2 May 2008

Gunma Country Club
Heaven and Hell and the Ball Eating Tree

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to sit down with a legend in Japanese golf, Hiroshi Tahara. He is a former regular Tour Pro and the current honorary head pro for Gunma Country Club. Located in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture, Gunma Country Club features a spectacular panoramic view from the club house restaurant to the nearby mountains. On hot summer days you can enjoy watching Para gliders soaring around on the warm updrafts provided by nearby mount Hotaka, Tanigawa and Haruna. Don't let them distract you though as the greens here are quick and will require your full attention!

Gunma Country Club is located in Niiharu Mura, an area famous for its Hot Springs and its folk artists who choose to call the village home. Getting there is easy and just 1:15 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen to Jomo Kogen Station, and if you reserve in advance a club shuttle will be waiting to take you to the course.

Please check out the irresistible PLAY AND STAY package on the Gunma Country Clubs English site.
Please enjoy the interview.

Interview with Hiroshi Tahara Pro

* This interview was conducted in Japanese, so here are the questions in English and Tahara Pro's abbreviated answers. You can listen to the interview in Japanese on the Gunma Country Clubs English site.

Willy: When did you start your association with Gunma Country Club?

Tahara San: Thirty years ago.

Willy: Why did you choose to play golf?

Tahara San: My boss invited me to play. Just like every new salary man does in Japan.

Willy: When did you become a pro golfer?

Tahara San: Thirty years ago. I quite my job as a salary man and never looked back.

Willy: What is your best memory of being a pro golfer?

Tahara San: I never really had to worry about money. But with money, I became famous. So, my private life was sometimes hard to live normally. In airports, people would always be asking me "Where are you going?" and "What are you doing next?"

Willy: What obstacles did you face being a pro golfer?

Tahara Pro's Career Highlights
o Ten year career on JPGA Tour
o 1975-Runner up MIZUNO ROOKIE PRO
o 1980- 2nd place KBC AUGUSTA
o 1987- won best original lesson
o 1988- sold over a million copies of
o A popular TV commentator
o 1996 Senior Australian Open -WINNER
o 1996- Senior British Open 37th
o Popular lecturer
o Sponsored by DUNLOP XXIO
o Captain All Japan Table Tennis Team in
Tahara San: When I first started playing golf, I couldn't adapt quickly from playing table tennis all my life. It was very hard for me to visualize a nice golf swing. I am now in the best shape for golf. After being captain of the national table tennis team, I realized that my body muscle and strengths was for table tennis. Now at 65 all my ping-pong muscles are gone and my golf muscles are very dominant.

Willy: Do like golf or table tennis more?

Tahara San: I should have stayed in table tennis but my love for golf was overwhelming. I was married and at age 27 I then began a four-year quest to become a pro golfer. I never had any fear that I would fail at starting my new career.

Willy: What is your funniest memory as a golfer?

Tahara San: I was playing in the ANA open in Hokkaido one year and on the first tee I hit a fifty-yard (choro choro) worm burner. I was in shock and very embarrassed.

Willy: In 1996 you won the Senior Australian Open. How did this change your life?

Tahara Pro's daughter Akino is now training
with her father to be a pro golfer.
Tahara San: My life did not change at all. I was already famous in Japan. I was 52 at the time. I stopped doing TV for a year to practice. It was a great time for me. I was away from the pressures of Japan life for six months at a time. Australia, Europe, America. I did this for five years.

Willy: In 1995 at the Australian Seniors Open you were penalized two strokes...

Tahara San: Yes, they didn't want me to win.

Willy: Why were you penalized?

Tahara San: Footwork. I moved my feet in the bunker during my practice swing. The Judges didn't realize that that was part of my swinging ritual. It was unfortunate but it managed to put me off my game for the rest of the round. It really hurt me. I didn't enter any tournaments for a year after that incident. I took time off everything and practiced. The next year, I proved them wrong and won the Australian Seniors Open.

Willy: In the past you were known as the guy who had the same putting style as Isao Aoki. How so? Did you copy him?

Tahara San: Not at all! My coach Pete Nakamura's brother Sadaki Nakamura putted like Aoki. I guess I kind of imitated him. Do you know Pete Nakamura?

Willy: No. Is he a half? (Half Japanese / half foreign)

Free lesson from the MASTER. He has incredibly strong forearms.
Tahara San: No. No. No. Torakichi Nakamura? Tiger Nakamura. He passed away last month.

Willy: I am sorry to hear that. Today, many of the putters are bigheaded putters. Do you still putt like Pete Nakamura's brother?

Tahara San: No way! I stopped that style years ago. I had stopped that way before the Seniors Open in Australia.

Willy: How do you usually feel going into a golf tournament?

Tahara San: I always try to feel a sense of hope. I dream of winning and I try my hardest.

Willy: What advice do you have to young golfers today?

Gunma Country Clubs natural spa originates from deep below the golf course.
Once you step into our baths you'll find it hard to get out. The natural minerals in the onsen produce a unique healing benefit for your skin and body. Enjoy it long enough and you can easily wash away a bad score and re-find your equilibrium.
Tahara San: Dream big. Don't dream small. Of course, everyone wants to be the next Tiger Woods right away. But that is not going to happen. So everyday take a slice out of the mountain of a dream. One little thin slice...If you keep to your goal of doing a little bit everyday, those slices or thin pieces of paper will pile up into a very big pile over time.

Willy: One step at a time?

Tahara San: No. No. No. Even smaller and in ten years maybe you will have enough.

Willy: Today, many young golfers are getting very lucrative sponsorships...Coca Cola...

Tahara San: Ishikawa Ryo?

Willy: Ya! Wow! Do you think he will end up like let's say Michelle Wie?

Tahara San: Michelle Wie, HMMM....

Willy: NIKE invested in her big time and she has not yet produced. Do you think Ryo San will do the same or does he have a different DNA than her?

Aim for the golf cart path and pray to the good lord of golf that you stay away from THE VALLEY OF THE PINES!!!!! AHHHHH!!!
Tahara San: He's in what, first year of High School? If he sticks with school and slowly develops; I believe he will do just fine.

Willy: What is your favorite hole at Gunma Country Club?

Tahara San: The fifth whole ...par five.... It is the hardest hole on the course.

Willy: Why?

Tahara San: Because it is a mixture of Heaven and Hell. If you drive well you have a great shot to the green and a chance for an eagle. If you don't drive well, this hole could drive you crazy.

Willy: Can you get on in two?

Tahara San: Easy! Easy! Easy! My second shot, I usually hit a six or seven Iron.

Willy: What advice do you have on playing Gunma Country Club?

Not shown in the picture is 70 more feet of putting green to the right. Don't be surprised if you have to take out your 60-degree wedge on the green for a direct putt/chip to the hole. Oh! That bunker in front is Carnoustie deep.
Tahara San: The greens at Gunma Country Club are very small. So, I would have to say is to always hit to the front of the green. If you end up in the back of the greens, they usually slope downwards, so a three putt is imminent.

Willy: What is the hole with the big green?

Tahara San: Number seven. I designed that green.

Willy: It looks kind of like an edamame (Soya bean).

Tahara San: Yes! Yes! Yes! Ha! Ha! Ha! No. I think it looks more like a peanut. Over the last thirty years I have made improvements to the course, slowly but surely.

Stats & Facts of GCC
ARCHITECT Kazusuke Izumi &
Shokichi Mihashi
OWNER Eiwa Tochi Kaihatsu LTD.
PAR 72
Willy: On number seven, if you place the pin to the right, it makes for a very hard approach shot. There is a deep bunker guarding it and not much green to work with.

Tahara San: That pin placement is for championship tournaments only. Usually we keep the placement to the left.

Willy: Mr. Tahara, Thank you very much for today.

Tahara San: No problems. Next time let's play together at Gunma Country Club.


The second hole has a tree in the middle of the fairway. It loves to eat golf balls especially new balls fresh out of the packet.

That's all for now! I will be at The PGA Tournament next month in Gunma at the Raysum Country Club, former Press Country Club.

Check out magazine (par golf magazine), issue April 20th.
I was featured in it!

Willy Badger, 2 May 2008

About Willy
Willy has been living in Japan for 12 years. He is a "Daidogei" comic juggler living in Gunma, Japan. In 2008, Willy's mission is to introduce golfers to the beautiful Hot Springs & Outdoor Activities of Gunma. Recently, Willy became director of Sports Management Worldwide Japan, an athlete management company and online education University with offices in America, India and the U.K.
Check out Willy's sports blog The Rising Score!
Gunma C.C.

Previous Columns
  • How to do lifting?
  • Midriffs Short Shorts and a Slap in the Face
  • Golf Lingo
  • Guilt and the Golf Game in Japan
  • The Bell Canadian Open
  • Curse of the Claret Jug

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