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Osaka bar-, cafe-goers tee off between drinks

Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Report

“Wow, it’s popping out at me!” shouts a golfer as he watches sand fly off a bunker shot and hears the splash of a golf ball hitting a water hazard.

But this exclamation doesn’t come from a golf course, the sportsman and his friends are on a street lined with pubs in Kita, Osaka. Their cheers have become a familiar sound since Ohatsu-tenjin Golf Bar, Penguin (golf-penguin.com) opened last month. The bar’s 3-D golf simulators allow customers to enjoy all the elements of an outdoor course after a hard day’s work from the comfort of their local pub.

Ohatsu-tenjin is outfitted with private rooms separate from the bar counter for people to enjoy the game with friends — and improve their handicap.

“I thought I could get a good score easily because it is just a game,” said 46-year-old Tatsuo Hayashi in between swings. “But it is difficult and I make mistakes just like I do in real golf. The 3-D system is much better than I expected.”

While the number of bars offering virtual golf simulators started increasing around the Tokyo area a few years ago, these establishments have now spread to Kansai and other regions in Japan.

Bars aren’t the only ones cashing in on the craze, Golfzon Park Esaka (esakagolfzonpark.jp) in Fukita, Osaka, is the first virtual golf space directly managed by Golfzon Japan, a company specializing in golf simulators. Designed like a cafeteria with high ceilings, the building has a bright and open atmosphere. Manager Kensuke Nishihara, 29, stressed Golfzon Park is for everyone.

“We try to make this space easy to visit,” he said.

However, even the most experienced golfers can appreciate the park’s extensive services. Its simulators offer 100 course locations, including California’s Pebble Beach Golf Course, which is used for the U.S. Open. The machine’s advanced screen display follows the ball through the course after the player’s shot.

People hoping to start at a beginner’s level can also go to Konami Sports Club (information.konamisportsclub.jp), where about 50 of the club’s chains offer golf- simulation services and training instructors.

“Many of the students are beginners but their rate of improvement is twice as fast as normal beginners,” said 40-year-old instructor Yoshitoshi Takase. Parents of young students in the training programs come to the sports club hoping their children will follow in the footsteps of professional golfer Ryo Ishikawa. “I want to raise them to be winners of the Masters Golf Tournament,” Takase said with a smile.