The Rise of Monkeyball

It’s become common at tailgate parties, campgrounds and backyard barbecues. You’ve probably seen it yourself: people throwing two golf balls, bound together with a length of rope, at what appears to be a short ladder.

The game goes by many names—"ladder golf" probably one of the few fit for print. But to a growing national network of purists, what separates real Monkeyball from the various other incarnations is the official set of rules and sanctioned events that are the creation of Lansing's own Andy Frushour.

According to one of his friends, Frushour is the kind of guy who takes things to the next level. And that’s just what he did with Monkeyball.

In the Beginning

Frushour's introduction to the game was on a camping trip with his father six years ago. He and his father, Joe, soon began building the equipment themselves by drilling holes in golf balls and running a rope through them, later switching to colored putt-putt balls. The ladders—or trees as they are known to aficionados—are made from PVC pipes.

Next the game needed to be standardized. And that meant a common set of rules.

For Frushour, who works at the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), that part was easy.

“With my job, we help make the rules and regulations for sports," says Frushour, "so this just came naturally.”

In Monkeyball, players stand 30 feet away from the tree, attempting to wrap their golf ball set around one of the three rungs. The bottom rung, or limb, is worth three points, the middle is worth two points, and the top is worth one point. The first player to reach a score of 15 wins.

Despite what you may think, the term Monkeyball has a very pure origin. The name was coined when players noticed that the golf balls spun around the bars like a monkey twirling around the branches of a tree.

The official rule book is as lighthearted as the sport itself. The rules state, for example, that if a player throws out of turn, that sequence is to be continued for the rest of that round, after which, “a smart-ass comment directed at the offending party is more than appropriate.”

National Competition

The first Monkeyball World Championship, affectionately known as MB1, was held at Frushour’s home and drew 30 participants, consisting of friends and family from the Capital region in 2005.

Each annual MB tournament saw more and more participants, and the tournament soon began to outgrow its venue. By MB3, the tournament hosted 81 players and moved to a place dubbed "The Old Orchard," located on M-99 between Lansing and Eaton Rapids, where it has been held since.

Last year’s tournament, MB4, witnessed 111 participants from nine different states and its first corporate sponsors, including BIGGBY Coffee and Casey’s Head, a graphic design company owned by Frushour's brother, who also designed the official Monkeyball website.

Players began to arrive from other states, including Alabama, where a group of highly competitive folks have dubbed themselves the Southern Monkey Ball Conference (SoMoCo). The group's unofficial leader is Jason Salmon, a friend from Frushour's days at Arizona State University.

Frushour got Salmon hooked on the game while he was visiting Michigan.

“It’s easy to get hooked,” says Salmon, who now lives in Georgia. He introduced his family to the game during one of his many trips to his home state of Alabama. Salmon admits that the SoMoCoers are, “not as good as the northerners, but we’re getting there.”

Salmon anticipates that 20 people from SoMoCo will caravan to Michigan for MB5 in August. “You can just let your readers know that the SoMoCoers are gunning [for the northerners],” says Salmon.

Salmon is also happy to elaborate on another aspect that factors into all Monkeyball tournaments: Beer. No tournament is complete with a keg, and for Salmon, the magic intake number for successful play is four beers.

“That’s when I’m loose enough and can still concentrate,” says Salmon. He has arrived at this number after through a scientific process involving rigorous experimentation and data collection. “Each time I play I track the time and then depending upon how I finish or how I feel, I’ll know for next time.”

World Champion

As you can probably imagine, there are lots of officially sanctioned minor Monkeyball events in addition to the annual world championship, including events such as the recent Blatz Memorial Day Afternoon Delight, the Spring Kick Off at Prescott Field, Derby Day SoMoCo Invitational, and the 29-player Commissioner's Cup event and the Crawdaddy Invitational in Alabama.

But there's only one World Championship, and there's currently one reining World Champion of Monkeyball.

That guy is another Michigan player, Dean Allen. Born in Wisconsin, Allen now lives in Redford, Mich., where he teaches physical education at a private Catholic school.
“People despise him like they do the [New York] Yankees,” says Frushour.

Dean, whose father works with Frushour, had his first exposure to the world of Monkeyball during MB1.

Despite never having played the game before, he made it to the quarterfinals. He soon purchased his own Monkeyball set from Frushour and set up shop in his backyard, where he practiced, practiced, practiced. Allen returned at MB2, and has dominated every year since.

With Allen going undefeated during the last two world Monkeyball championships, there are a lot of people aiming for the top spot.

One of them is the ever-present Andy Frushour, currently ranked atop the world standings.

“We’re pretty competitive,” says Allen. “He’s the guy who started all this, so I’m sure he wants to be the champion.”

This year's World Championship is scheduled for the Old Orchard in Diamondale on August 8. Frushour is capping the registration at 144, so visit the website if you're interested in participating.

You can also join the official Monkeyball Fan Club on Facebook, even if you're "just a fan of 'ladder golf.'"

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Adam Molner is a freelance journalist who is thinking about picking up a set of monkeyballs. 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Andy Frushour and Andi Osters play a game of Monkeyball in the Frushour's backyard

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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