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Enjoy Magazine

Off Road Golf

08/08/2013 10:28AM ● By Enjoy Magazine
It started about 23 years ago when Ken Papini decided to put in a croquet course to help keep the grass and weeds trampled down. There were two problems: neither Papini nor his son, Keith, could tell if the balls were going through the wickets, and the mallets kept breaking.

So Papini improvised. He dug some flowerpot-sized holes to replace the wickets and added a 3-foot handle to a dead blow hammer to create a sturdier mallet. He laid out a 10-hole course and identified each hole with a flag.

Voila! Off-Road Golf was born.

“Friends from work came over to play and they liked it, so I started putting courses in at friends’ houses and we started to have tournaments. Everybody loved it and it kind of evolved from there,” Papini says.

It’s easy to see the game’s attraction. Unlike conventional golf that can be difficult to master and requires specialized equipment, numerous balls and spendy green fees at golf courses, Off-Road Golf is easy to learn for people of all ages. It requires only one and the brightly colored balls, which are slightly larger than a baseball, are easy to find.

Papini says he’s seen golfers as young as 4 and as old as 91 score holes-in-one. “It’s gender-friendly, age-friendly and weather-friendly. People come over and because it’s such a simple game, they think, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’ By the third or fourth hole, they say ‘I’ve got this’ and by the end of the game, they’re regulars.”

As its trademarked name implies, Off-Road Golf can be played anywhere: urban backyards, gardens, in the hills and out in the woods. On Papini’s property east of Redding near Shasta College, there are two courses with mowed fairways, a rock wall and other features.

“Most of the time people tell me how much they love working on their yard when they have a course,” Papini says. “With 10 fairways, you know exactly where to mow. Over time, people doll up a course. Believe me, my place wouldn’t look like this without a course.”

Vinny Vilano picked up the Off-Road Golf habit about 16 years ago and put in a course that covers half of his five-acre lot north of the city of Shasta Lake. “I had been running with a group of friends and they all had courses and I kind of got interested in their pastime. Everybody who had a course were all nice people, and I got to meet up with people through these people and now it’s just part of what we do,” Vilano says.

Vilano has painted his golf balls red, green and white in honor of his Italian heritage and says he loves nothing more than playing golf and tinkering with his course. “When I’m not doing chores, I’m relaxing and playing Off-Road Golf,” says Vilano, the head of environmental services at Shasta Regional Medical Center.

Vilano says he planted 50 conifers to beautify his course and has added “yardifacts” like bird feeders and a caddy shack to give it a little character. His wife, Renae, is an avid player and her name is engraved on the “World Championship” trophy.

As Off-Road Golf continued to grow in popularity, Papini thought he might be on to something so he turned to his friends at Boehringer Manufacturing, the Redding company that operates The Barbecue Store.

Bill Foster, the sales manager, is now marketing Off-Road Golf and says it’s not a coincidence that the game is now linked to a company that sells barbecue tools, gifts and accessories. It turns out the sport is a perfect match for barbecues and potluck meals.

Foster got involved in the game when friends requested his grilling skills for the Off-Road Golf World Championship, an all-comers, three-round tournament that’s been held each fall in Shingletown for the past 12 years. This year’s contest is set for Sept. 22.

With more than 140 courses in Shasta County, Foster says the growing number of golfers have a lot of options for friendly weekend get-togethers. Typically, owners of the host course provide the main dish and guest golfers bring along the sides. As a rule, nobody goes hungry.

Since an average round only lasts about 20 minutes, there’s plenty of time to visit. “I think it’s more the camaraderie. The game just makes it more fun,” Foster says.

Papini says the foothills of eastern Shasta County, with their ample trees for shade, are ideal for Off-Road Golf, and that’s why he bought 30 acres off of Highway 299 near Diddy Wells and built two courses. “I want to make it a sanctuary—an Off-Road Golf sanctuary,” he adds.

Papini stages his version of the Masters each May at his mountain retreat. The tournament is open to past World Champions and those skilled enough to advance through a pre-Masters event populated with past champions.

“People think it’s kind of goofy, but it gets competitive,” Papini says. It also has its whimsical side, including an “untrained dog” rule that, in the event a dog picks up a ball, the golfer is required to play the next shot from wherever the ball is dropped. •

On the web: Off-Road Golf kits, which retail for $149, are available at The Barbecue Store, 1540 Charles Drive, Suite B, Redding; (800) 630-8665; or visit