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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For Accordia Golf information, check their website at www.accordiagolf.com
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