29 August 2008

Showa の Mori The little course that could

Warning! This story has a happy ending.

Once upon a time a super rich electronics company in Japan built their private golf course to play setai golf. Setai golf is a term used in Japan as a way to close the deal for businesses. Basically, they invite potential clients up for a round of golf, lavish them with Gifts, Geishas and Guarantees. The invited targets would literally abandon their families for days on end to return home after the ordeal, tired, perhaps with a strange new 'pesky' little itch (down there)…and still a little drunk! It was also very common practice by all large corporations of that era to write Setai golf and entertainment off as a common business expense. Ii ne!

Recently, many Japanese politicians careers have gone through the ball washer because of Setai Golf.
You want me to name names? Sorry, no can do.

In 1991, The Economic Bubble burst in Japan. Panic persisted everywhere!

In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas says, "Greed is Good." Well, the economic meltdown in Japan in the early 90's proved that greed is bad.

In short, the electronics company looses a lot of money and abandoned Showa No Mori Golf Club. They literally gave the golf course to the Showa Village township.

The Showa Village Town Hall was left with a huge baby on their doorstep.

The probable conversation that took place between the Electronics Company and Showa Town Hall:

Electronics Company: Do you want a golf course?
Showa: Ahh....
Electronics Company: Here! It's yours.
Showa: Ahh .?...
Electronics Company: Oh! By the way, there are some manuals in the desk at the clubhouse about drainage and using pesticides. The grass cutting tractor blades need to be sharpened.
Showa: Ahh. Okay.
Electronics Company: Thanks. We owe you one little buddy.

The first years of the transition were disastrous. Nobody knew how to run a golf course and with literally no budget, they just cut the grass and watered the greens. Amazingly, the course survived. They dramatically lowered the green fees to ¥2,000 for nine and ¥3,800 for a full 18. Showa Village was playing orphanage to a big beautiful baby. They fed it, made brochures for it and even managed to create a buzz. They kept it alive for three years until a local businessman saw the opportunity to adopt Showa No Mori as his own pet project. What he didn't realize was that there are a lot of golfers who don't play because of the standard ridiculous prices.

The most powerful word in Japanese marketing is:


Word of mouth クチコミ
Kuchi means mouth and Komi means communication.

Miraculously people started coming to play because of the great price. Then the golfers started to realize that:"Hey this is the little course that could!"

There was a slight embarrassment for playing there because of its price. You could compare it to a person driving a Mercedes shopping at WalMart. Golf was a businessman's sport in Japan at that time. And now, because of courses like the abandoned Showa No Mori, golf is becoming an every-man sport.

People would always laugh when I said I played at Showa No Mori.

Golfer: Where did you play?
Willy: Showa no Mori
Golfer: HAHAHA
Now people are saying:
Golfer: Where did you play?
Willy: Showa no Mori
Golfer: Ahhh! Kitta kotto aru. Ii ne? (I have heard of that course. Nice eh?)

Escape up to Showa No Mori to have a quiet round with someone special.
The course is relatively short at 5,509 yards, but is an overall challenging course despite its lack of length. If you are an okay golfer it would be more of a challenge to play off the back blue tees, which play 5,996 yards. Green Score, who now runs the course, are creating interesting new tees to add a little more distance.

You will sense a slight laidback feeling to the staff and the course is great place to bring your family or girlfriend or wife to play. Juniors pay only ¥1,000. You can also come early, before 7:30, to play a practice round for ¥2,000.

There are still signs of the lucrative 80's on the course like a tramway that was used to shuttle players over the highway between the 3rd and 4th hole. That broke and was never fixed.

Chances are your lettuce on your hamburger
is from Showa Village.
Currently it is a rusting eyesore, but probably will be removed soon by some quick thinking individual who will then sell it to China or India and cash in on the current premium iron is fetching on world markets!

And that's only the beginning.

On the fourth hole they built a bridge reminiscent of Augusta or St. Andrew's. The sixth hole has a fully stocked goldfish pond ala Japanese Garden and this year, they finally could afford to open the huge lavish marble pantheon ofuro in the club house. It epitomizes the bubble bath of spending that took place in the era of Duran Duran and Big Hair.

Course layout & Japanese lesson on trees

But that was then and this is now. This course is not for the Donald Trumps of Tokyo, more so it is for people who want to get their money's worth and be exposed to nature and just relax. Leave your attitude in the big city because once you step on the course everyone is created equal...unless you show up in a HUMMER!

Lunch for under ¥1000
Try the tempura soba / curry setto
After nine holes you can stop for lunch or play through, it is up to you. The restaurant has a great view of the 4th hole and offers seasonal fruits and local vegetables on the menu.

Play and Stay for ¥10,000.
If you decide to stay after golf, Showa No Mori lodge is in walking distance from the club. The place where smoky, late night deals used to be made with the electronics company is now a 25 room lodge and fully open to the public. They even have a Mahjong Room complete with a golf mural and two Karaoke rooms so you can serenade your sweetheart.

Showa Village is primarily known for its Conyaku and Lettuce. Conyaku is a potato like vegetable that takes three years to grow and is then sadly pulverized into a powdered gelatin then transformed into a zero calorie Jelly side dish. It is apparently great for your digestive system and it amazingly bounces back to you when you throw against the wall. Try it.., you'll impress your friends and the restaurant staff!

If you bring your family, you can spend a day at the massive playground, simply named Green Park, or spend half a day picking apples, cherries or strawberries. For the romantic couple a winery/vineyard has recently become a hot spot for bus tours to stop for lunch.

The once abandoned golf course is living a new life as a catalyst for landowners who have dreams of using their land for something other than farming. In a time of deflation, rising oil prices and town mergers (GAPPEI), Showa Village has refused to budge and continue to go at their own pace. However luckily the old minds of the town counsel have given into youthful thinkers and everyone has flourished as a result. Showa Village is Gunma's version of THE LITTLE VILLAGE THAT COULD and it along with its golf courses will never have to worry about abandonment again.

For further information please contact Willy Badger. willyshow@mac.com

Willy Badger, 29 August 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
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  • 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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