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Breezy Point

Local Golf
November 23, 2017

Can American Learn Golf From The Japanese?
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Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer playing Park Golf
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RJ Smiley

Traveling at 200 mph, the "bullet train" created a strobe-light effect as it rocketed through the blackness of mountain railroad tunnels then an explosion of sunshine as we moved onto lush agricultural land then back into blackness. The golf fanatic in me was hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the 2,000 golf courses scattered around the rural areas of this island nation.

Then I saw one! Was that a golf course? No something different. A few minutes later another?

After one night in a fine hotel, that shook, only a little, when an earthquake interrupted our jet-lagged slumber; a little tremor they called it. Our ultimate destination was Sapporo, the venue for the 1972 Olympics located on Japan's northern most islands, Hokkaido.

It took a day to get a feel for the subway system in Sapporo. First stop - the grounds for the '72 Olympics. "Look! There is one of those things. A golf course? A croquet field? No some kind of combination of the two."

As we approached the course we watched players, of all ages, whacking a ball, larger than a golf ball, with a club that looked like a combination mallet putter/driver/croquet mallet. I told my wife, "We are going to be in Japan only once. We have got to give this game a try."

The Game Is Called "Park Golf."
Park Golf, invented in 1983, boasts 1,300 courses in seven different countries scattered around the world, but mostly in Japan. "Parkers," as the players are called, need only four pieces of equipment to play a Park Golf course: One golf club, a ball, a short rubber tee and a coin or ball mark. A Park Golf course, always par 66, contains either 9 or 18 holes that vary in length from 40 yards to 100 yards, with par-3, par-4 and par-5 holes. Each hole has a teeing ground, like real golf, and a flagstick and cup that are moved occasionally to eliminate wear and tear. The cup is about twice as large as a traditional golf cup and the flag remains in the hole at all times. When a putt is made, a clank sound is produced when the ball hits the bottom. Interesting note there are no hole numbers on the flag and holes may be played in any order. The grass on the Park Golf course is of a uniform length, about like the lawn on a private home. Fact: Whiffs are not counted in Park Golf!

The Club, that is included with the green fee, is a center shafted wooden-headed mallet with a thick wooden or fiberglass shaft. There is a large plastic insert in the face, or impact area (much like the inserts in the old Persimmon woods). The clubs heads vary a little in shape and are available in a variety of shaft lengths, to accommodate Parkers of different sizes and ages. There is zero loft on a Park Golf club making it difficult for Parkers to hit a ball in the air, even off the rubber tee. Regular Parkers own their own club, some custom made, that can cost as much as $500.

The Ball, used for Park Golf is made of a hard plastic resin, is about 50% larger than a golf ball and they come in a variety of colors. Parkers wear a fanny pack looking thing where extra balls are carried. The balls, that make a sharp sound when struck, reminded me of a "pickle ball."

In this writer's opinion, Park Golf is about 90% golf and 10% croquet. It is easy to learn and players of all ages and abilities may enjoy the game together. Because the space needed for a course is small and the holes are short, a 9-hole round can be played in less than an hour. No power carts are needed and even older Parkers can easily walk.

As a "true golfer," I found Park Golf did not have the appeal or sense of excitement of real golf. Golfers love smacking a drive 250 yards or watching a crisp approach shot spin back toward the hole. These things do not occur in Park Golf, but there is a definite skill that can be developed with the mostly on the ground game.

Park Golf In The USA? There is a Park Golf course, Destroyer Park Golf, in Akron, New York. The course that is owned and operated by professional wrestler Dick "The Destroyer" Beyers was opened in 2013. The Destroyer was a Japanese wrestling fan favorite for the 10 years he spent in Japan. Beyers became a regular Parker and grew to love the game. He opened his course when he returned to the States.

Is Park Golf one of golf's life preservers? Time will tell. Check out this video link to see how Park Golf is actually played: http://teetimespress.com/main.asp?SectionID=8&SubSectionID=33&NewsVideoID=437

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