Land of the Rising Sun and falling handicaps
I lived in Japan for nearly 4 years, and studied closely that country’s oft-cited fascination with the game of golf. During that time, I actively avoided playing at the club to which I was given a complementary membership. The club did not allow women to play, and monthly “tournaments” were arranged simply so local businessmen could feel important playing with “gaijin” (foreigners).
Instead, I spent most of my golfing hours in a two-story driving range (top level, preferably), paying the equivalent of $20 for rental clubs and $20 an hour to hit as many balls as I could to try to get my money’s worth. I often blew $100 a day just hitting balls into the net some 180 yards away.
Amazingly, I was always surrounded by men (and women) with staff bags that would rival those of any mini-tour player, wielding drivers that retailed for over $1000.
Many of these people, I discovered, had never set foot on a real course.
What was the allure?
Certainly, in a country with almost no expendable land, occupying arable acreage with 18 holes is nothing short of decadent and wasteful. And of course, very few things appear to be as intoxicating to humans as decadence and waste. (Raise your hand if you own a Hummer.)
I think the Japanese infatuation with the game goes deeper than the extravagance of multi-million-dollar club memberships, however.
It is the tools of the game that initially draw the Japanese so deeply.
First of all, consider the implements, the weapons, if you will. In Japan, one needs a license to own a sword (this is surprising to most Westerners). No license is needed to brandish golf clubs, however, so majestically sword-like in their form and material, the way they glint in the sun.
Even better, they are specialized weapons – each serving their own function, waiting patiently in their places for the call from their master. God knows the Japanese love functional gadgetry.
Then toss in the honor of the game. Calling a two-stroke penalty on yourself is not altogether different from “seppuku” (often called hara-kiri – literally “belly-cutting"), just a lot less messy and not nearly so permanent. Both acts are riven with honor and self-sacrifice.
Add the new breeds of hi-tech materials, balls, bags, swing-aids, and New-Age gee-gaws (such as magnets and assorted other placebos), and you have yourself a game custom-desgined to appeal to the history, culture, vanity, and honor code of an entire nation.
No marketing agency could have come up with a better game for Japan.
Perhaps in this analysis lies a clue for expanding the game here in the States.
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