17 May 2008

The Accidental 'Compe'··· It's easier than you think!

The common assumption of most people (myself included) about golfing in Japan is that it's way too expensive and inconvenient, so I figured when I moved here two years ago I would have to give up the game I've played and loved since grade school. But, before I knew it, the golf bug had gotten the better of me. I'd bought a set of clubs and began regularly going to the driving range near my house. After honing my skills at the range for a few months, I decided it was time to "step up," and play the game the way it was meant to be played··· on the green grass.

My problems were that I had no one to golf with, no car and not a whole lot of money. That's enough to dampen anyone's enthusiasm. However, after asking some of the students I taught as an English teacher, I quickly found a few like-minded people, and soon playing golf in Japan went from the idea stage, to the planning stage. This ended up becoming not only my first time to make a golf reservation in Japan but also my first time to put on a golf competition.

The initial plan was simply to organize as many students as I could to play a friendly round of golf. I wasn't clear on what kind of event I wanted it to be; I just figured it couldn't hurt to ask as many people as possible. I ended up rounding up 8 people in total, perfect for two groups, so I went ahead and made a reservation (on the internet) at the closest and cheapest course I could find. Although it was difficult to learn how to use the Japanese language website (this was before I found Golf-in-Japan), it ended up being an educational experience in the most common Japanese golf reservation method.

Making the reservation

Even though I speak and write Japanese, this is the part that gave me the most trouble. It was my first time making a golf reservation in Japan (which unlike the US, is mainly done on the internet), so I decided I would look for something around 10,000 yen (around $100) and within 45 minutes of where I lived. I ended up reserving a course for exactly 10,000 yen per person, including lunch, only 40 minutes from my house. Perfect!

The good news, and bad news

The bad news was that the course was quite disappointing. It was flat, short, with no trees and every hole looked the same. The greens were small, with no break and it was REALLY crowded (our round took over 6 hours! NOT worth 10,000 yen). Having said that, the good news: The service was great, and the staff at the course helped us make our small event become a 'compe' (Japanese for competition). How did they do this?
  1. When we arrived, the first question I was asked (in Japanese) by the course receptionist was 'Are you having a competition?' I wasn't sure why he asked, but I answered, 'Sure,' and he followed up with several other questions, the first one being: 'How do you want to score it? 'Shin-peria'?'

    Shin-peria is a handicap scoring system, which doesn't require players to actually know their handicaps. What happens is the course inputs everyone's score into a computer after the round then, the computer chooses several holes at random and calculates how many strokes over par each player played each hole. That number becomes your handicap, and voila, each player has a handicap and NET score.
    (Read more in the sidebar about 'shin-peria')

  2. After the round, the golf course gave us complimentary prizes to hand out to the winners of our 'compe'. Excellent! (The prizes were boxes of coffee and socks).

  3. Not only did the course give us prizes and handle the scoring for the tournament, they also provided printed copies of the scores for everyone and let us use the 'competition room' for our awards ceremony.
The whole event became much more exciting than it was originally planned, thanks to the country club. Though the course was not great, the service made up for it. I later learned that if you spend 2,000 yen more, and drive 20 minutes further, it's possible to find several beautiful courses. If you drive an hour more you can play better courses for even cheaper still! Since that first event, I've organized 5 more, which have all been really fun. Out of the 5, every course has offered to do scoring and has let us use their competition room afterwards. 3 of the 5 supplied us with complimentary gifts.

My advice, if you're planning to play golf with more than one group of people: Go ahead and make it a 'compe'. The courses in Japan will help you to do it, and competitions always make the round more exciting. It's a challenge to find affordable nice golf courses in Japan within reasonable driving distances from Tokyo, but it's not impossible. It just takes a little extra effort and an easy to use site like Golf-in-Japan. I plan to continue to hold this competition with my former students, and I encourage all those people out there who think golf in Japan is too expensive and inconvenient, like I used to, to go out there and give it a try!

Toshimitsu Rohlich, 17 May 2008

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About 'shin-peria'
In the New Peoria (shin-peria) handicap system the golf club calculates handicaps on hidden holes and uses a formula to determine the actual handicap as follows:
  • The club's scoring computer picks six (6) holes for each out & In course as hidden holes for players which are not announced until the end of play.
  • Total par scores for the 12 holes chosen are 48.
  • Maximum score for each hole is cut at double par + 1 (i.e. on a par 4 hole = 9)
  • The aggregate scores of the 12 chosen holes = "A"
  • Handicaps are then calculated as (A-48) x 1.2
  • Example: if you score 60 on the 12 hidden holes, your handicap will be 14.4 [(60-48)x1.2)]
  • The maximum handicap is set at 30 for men and 36 for women.

    The Shin Peria System is often used for tournaments in Japan when players do not have an official course handicap. It also provides all players with a fair method of calculating handicaps.

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