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Sports
by Fred Varcoe

Japanese Golf Gets Friendly

It’s getting easier to play through at a new breed of Western-style clubs

Courtesy of Windsor Park Golf and Country Club

Want to become a member of a golf club here in Japan?

Once upon a time, that was a really difficult thing to do. Whether or not there was an outright ban on foreigners is hard to say, but the fact of the matter was that Japanese clubs didn’t want gaijin members.

But now things are changing—most noticeably, the owners of the clubs themselves. In recent times, foreign investors have pounced on Japanese clubs as investment opportunities. And much of this “opportunity” relies on changing the game here to make it more accessible, more cost-efficient and more fun. The flies in this particular ointment are the Japanese style of play, Japanese golfing “tradition,” and the stubborn-mindedness of people who think you must have lunch in the middle of a round. But at least one golf club is turning Japan’s golfing traditions on their head.

The Windsor Park Golf and Country Club, an hour up the Joban Expressway near Mito, not only allows golfers to play through (i.e. without lunch), not only allows them to carry their clubs, not only has decent Western food in its restaurant, and not only whips up a first-class cappuccino, it’s trying to entice foreigners with a special membership scheme. For a little over ¥20,000, non-Japanese get green-fee and meal discounts, membership tournaments and an official handicap. That’s not all. Windsor Park also has child and pet facilities and on-site accommodation (¥6,800), and those who arrive early enough can play nine holes for free the day before their reserved round. All this is perhaps not surprising coming from a club that’s used to dealing with foreigners and that has Irishman Jim Fletcher, a well-known figure in Japanese golf, on its staff to try and stimulate interest among the foreign community.

“The membership scheme has been very popular,” Fletcher tells Metropolis. “There is a sense of club life, with a monthly membership medal tournament with both Japanese and non-Japanese members. Having a large block of foreigners also permits new ideas to be realized much quicker. We now have junior golf, pull- trolleys, a ‘pet hotel’ and a children’s center.”

Fletcher sees the moves at Windsor Park as the direction Japan golf must move in order to survive. “Foreign capital companies have purchased failing golf courses to turn them around and sell at a profit in the future. To sell for a profit, these courses must make profits. In order to increase rounds, green fees have to be reduced and operations will need to be restructured to reduce costs dramatically. With more people playing golf, more golf equipment will be sold. Increased interest in golf tournaments will probably happen, too, as a result of there being more golfers. So, I think in general, these foreign capital companies are the catalyst to revive the whole golf market.”
Paul Jones, director of education at Accordia Golf, which is also at the forefront of the sport’s new wave in Japan, says everything is changing—and must change—to reinvigorate golf here. That includes lower prices, earlier tee times, playing through, afternoon/twilight play, better food and more dynamic staff.

“Most clubs have welcomed the improvements,” Jones says. “It is important to note that change for Japanese golf courses is very challenging, but the foreign companies have tried and been successful in taking the existing product and combining it with new service and quality standards.”

Jones notes, however, that schemes such as Windsor Park’s do not work everywhere. Yet even well-established clubs are changing their ways. “Some courses resist, but if you look at the numbers, in 2004-2005, 22 percent of courses have become predominantly self-play courses with caddies being available on-demand, while green fees across Japan have dropped significantly. Golf can now be played from as little as ¥4,000, including lunch, in Chiba, Saitama and Fukushima.”

One thing that foreigners can do is actually request the service they want from the clubs where they play—such as starting in the afternoon or not having lunch. They’ll find that clubs are now more willing to accommodate them. Windsor Park is showing the way and reaping the benefits. Time to hit the links.

For more information on Windsor Park Golf Club check out their English website at www.wpgcc.com, or contact Jim Fletcher at jim@wpgcc.com. For Accordia Golf information, check their website at www.accordiagolf.com

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp .

Game Plan

Holy salkow, Batman, Miki’s back! Yes, Japan’s very own Babe on Ice, Miki Ando, roared back to form in the opening event of the Grand Prix figure skating series, not only winning October’s Skate America competition in Connecticut, but overshadowing younger teen star Mao Asada, everybody’s current tip for greatness. Ando, of course, was panned after finishing a disappointing 15th at the Turin Olympics, but she’s lost a bit of chunkiness and taken her skating to a higher level; maybe now she will start to fulfill her promise. Next up on the calendar is the NHK Trophy from November 30 to December 3 in Nagano. Japan’s women skaters are hot right now. Catch them while you can. FV See sports listings for details.

Past Issues
701: Rugby World Cup
699: The Gospel According to Moses
697: Tokyo Metropolis League 4.0
695: The Lotte Revolution
693: Asian Cup Soccer
691: IFAF World Championship
689: K-1 Max
687: Snooker
685: Interleague Baseball
683: FC Tokyo’s UK Day
681: Rugby Dreams
679: 2007 Bridgestone Indy Japan 300
677: Opening Day
675: World Figure Skating Championships
673: J. League 2007
671: Tokyo Marathon
669: Toray Pan Pacific Tennis
667: New Year Sumo Tournament
663: FA Coaching Courses
661: K-1 Grand Prix Final
659: J. League comes down to the wire
657: All-Japan Kendo Championship
655: Volleyball World Championships
653: Japan F1 Grand Prix
651: Seiko Super Track Meet
649: PRIDE: Final Conflict Absolute
647: Top League rugby
645: FIBA World Championship
641: Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Kazuhiro Kiyohara
639: 2006 JOMO All-Star Soccer
637: World Cup alternatives
635: Japan vs. Italy
633: Japan Open Figure Skating
629: Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 Mile
627: 48th YCAC
625: Japan Baseball 2006
623: Auto Racing 2006
621: Xerox Super Cup and J.League
619: World Baseball Classic
617: Toray Pan Pacific Tennis
613: Comeback Kids of 2005
611: FIFA Club World Championship
609: Japan Cup Dirt and Japan Cup
607: Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie
605: Nabisco Cup Final
603: Japanese Golf Gets Friendly
601: AIG Japan Open
599: Harlem Globetrotters Still Trotting
595: A league of gentlemen
593: NFL tokyo 2005
591: Bayern Munich
589: Kawashima vs. Tokuyama—again
587: PRIDE battles on
585: Battle for the Bottom
583: Zico’s Long Hot Summer
581: High hopes for rugby
579: Searching for a Sumo Star
577: Follow the ponies
575: The Final Crush
573: Japan Pro Baseball
571: Big Changes for J. League
569: Xerox Super Cup
567: World Cup Qualifying
565: Toray Pan Pacific
563: Asia League ice hockey
560: Year-end fighting
558: J. League Championship
556: K-1 World Grand Prix Final
554: Dunlop Phoenix Open
552: Nabisco Cup Finals
550: Japanese Grand Prix
548: Asian Hockey League
546: K-1 World Grand Prix 2004
544: Top League rugby
542: J. League
540: Soccer: Europe vs. J League
538: Tokyo Metropolis League
536: Japan vs. Italy
534: Masamori Tokuyama
532: Japan vs. India
530: Miracle training
528: World Cup Cricket
526: Pride Grand Prix 2004
524: Yuriko Ito
522: Hideki Matsui
520: Soccer: 2004 Olympic Qualifiers
518: Japan Ice Hockey League
516: Ahn Jung Hwan
514: Toray Pan Pacific Tennis
512: The Tokyo Metropolis Football League
509/10: Diamonds and Tigers in 2003
508: Masami Ihara
506: K-1: 2003 World Grand Prix Final
504: Japan Cup
502: Pacific League All-Star Game
500: Nabisco Cup: Reds vs. Antlers
498: Tigers roar back
496: Samantha Head and Nikki Campbell
494: Top League rugby
492: Brendan Jones
490: J. League speeds ahead
488: The power of PRIDE
486: American forces
484: Star-spangled baseball
482: One Korean, one mission
480: Pearl bowl
478: The right touch
476: Taking the hard road
474: Tigress on the prowl
472: World Cup replay
470: Giants among men
468: Welcoming the MLB
466: Sumo spreads its wings
464: The battle for East Asia
462: Asian Invasion
460: Making a racket
457/458: 2002's ups and downs
456: On thin ice
454: K-1's Final KO
452: Real Madrid, Olimpia in clash of the champions
450: Golf's Young Turks tackle Taiheiyo Masters
448: Big guns back in Japan Series
446: The Zico era kicks off
444: Ryder Cup golfers do battle at The Belfry
442: Toyota Princess Cup 2002
440: 2002 J.League Stage 2