When I was a wee boy – around about primary 7 I guess it would have been, my big brother going off to play golf every week inspired me to follow suit. Near where we lived in Ayr there was a council run par 3 course – or “pitch and putt” as we called it. So, I took to the course with a couple of my friends and played a load of rounds.
Those early days are a bit lost in the mists of time but I remember playing at that pitch and putt a lot one summer and really enjoying it. I picked up a second hand half set of clubs from the classified section of the Ayrshire Post – it was a wee old lady getting rid of her late husband’s clubs. Some of my clubs even had wound tape type grips!
I didn’t keep at the golf for very long for whatever reason – football had a major impact, as well as skateboarding and video games but I did have a couple of rounds on a “proper” course before giving up – Dalmilling in Ayr. It was a bit hard compared to the pitch and putt…
Fast forward nearly twenty years and in 2007 I was living in Japan. I had started a new job and immediately hit it off with my new boss – a German chap called Caspar. After a few months hard, dedicated work when I had “proved myself” he started opening up and discussing more personal stuff as well as work related issues. One day he mentioned he had played golf at the weekend and after I seemed to express some interest he remarked “you’re Scottish, you must play golf?”. To this I replied that I had indeed played a bit as a young boy but it had been a long time. He told me I’d be welcome to join them if I wanted to sometime.
This got me thinking – in Japan perhaps more than a lot of other countries, the golf course is a very good place for forging business relationships. I was relatively new in my company and desperately wanted to do well – I was ambitious and wanted promotion to a more senior role so playing golf with the boss certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing to do.
What’s more, my father in law was quite a keen golfer (primarily for the reason above – business) so I could also play with him I thought. At that time I was living and working in the city of Chiba and every day when I made the short train ride into the city centre I went past a driving range. It would be stupid not to play golf I thought!
So, around 2007/ 2008 I did indeed start playing golf in Japan. Now, the problem with that is that golf in Japan is expensive. When I played with my boss and colleagues we generally did so on a week day (we worked for a service company that operated at the weekends so typically our weekend would be Sunday and Monday) and even then we would still be paying around Y10,000 a round- about £50 at the exchange rate at the time.
In fact, the first round I played was with my father in law at a course in rural Chiba. Kaoru told me that the latest tee off time we could get was (about as far as I remember) 10:00am. I remember wondering to myself why we couldn’t play a bit later (I worked until 10:00pm routinely so my lifestyle/ cycle was a late getting up one). Oh well, can’t be helped I thought and dragged myself out my pit at the ungodly hour of 8 o clock or so to get the train to meet the faither in law to drive to the course.
Well, when we arrived I quickly figure out why – when we checked in we were issued with a second tee off time- for the back nine! We also placed our lunch order – we were to play nine holes, come in for lunch then go back out for the “back” nine! This is how golf works in Japan so of course it would take a full day!
Over the course of the next eighteen months or so I played at a handful of different courses in the Chiba area. I don’t remember them all but one I went to on more than one occasion with colleagues was really handy for me as the pick up for the shuttle bus (again common practice in Japan) was from my local station, giving me over an hour longer in bed than my Tokyo dwelling co-workers!
I even inherited a set of clubs from my father in law – a set of Taylormade irons and a couple of metal woods. The only issue I had was trying to get hold of a bag that was designed to be carried rather than stuck on the back of a buggy! That is a story for another time though.
So, I was golfing – a wee bit anyway. The problem was that, as noted above, it was expensive. This meant that I could only realistically get on to the course about once a month which of course is nowhere near enough to gain any semblance of competency…
My enduring memories of golfing in Japan is frustration and losing balls (the fact that all the courses I played were tight and had tree bound fairways really didn’t help matters). I did get to the practice range I spotted from the train most weekends but without taking any lessons or proper focus it didn’t really help either.
When we left Japan to live in the UK in late 2009 I returned the golf clubs to my father in law and resigned myself to a golfless life for the foreseeable future. I had left my job and had to find a new one so that absolutely took priority. By then as well my wife was pregnant so we were going to be parents soon.
Fast forward to early summer 2014. We were living in Stourbridge in the West Midlands (my work had taken us there). On a whim I had purchased a Sports Direct special a couple of years earlier but had literally only played with them once. I was aware that there were a few driving ranges in the area from driving around and decided to investigate the local one. I went over to hit a few balls one day and I noticed a poster up advertising “Beginners’ lessons, six week course for £30”. That seems remarkably good value I thought. Well, that was it, I was about to be thoroughly bitten once again by the golf bug…