Column: FlingGolf is catching on — with San Diego in limelight

FlingGolf founder Alex Van Alen holds a FlingStick at Riverwalk Golf Club in Mission Valley. The game uses only one club.
(Courtesy of Alex Van Alen)

FlingGolf, a sport in which players throw a golf ball instead of hitting it down the fairway, is attracting fans because it’s easy to learn and uses a single club


Move over, pickleball. Make room for the new kid on the block — FlingGolf.

This newly introduced hybrid sport is growing in popularity. Just as pickleball marries tennis and table tennis, FlingGolf combines elements of lacrosse, jai lai and golf.

More than 30 A-list players gathered in San Diego last weekend to battle one another — and the wind and rain — as ESPN filmed the first FlingGolf tournament held on the West Coast.

The game follows similar rules as golf except that players use a single club, or FlingStick, fashioned of carbon fiber and fiberglass, with a rigid cup-like basket at one end.

Instead of standing to tee off, players take a few steps, like bowling, and fling the golf ball as hard and straight as possible down the fairway.

The club head has a flat surface called a striker pad on one side designed for putting. Sand trap and pitch shots can be done with a side-arm swing that scoops the ball into the air.

A number of San Diegans signed up for the tournament’s play-with-a-pro opportunity Friday afternoon to learn the game and practice throwing techniques with the best players in the nation. Because of the rain, that event was moved from flood-prone Riverwalk Golf Club in Mission Valley to the Welk Resorts Golf Course in north Escondido.

Alex Van Alen is both founder of the game and designer of the club, which retails for $124 to $219, depending on shaft style and length.

The idea sprang from his childhood days in Pennsylvania playing lacrosse in the backyard with his brothers. Sometimes they tossed a golf ball. About 12 years ago, Alen started building different contraptions to seriously explore how far he could throw a golf ball.

“Very quickly I realized I could play on a golf course if I could throw it 200 yards. So, you can play right alongside a golfer.”

Finally, in 2014, he introduced his newly designed “stick” and the game of FlingGolf. He displayed and demonstrated the club at the Professional Golf Association show in 2015, and the FlingGolf buzz began.

Now the clubs are available for sale or rent from the website and from about 350 pro golf shops around the United States, including Riverwalk Golf Club and the Welk Resorts.

Going into this past weekend’s tournament, the ninth-ranked player in the world was Jake Anderson, 34, of La Jolla, a consulting data scientist who moved here five years ago from his native Hawaii.

Anderson’s ranking is about to rise as he finished the Feb. 26 tournament a close second to Sam Scannell, of North Carolina, with Scannell getting a birdie to Anderson’s par on an 18th hole playoff on Twin Oaks Golf Course in San Marcos. Team competition took place Feb. 25 at the Welk Resorts.

Anderson first read about this innovative way to play golf with one club in a newsletter called The Futurist. Then he viewed a “Shark Tank” episode during which Alen and his business partner pitched the game to the four “Shark” panelists, and soon Anderson was hooked.

He got a stick and began to practice. Anderson confesses that his first few shots went straight into the ground, but soon he mastered the technique.

Sixteen months later, he was ranked in the top 10 players in the World League FlingGolf organization, competing under his acronym, “Island Hopper.” He even enlisted his girlfriend, Rosie Flores, who competed Sunday in the women’s FlingGolf division.

“Golf can be a little intimidating, but FlingGolf has a short learning curve,” says Anderson, who occasionally played golf with his buddies. He says some FlingGolfers are competitive after less than a month of practice.

“After the first 10 or 20 swings, you’ll realize the mechanics,” he says.

Alex “Showtime” Ebersole, 30, the top-ranked World League player going into the Feb. 26 tournament, was first exposed to FlingGolf at the 2019 PGA show, where he saw Alen launching the golf ball and asked what he was doing.

Ebersole is a former golf pro who manages his family golf course in Lewes, Del. “The lightbulb went off,” he says. He thought it would be fun to offer FlingGolf at his course because it’s a game whole families can play.

Now the game is being played in 32 countries by people from age 6 to senior citizens, says Alen, who heads New Swarm FlingGolf based in Amesbury, Mass. There are more than 1,200 members of the FlingGolf Players group on Facebook, and professional players are getting sponsors.

ESPN filmed a tournament last year and recorded the tournament last weekend, with plans to air it this summer.

PGA Pro Mike Skala at Welk Resorts, a former lacrosse player, is one of the golf course managers who decided to add FlingGolf at his par-3 course for $15 Monday through Friday and $18 on weekends, plus a $5 stick rental. He says it attracts a lot of people who weren’t great at golf but pick up a FlingGolf stick and are good at it.

Skala issued a case study report noting that in only one month he was halfway to his projected income on FlingGolf rentals and greens fees for the full year. In the first six months, his revenues were three times greater than anticipated.

“As a resort property, families are always looking for new things to do,” Skala reported. “You’re always going to have your ‘purists’ who are a little bent out of shape when they first see it, but once we explain to them what it is and how it works, they typically calm down.”

Anderson says he has walked on numerous golf courses with his FlingStick and never been turned away.

No deal was ever reached with the “Shark Tank” investors. But Shark Kevin O’Leary’s prediction that, “The golf Gods will strike you dead with that thing,” hasn’t come to pass — unless, that is, you want to count the downpour and high winds buffeting the FlingGolfers in San Diego last weekend.

Will the league return to San Diego for a tournament, I asked.

“Absolutely,” Alen says. “It can’t happen twice, right?”