On a torrid Seattle afternoon in early August as the Seahawks were kicking off their first game of the preseason, Dan Ferguson, dressed in a plain black tee and jeans, was playing on a turf of sorts himself. Except his stadium was a table-sized model of one. And his sport of choice was a mash-up of miniature golf and shuffleboard: Duffleboard. Ferguson, who works in IT security by day, treks to Flatstick Pub in Pioneer Square after work and gets in a few rounds of 12 holes before catching a bus home to Kent. He’s there at least every Monday for the weekly tournament, which he often wins.
Such is the devotion this newly invented game inspires.
With a silver putterlike mallet in hand, he studied his shot—a confident stroke knocked the ball across a tiny green football field the way he’s done it a hundred times or more. He shrugged at the poor outcome: five points.
“The goal is always to make it challenging but doable,” Sam Largent says of the game he created. Largent and his brother Andy own Flatstick Pubs in Kirkland, Pioneer Square, and, as of July, South Lake Union where patrons swill local beer and test their drunken dexterity at minigolf or Largent’s creation. Like minigolf, Duffleboard—a blend of the words duffer, slang for a lesser-skilled golfer, and shuffleboard—involves obstacles (metal sasquatch figures!), tricky angles (a guitar-shaped course!), and strategic shots (a Hot Wheels–style loop!). Rule number one: You only get one shot. If you miss your hole-in-one, then, as in shuffleboard, you earn up to six points, depending on the zone in which your ball ultimately lands.
Largent, who perennially sports light stubble and a Flatstick baseball cap, has “always liked making up games on the fly.” After all, Duffleboard was born out of necessity. “We wanted to come up with a new game that didn’t take up much space.” So, Largent situated a portable golf hole onto a table and wielded a putter horizontally to whack the ball around. Thus, the nascent version of Duffleboard was born one slow pub day in 2014.
Duffleboard’s origins aren’t too unlike pickleball, another Washington-hatched hybrid. The outdoor paddle sport was devised in 1965 by a congressman and two friends on a rainy Bainbridge Island day due to a dearth of badminton equipment. It combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong; players bat a perforated whiffle ball over a net. Today, pickleball has international leagues and over 4,000 official courts across the country.
Duffleboard, though, has a comparatively smaller following. “It’s a little bit silly,” concedes Largent, but it’s about smart gameplay. “People can really geek out and get competitive.” Even Ferguson, who doesn’t “do social media,” has made an exception: On his Instagram handle @DuffleboardIsLife he posts hole-in-one videos and pictures of personal best scorecards.
“You can play minigolf anywhere, but this is their baby,” Ferguson extols. “This is also just more fun."