Marie Teather gets a golfing insight from one of Japan’s international golf experts
For dedicated players Japan’s golf scene had, until recently, always caused somewhat of a frustration. Grumblings of extortionate green and obligatory membership fees and the all annoying having to stop for lunch after the ninth hole, echoed loud throughout the international community, disconcerting all but those with the most forgiving of company expense sheets. Moreover, Japanese golfers too began to question the rationale of fees that can waver in the vicinity of five to a hundred million yen. Indeed, when the former Vice Defence Minister, Takemasa Moriya, was arrested after it was revealed he had accepted bribes to take more than 100 oneday free golf trips, public opinion was surprisingly sympathetic to the scandal. Who could blame the man for trying to save money on his golf round ranted a Japan Times columnist?
Luckily, times are changing and in a dwindling economy, resort bosses are starting to take note of golfers’ grievances. In an attempt to lure golfers back to the greens, resorts are seeking advice from foreign advisors. One such expert on the golfing scene in Japan is Jim Fletcher, General Manager of the Windsor Park Golf and Country Club in Ibaraki prefecture who holds 20 years of golf management experience in Japan alone.
Jim originally came to Japan in the summer of ’88 noting that “…back then it was very difficult to get a reservation and everyone was paying on company expenses. Of course after the bubble burst everyone had to start paying out of their own pocket, but fees were still high and many clubs went out of business”.
In a lifetime dedicated to golf, Jim who like some of the world’s most outstanding players, began playing golf when he was just three years old. He has lived on golf courses annually since his toddler years and being fluent in Japanese, makes him a notable figure on Japan’s international golfing scene. To date, he has developed an internet golf site with Dunlop, manages Professional Golfers on the Japan Golf Tour, and is the official starter for the UBS Japan Golf Tour Players Championship and the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament. After working for Club Med since 1985 as golf facility manager in France, Morocco, Portugal, Bali and then in Hokkaido, Jim was asked to help with sales and marketing strategies for the Windsor Park Golf and Country Club in 2005. With his previous experience as a manager of an indoor golf school in Tokyo, and currently operating his own golf company, his involvement with the club saw him spend most weekends in Ibaraki, and soon after he was invited to fill the role of General Manager. “The club wanted to start attracting more foreigners. Having foreigners here creates a very different atmosphere and attracts the Japanese who are interested in an international environment,” Jim explains.
Twenty percent of the Windsor Park Golf and Country Club’s members are non-Japanese, which as Jim points out, “…in Japan no other course comes even close to one percent”. Traditionally Japanese clubs have neglected to target foreign customers and courses are generally difficult to access. The Windsor Park Golf and Country Club, however, has the advantage of being easily accessible to Tokyo—just one hour on the Fresh Hitachi from Ueno, then with a limousine service to the club, that all but adds to the experience. Coupled with affordable green fees, the club has in recent years enjoyed a steady flow of clientele both foreign and Japanese. The fairways are pictures and immaculately tended to by a highly experienced green keeper and 10 other staff. Unique also to the Windsor Park Golf and Country Club are a pet hotel and a children’s center allowing non-golfers, couples and families to spend a relaxing weekend away from Tokyo’s crowds. Most like to take advantage of the onsen after a round, and in summer there is even a Windsor Grill. All materials are in English and Japanese, and answering one of the biggest gripes of all—unlike Japanese courses, you don’t have to stop for lunch after the first nine holes when conditions permit. Of course, the restaurant is well catered for should you do decide to take a break. Jim’s Irish hospitality and friendly staff of 50 ensures the club to be an altogether more welcoming establishment and golf it seems, no longer has to be solely for the exclusive and privileged.
Twenty percent of the Windsor Park Golf and
Country Club’s members are non-Japanese…
“…in Japan no other course comes even close
to one percent”.
So what holds for the future of golf in Japan? Jim again notes that in the past 20 years the average age of a golfer has increased. As those players who joined the sport when companies would pick-up the tab grow older, younger players today are unable to cough-up for the taxing green fees. “The population is getting older and majority of players are getting older too which could be a potential problem for the game in the future.” Indeed baby boomers that currently revel at the sport will soon retire and provide a short-term gain for the game, but obviously these players will not be around forever. Club managers may yet again turn to the international community for guidance.
For now, however, Jim Fletcher will continue to bring the good news that today’s golfer has been waiting for—the Windsor Park Golf and Country Club is nearby, it’s not expensive, you can play through, and everyone is welcome.