“Sir, this is the first sport I’ve ever liked.” –an especially polite camper, referring to Golfball
There’s nothing quite like the games we invent as children. The living room carpet becomes boiling lava, couch cushions become stepping stones to safety. There’s a special spirit to this kind of play, one that Parker Brothers can’t fit into a box. And you won’t find it televised by ESPN. Only within our own games. Our earliest creations retain a unique magic, even if the ideas behind them (like lava floors) prove as common as hide-and-seek.
With an embrace of that childhood spirit, GOLFBALL was born at Appel Farm.
Golfball debuted as a workshop in 2006, with the following description: “It’s part golf, part baseball, but not really like either of those.” And a warning: “You will run and get tired. You will lie on the ground and get dirty.” Truth in advertising.
For the whole truth, here’s how to play:
1. Gather at least seven people, two foam bats, and a bag of tennis balls. Are you outside yet? If not, go. But not to an empty field. Find a place with lots of stuff.
2. Choose one person to be the Judge. The Judge does not play. Instead, he/she carries the extra balls and judges things that need judging.
3. Divide your players into two teams. (It doesn’t matter if a team is larger.) Give each team one bat and one ball.
4. Practice making human chains: Have a player lie flat on the ground, arms and legs fully stretched out. Place a teammate behind them, in the same pose, but with both hands touching the first player’s shoes. Keep adding teammates until you run out. If done correctly, both teams will have made separate human chains. They need to be straight, without gaps (players too far apart), and without scrunching (players too close, or with bent knees/elbows). Get up, but prepare to make these chains again.
5. Choose a “hole.” (Teams take turns choosing.) A hole can be any object that players are capable of touching from the ground, while in a human chain. Doors, trees, picnic tables, etc. They can be a foot away. They can be three blocks away. Your teams will race to be the first to touch this object.
6. Choose a pitcher for each team. (Pitchers change after each hole.) Pitchers do not bat. Pitchers throw to their own team, so curveballs are not recommended. Decide a batting order for the remaining players. Get your first batters ready. Where they stand represents a team’s “home plate.” Batters not currently batting will help return balls to the pitcher.
7. Ask the Judge to say: “One, two, three, PITCH!” This begins the race to touch the hole.
8. Give batters only one swing per turn. When swings miss, completely, home plate stays put and the next batter immediately swings from the same spot. When swings hit, even barely, home plate moves to where the ball comes to a stop. Your team runs to the new home plate and the next batter immediately swings from there. Yes, foul ball tips can move home plate in the wrong direction. If a hit ball is lost (in a lake, for example), call the Judge for a replacement and continue batting, with home plate as near to the lost ball as possible.
9. Is anyone near the hole yet? If so, here’s the tricky part: To touch the hole, your teams must make human chains. They can try this at any time. The entire team must be used, including the pitcher. No need to lie down in batting order. One end of the chain (a hand or foot) must touch home plate. And to be successful, the other end of the chain (a hand or foot) must touch the hole, without breaking any of the chain-making rules (see step 5). This is the only way to end the race.
10. Expect a lot of trial and error. When a chain doesn’t reach the hole, or if it must bend/scrunch in order to do so, your team must get up to adjust home plate with more batting. Small adjustments may require bunts. When your chain finally fits, call the Judge to make a ruling.
11. But the Judge might say: “No!” This means your chain has failed inspection. “Crooked! Gaps! Scrunching!” The Judge will provide your reason(s) for failing. If necessary, fix your chain. Some repairs will require batting. Others will not. Keep trying until the Judge says: “Yes!” This ends the race immediately. In some cases, the race will be too close to call and teams share the glory.
12. Repeat steps 5-11 until exhausted.
Exhausted, indeed. That’s how to play Golfball. A team sport so odd that winning is irrelevant. Fun exercise for both athletes and non-athletes. It’s many, many things–except easy to explain. Yet a few rabid fans have managed to do so, keeping the game alive six years after its invention. So, play on, campers and counselors. Kindle that childhood spirit, whatever your age.
“Thanks, Appel Farm. For reminding me that floors can be lava.”
–Jack Walker, creator of Golfball