It's also slow because many Japanese are just plain rotten at it. "We don't play enough," is how Japanese course designer Takeaki Kaneda explains it. "The Japanese have no time. They work so hard. Most people's club is an hour to two hours from work. Jack Nicklaus grew up five minutes from Scioto."
Another thing is that a lot of Japanese golfers don't want to be golfers in the first place. It is only otsukiai—"socializing for business"—that has them out there. For a Japanese businessman, the golf course has become more workplace than playing field, and his handicap more a resume line than a hobby.
A decade ago, a businessman might have taken his client to a fine dinner in the Ginza and a few hours in Shinjuku tittering at a hostess bar; now he might take a client to a round of golf. Even if you hate golf, it would be committing career hara-kiri not to play if asked.
"If you're a businessman and you don't play golf, you're out of the promotion scene," says Toshio Aritake, an editor for McGraw-Hill in Tokyo.
The protruding nail gets hammered. So you play, but if you play lousy, you shame your group and business. "The stress is terrible," says Aritake.
Yes. I have heard about a Japanese malady—karoshi, "death from overwork." It sounds as if golf may be adding to the problem rather than solving it.
It's true. Luckily, the clubs try to make golf as relaxing as possible. At one course, Murasakizuka, north of Tokyo, a boy comes out during your bath and scrubs your back for you.
Better yet, Japanese courses come equipped with the best caddies in the world, almost all of whom are women. Even on the hottest days, their uniforms never change: heavy walking shoes, long pants, matching long-sleeved smock, white gloves, hard hat with an eight-inch bill, and a tablecloth draped over the hard hat and tied loosely under the chin. The full effect is like Sister Bertrille of The Flying Nun pulling a double loop.
Our Holy Order of Bogey.