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LOVE THAT GOLF
Rick Reilly
August 21, 1989
A CURIOUS AMERICAN EXPLORES THE GAME IN JAPAN AND FINDS THAT IT HAS A FIRM GRIP ON THAT NATION
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August 21, 1989

Love That Golf

A CURIOUS AMERICAN EXPLORES THE GAME IN JAPAN AND FINDS THAT IT HAS A FIRM GRIP ON THAT NATION

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"Excuse me?" the pro says.

"I've never played on a golf course," the guy says.

Whether your wallet is full of dollars or yen, golf in Japan is expensive. Only 15% of the people who practice the game ever play on a real course, according to the Sunday Times of London.

"We could have four floors and fill it up easily," says the Shiba manager, Atsushi Mitobe. Range practicing has become so popular in Japan that people carry "rangebags," minibags that hold only three clubs. You drape it over your shoulder on the way to work and then swing at Shiba by night.

The Seibu Big Box practice range—on the fifth floor of a sports and shopping complex—has an indoor sand trap, encased by glass and net on all sides. This is real sand and real golf balls. You have not lived until you've skulled a sand shot you were sure was heading for ladies' lingerie.

I'll risk it.

The Japanese are also perfecting simulated golf, in which you pick your course—they will allow you to play Pebble Beach, Augusta, St. Andrews—grab your clubs and crank it. You hit a regular golf ball into a huge canvas that has the picture of the hole you're playing projected on it.

Three cameras record how fast the ball comes off the club, with what spin, and at what trajectory. Then the canvas shows the view from what the computer says is your next shot. For instance, if you chunk one way to the right, the next thing you see on the screen might be a bunch of trees. When you hit the green, the computer tells you to putt from one of 26 different spots on the artificial putting green in front of you.

I understand you shot 133 on this course.

Yes, well, that was only because at the 14th, the computer was convinced I was hitting the ball out of bounds. I hit 17 shots of every direction and size, and it refused to call any of them in bounds. Finally, I picked up a ball and threw it into the canvas, and the computer let me play on. I made a 38 on that hole.

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