and you’ve never a minute to sit down and it’s all a rush. But I can’t relate to that because everything (in Kinvara) is super chilled. I like playing golf fast and I like that workout, and then I like living the rest of my life slow. So for me it’s quite the opposite – it doesn’t facilitate a fast life, it facilitates an even slower one.”
On the surface of it, Speedgolf, where your final score is simply your shots played plus minutes taken, is a sport that looks intense, slightly frantic and anything but relaxing. But given most players complete a round comfortably within one hour (and at the elite level in under 45 minutes) it does give you a big chunk of the day back. “My last professional regular golf tournament was in 2014. I was coming in to a Speedgolf event, and I played a training round in 39 minutes in the morning and then I played in the Pro-Am event and it took me six hours! So most of my regular golf is with people I really want to spend time with. With Speedgolf, you’re playing 40 minutes and then you can chill – you got your life back.”
For many golfers, Speedgolf can also offer the chance to play without overthinking the game, and many find that their stroke score is the same or better during a round of Speedgolf than a round at a more sedate pace. “The key to a great round of Speedgolf is just push yourself as much as possible and just let it flow, and then what happens, happens with the golf. The more you can let it flow the better it usually turns out. If you try and control things too much, they generally slip out of your control. I’ve had some really cool experiences of getting into a flow kind of state that I’ve never otherwise experienced in regular golf.”
Rob’s approach to Speedgolf, which is to run as fast as he possibly can and let the golf take care of itself, is a luxury of 10 years of playing golf professionally and having what he calls an ‘autonomous swing’. “I guess everybody finds their own approach, but for me, with my youth of just hitting golf balls all day, it’s so autonomous, that it doesn’t make any difference. My heart rate’s off the charts and I can just go, run as fast as I can and just hit the ball. It doesn’t affect my motor skills at all, which is cool.”
But as well as this unusual talent, he is also one of the greatest innovators in the sport, thinking up new ways to shave off a few seconds each hole. “I’ve pioneered what I call ‘Hogan Handed Putting,’ basically one handed putting, which negates the need to putt two handed and therefore put your bag down at the side of the green and run a great deal longer as a result. The other thing I’ve done is I’ve modified the golf bag. So instead of having a stand, it has a hoop that allows you to throw it down, and it’s sitting ready to be picked up. Speedgolf’s really interesting tactically – if you can find a way to save a second or two seconds per shot, that accumulates with your 50 full shots you might have. My proudest invention is the tee in the beard,” he grins.
Hogan Handed Putting has quickly become the norm in Speedgolf tournaments, and combined with a rule tweak that allows players to putt with the flagstick in, some of the greatest time savings are found around the greens.
Another rule change allows players to take a drop with penalty in the event of a lost ball, rather than having to go back to the tee and re-hit. As Rob explains, if you’re having to look for your ball for more than one minute, it’s not worth it. “There’s two rule differences with Speedgolf. One is you can putt with a flagstick in, and the other is if you’ve a lost ball, you can make a decision quickly to have a drop. If you go over a minute, you’re wasting your time. Rather than having to go back to the tee on that occasion you can drop on the line of flight at a penalty shot. If you had to go back to the tee, it would cost you time and shots so it’d be really penalising, and it keeps everything moving as well.” A rule that would surely be welcomed by weekend golfers in regular golf as well.
Most Speedgolf players get around the course with four clubs: typically a driver, 7-iron, wedge and putter, or some variation of that combination. The bags are specially designed to be lightweight and easy to grab, although many are foregoing the bag altogether and just clasping the clubs in their hand. And you don’t have to be an elite runner to give it a go. “The sport is for everybody. To actually play it is really cool because it kind of takes away this frustration of not hitting a perfect shot. You just don’t mind as much. It makes it about going from A to B in a really good fun workout. In terms of an elite speed golfer, it really comes down to somebody who has autonomous golf skills and is either a really good runner or is willing to train to be a really good runner.“
As for the social aspect, Speedgolf can be played in pairs with alternating shots, but at the competitive level it’s as solitary as running. “You’re just in your zone. You’re fucking hammering it along. And you’re playing your shot just like – the brain activity is off the charts. So even if there were groups of people around, you mightn’t even see them. It’s that kind of vibe.” But as Rob points out, within an hour you’re sitting down having a beer with your fellow competitors, and you’re still three hours ahead on your day.
As for the future of Speedgolf, Rob sees growth on the horizon but is cautious about determining its direction. “I think Speedgolf has a life of its own and I can personally say it’s a really incredible sport, having gained experience in it both on a fun, social level and at an elite level. Many of the tournament organisers that are kind of gathering around the world will say there’s no reason why it couldn’t be an Olympic sport. But overall, Speedgolf to me is a sport in itself. It doesn’t belong to anyone. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to go to all the tournaments around the world and actually make a little bit of money doing it. I just want to tell everybody about Speedgolf and just see where it goes from there.”
Rob Hogan is sponsored by
Hard Metal Machine Tools & The Tara Slevin Group