Golfing in Japan
In Japan, Golfers by the Thousands Far from the salt spray of Scottish links golf, where the game was born, lays the island nation of Japan. But the cultural gap between the two countries, measured in thousands of miles, has closed in recent years. In spite of very limited space and extraordinary prices for club memberships in Japan, golfers by the thousands are taking to the game. Visiting businessmen are credited with (or blamed for!) bringing the popular game to Japan. These men spent their time away from their trading business and other ventures on one of the few golf courses or open spaces available. From this introductory start, the golfing industry has exploded in Japan, with professional tour stops for men and women, new country clubs featuring immaculate courses and, in a version of "free trade," Japanese professionals making their mark in Europe, the United States and South Asia. Compared to world golf, Japanese golf history is very young. The game was brought to the island nation in about 1910.
However, in this relatively short time, more than 3,000 golf courses have been constructed. While private courses dominate the golf scene in Japan, golfers by the thousands flock to public courses. (Courses around Tokyo alone number above 100.) Part of this rapid increase in golf popular is due to the many international corporations that have developed strong ties to the game. Soft drink companies, golf equipment manufacturers, computer technology conglomerates and many others began pumping money into the Japanese golfing industry a few years ago, with incredible results. Corporations both domestic and foreign sponsor tournaments, support youth golf and help finance the careers of promising pros.
While Japanese golf professionals have benefited greatly from this amazing growth, taking part in amateur golf in Japan is certainly not without its sacrifices. According to some reports, traditions have grown along with the numbers enjoying the game. High admission costs and weekly expenditures at the club are not just a function of limited space. Club members who invite guests to play at a private club are also quite interested in impressing the guests and other members with their ability to spend lavishly on this leisure activity. It is interesting to note that a player scoring a hole-in-one can find the experience quite expensive. At many clubs, the lucky golfer is expected to pay for a significant celebration and often must provide gifts to members of his golfing group. One feature of private clubs in Japan that separates them from many golf locations worldwide is incredible luxury. Some of the most exclusive clubs include marble-lined pools and hot baths for the exhausted golfer, a level of luxury found in few clubhouses and locker rooms elsewhere.
But in addition to the dozens of successful businessmen who view club membership as a status symbol, less-wealthy golf fanatics frequent driving ranges with tee areas that resemble huge beehives. In Japan, golfers by the thousands hit the white projectiles from multi-story structures into large nets. Automated retrieving vehicles gather the balls and return them to be hit again. The challenge of golf, the thrill of competition and the chance to gain fame and fortune are incentive enough to draw a large portion of the population to the game. This rapid growth in golf's popularity has spawned numerous regional golf unions, a structure that has some parallels in other parts of the world. A recent count lists 20 or more golf associations at various levels of Japanese golf. For excellent courses, luxurious club facilities, practice opportunities, even quality golf equipment, Japan has quickly become a wise and popular choice.