I guess if playing golf in Japan is a dream for Singaporean golfers (because it is expensive) then getting the chance to go on a fully paid golf trip in Japan is an epic fantasy. This happened by chance in 2007 when our principal in Japan wanted to host a strategy meeting with all their agents. After the meeting there was to be a friendly golf competition and all attendees were invited to play. Since this was our first time dealing with a Japanese company and we didn’t want to offend them, we decided to accept the invitation although none of us were really good at golf. In fact, I was the only one who had ever played golf amongst my colleagues.
So the strategy meeting lasted 2 days and went without any hitches. There were other agents from Japan, Korea, Taiwan and USA. After several conversations I found out that only the American agent and myself signed up for the golf game. The rest of the people decided to go straight home after the meeting. I guess we didn’t know the Japanese well enough to decline a golf game because we were too afraid to offend them. Well, since we agreed to play, it was too late to back out.
On the early morning of the golf game, our Japanese business partners came to meet us at our hotel lobby and accompanied us to the train station.. We had to take the subway to Tokyo station and then take a 1 hr train ride into the Japanese countryside where the rest of the Japanese met us with cars and drove us to Konagei Country Club.
The Japanese let us rent the golf clubs but I brought my own golfing shoes. The weather was pretty nice and although it was June, the temperature was still a cool 20ºC. Anxiety began to set in as the American and me practiced our swings at the driving range. Both of us were amateurs and it would be very embarrassing to hit like beginners on the course.
Very soon it was our flight’s turn. In the same flight as me was the American, myself and 2 of the senior executives from our Japanese principal. Out of courtesy, the Japanese let us 2 ‘Gaijins’ hit first. I managed to hit the ball a respectable distance with my driver despite my anxiety. Phew! no air ball or slice shot. My dignity was still intact.
After playing a few holes, I realised that the 2 Japanese were as bad as me and the American. By now the initial tension had subsided and we were just having fun on the course. We finished the front 9 holes and proceeded for lunch. We were one of the last few flights and had to rush through lunch. Now lunch was steak and a couple of beers. And after the beers, we were multiple bogeying the back 9 holes.
I always thought that the Japanese were pretty serious about golf, but after this I realised that golf is more of a social activity for them. It’s a way to relief stress and get together to have fun. It’s so unlike playing golf in Singapore where players take it too seriously and are so competitive and critical of beginners.
After the golf game, we went to wash up and get ready for dinner. Another aspect of Japanese hospitality was that everyone bathed naked together in the onsen like ambience of the country club’s bathrooms. The American commented to me that he couldn’t believe that the day before we were all in suits and ties, but now we were looking at each other butt naked. After this eye opening custom, it was time for dinner and the prize presentation to the winners. I got a prize for being one of the last in scores. it was kind of embarrassing but the prize was a ¥10,000 shopping voucher that could be used in any Isetan shopping centre. I couldn’t ask for more. After dinner, the Japanese drove us to the train station for our train ride back to Tokyo.
I’ve made a couple of lifelong friends after this trip. I’ve heard that the 2 Japanese have since retired. I sometimes meet up with the American if he stops by Singapore on one of his business trips. I also learned about smoke balls and confetti balls. I bought some of these in Ueno’s street market and had a blast using them in Singapore. If you are looking for golf accessories which are unique and cannot be found in Singapore, Ueno is the place to look for them. Yeah, the serious Singaporean golfers weren’t too thrilled at such novelties, but there’s more to life than just golf.