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Swinging on Budapestʼs streets

Urban golf, a new twist designed to expand the popularity of an old sport, is bringing an eccentric crew, nine-irons in tow, out to public spaces in the capital.

Forget the idea that playing golf requires membership at an expensive club with eye-catching greens and strict etiquette, along with a costly investment in equipment. A new trend called urban golf is changing the way many people think of the sport, and is catching on in Budapest with the creation of     several urban golf clubs (UGCs) in the capital.

Passersby walking through Budapest’s City Park (Városliget) may spot some slightly eccentrically-dressed people with golf clubs in their hands, setting up shots in unlikely places or shrieking with joy after hitting a trash bin or similar target with their soft and safe “almostgolf” balls. These people represent the currently small but growing scene of urban golfers in Hungary.

In fact, the idea began in Hungary before many local participants were even aware the fad existed.

“We thought that it would be fun if we started hitting some tennis balls with some second-hand golf clubs and after a few events we realized that this was an existing sport, known as urban golf, and played by many foreigners,” said Balázs Ruszty, also known as Albert Swinger, the founder of the first Budapest-based Hungarian urban golf club, Heavy Balls UGC.

The club has opened the world of golf to people who might never have considered the game. Starting is remarkably easy, as Swinger explained: “Grab a golf club – preferably 7-9 irons, any kind of wedge or a putter – grab an ‘almostgolf’ ball and hit the streets,”

“The ‘hole’ could be anything; for example a trash bin, a pillar or a parked bicycle,” he said. In general, the target is rarely an actual hole.

 “The winner is the one who hits the target with the least amount of strokes,” Swinger added.

Tested internationally

The Hungarian Urban Golf Team (HUGT) first challenged its abilities against the national Czech team in Czech Republic, in a friendly tournament on March 28, but did not come away the winners. On May 16, HUGT participated in the European Urban Golf Cup in London.

“We finished tenth, out of ten teams, but Team Luxemburg beat us only by four points or strokes, which is not a huge gap. Given that every other country started the sport more than six years ago, I think it is a great achievement that we also participated in the cup,” Swinger said. “The cup itself is not official, because there is no such thing as an international urban golf association, just some guys who started organizing a bigger event for every country around Europe.”

As the godfather of Hungarian urban golf, Heavy Balls UGC happily welcomes beginners who would like to learn about the sport and are planning to start playing. The team encourages newcomers to “make their own teams sooner or later, because our goal is to make a flourishing urban golf life in Hungary, and to reach this vision we need a lot of different groups, who play and organize themselves independently,” Swinger added.

Though rather optimistic, this may be a viable goal. Heavy Balls UGC was founded less than a year ago, on August 22, and already two other teams have been created since: The Drunken Golf Club and the more-recently formed Fly Away UGC.

If you are keen on seeing them live, the members of Heavy Balls appear once or twice a week for training sessions in Városliget, or around downtown Budapest, and they encourage interest. As the motto of the team goes: “Don’t be afraid, golf is for everyone!”