Japan’s high temples of golf are breaking down the barriers to entry for foreign golfers.
Sizing up a birdie putt on the ninth green of the East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club, I had a realization: This could be one of the best rounds of my life. Kasumigaseki, which is located about 30 miles northwest of Tokyo, will be the host course when the Olympic Games come to Japan in 2020. The club is one of the few in the country that still features two greens on each hole—one planted with grass best suited for warm weather, the other featuring a more durable turf for play during colder months (a common practice before the advent of hybrid grasses). I was playing the easier set of greens and had managed, through nine holes, to avoid the densely grown trees that line the course’s expansive fairways, as well as its infamous bunkers, which are brutally wide. A heavy, wet October air enveloped the course, which made each hole play longer than its yardage but also made the greens more receptive to approach shots. Aggressive putting had rewarded me to that point, and on cue, I watched as my ball rolled into the hole for birdie.
With the front nine complete, I was only 2 over par. Swinging well and full of confidence, I nearly sprinted to the next tee, leaving my caddie behind. Awaiting me was one of the course’s defining holes, a short par 3 that requires a tee shot over water to a raised, undulating green surrounded by a ring of those insidious bunkers. But just as I was beginning to visualize my tee shot, my caddie, who was pushing my clubs on what looked like a giant grocery cart, caught up to me at the tee box. “No,” he said. “You must stop. Go to clubhouse. Have lunch. Come back 45 minutes.”
The sport of golf may be universal, but not all cultures approach it the same way. This forced lunch break was my first introduction to the game as it is played in Japan. There was no way around stopping for the meal, so completing the round of my life was just going to have to wait.
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