Ben Clarke hopes to use the tips he picked up from playing a round of Footgolf with Fernando Forestieri when he leads the 16-strong UK team in Forestieri’s backyard over the next six days.
Clarke heads into today’s practice day in Buenos Aires as the No 2 ranked player in Europe and on the crest of a wave after finishing the European Tour season with an unprecedented hat-trick of victories. Forestieri, along with Mikele Leigertwood and Hector Bellerin, have pitted their wits against Clarke at the course in Garston he manages – and that experience could give him the edge when takes on 230 players from 26 nations.
“They come down and play it just as a round with their friends, I don’t think they realise or perhaps they’re not aware of how competitive Footgolf is and that it is played as a European event,” said Clarke. “They’ve always shown an interest when I’ve talked to them about it, been interested in the places I’ve been and been supportive of it. I haven’t really given them any advice, I only went round with [Fernando] Forestieri but [Hector] Bellerin and [Adlène] Guedioura have been down.”
Clarke was born in St Albans, lives in Berkhamsted, attended the Watford Centre of Excellence until the age of 19 and played for Berkhamsted and Tring Athletic. This Is Footgolf Magazine has Clarke as one of the one’s to watch – and no wonder. He once recorded a score of 23 under at his home course, registered a hole-in-one at the course in Rickmansworth and beat the winner of the first Footgolf World Cup by 17 shots in winning his first European Tour event in Croatia. He followed it up with Tour wins in Hungary and Turkey.
“It’s definitely given me confidence,” said Clarke. “It also gives other people reason to expect something from me as well which is a compliment I guess as people think I can win it. I’m just trying to go out there and do what I’ve done at the last three tournaments and hopefully that’ll be enough. I don’t feel any pressure at the moment, when I go out to tournaments I get more excited than anything. I just go out there and play.”
Turning 25 later this month, Clarke will today practice at the Par 72, 18-hole course, which is 60kms from Buenos Aires, before day one of competition starts tomorrow. The best 144 players (plus the best player from each country if they are not among the top 144) will play in Sunday’s final. The team competition takes place on Thursday and Saturday. The UK team are favourites for the team title as they won seven of the 14 European Tour events this season, winning the continental team title with one event to spare.
“I don’t think we’ve set ourselves any targets,” Clarke said. “We’ve maybe set ourselves some expectations but no exact targets. We’re going out there as European champions so we’re already confident we can do well on the team event. We’ve got a lot of good players in the team so we’ll all fancy our chances of doing well out there. We had a team training day in Milton Keynes, I played in Cambridge and Essex last week, so it’s just about practicing at as many different courses. We had to do a bit of travelling just to meet up with everyone, but we wanted to have as much of a competitive edge as possible.”
One UK player, Clinton Moore, is so chuffed to be in the squad he had a tattoo to mark the occasion.
There is no prize money on offer and each player even has to bring his own football. Players rely on a combination of sponsorship and delving into their own pockets to fund the trip.
“It’s not cheap unfortunately but what we want to do is go out there as winning team,” said Mike O’Connor, the Federation For International Footfolf President and Managing Director of UK operations. “We are going there to bring back the World Cup. The sport is amateur, so we are funding it ourselves. It’s not an official recognised sport so we are not eligible for funding. We’ve been operating for three years and holding more and more competitions and bringing more courses on board, so we’ve been budgeting for this World Cup as we’ve progressed.”
Clarke has had to arrange cover at the UK Footgolf Academy he runs at the Penfold Park Golf Course on St Albans Road while he’s away.
“The players were asked to try and get sponsorship from various people,” Clarke said. “I haven’t got any sponsorship yet but I’ve been fortunate enough as I work for UK Footgolf. We’ve come to an agreement between us that the players would try and find sponsorship and most of them have. It’s pretty much all covered for without us having to spend any money.”
UK Footgolf squad: Paul Oliver, Ben Clarke, Nick Iron, Clinton Moore, Tom Spink, Karl May, Mikey Downey, Mark Scotchford, Steve Baker, Phil Price, Ryann Smith, Chris Anderson, Phil Butcher, Marc Cowell, Steve Roberts, Dan Spice.