Sports matches and events are gradually taking place again thanks to various efforts by organizers, players and others involved to prevent the spread of coronavirus at the venues, such as reducing the number of attendees and asking spectators to use masks and sanitizers. However, professional golf has been very cautious about holding tournaments, especially when it comes to galleries.
A decrease in the number of games takes a financial toll on professional golfers. At the same time, the absence of galleries deprives them of their motivation. This is why the International Sports Promotion Society, an international charity that supports various organizations and events in Japan and abroad, decided to sponsor two men’s tournaments with galleries this autumn. The organization, founded and chaired by Japanese philanthropist Haruhisa Handa, is also known as ISPS Handa. The Japan Golf Tour Organization (JGTO) co-sponsors the events.
The first of the two events was a men’s charity challenge tournament held at Rockhill Golf Club in Ibaraki Prefecture from Oct. 14 to 16. A total of 476 spectators gathered to watch the tournament that was won by Kunihiro Kamii, who finished at 21-under. The total prize money was ¥23 million. This event was the first men’s professional golf tournament held with fans in Japan this year.
The second tournament will take place at Itsuura Teien Country Club in Fukushima Prefecture on Oct. 29, 30 and 31. The total prize money will be ¥53 million.
At an Oct. 8 press conference in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, Handa explained that both tournaments are exhibitions rather than official tournaments because 40% of the seeded players are from abroad and it is difficult for them to enter Japan at the moment. As such, earnings from these matches will not be counted in official prize money rankings. However, just being able to participate in tournaments with prize money is highly encouraging for professional golf players.
According to Handa, 10% of the prize money is to be donated to medical institutions. This spirit of charity is part of ISPS Handa’s founding principles as the organization was initially founded to help those with disabilities enjoy and participate in sports. “The purpose of the activities of ISPS is to make people happy and improve society through sports,” Handa said.
Handa also explained that ¥3 million out of the total prize money will be equally divided among the 50 players who missed the cut, with each receiving ¥60,000. “This is very helpful for players when the number of tournaments has not recovered from the drastic drop (this year). Some golfers are actually on the brink of giving up being professional players,” said Kodai Ichihara, a professional golfer and the director of the players’ association of the JGTO who also attended the press conference. showing gratitude on behalf of his fellow golfers. “I’m grateful for the possibility of having galleries at the matches because the presence of the gallery is the best part of being a professional golfer,” he said, expressing gratitude on behalf of his fellow players. The Fujisankei Classic, a tournament held in September, was the first men’s tournament this year, but it was without a gallery. All other matches have been canceled or rescheduled, adversely affecting professional players financially.
ISPS Handa makes various other efforts to make the matches safe and enjoyable for everyone. Handa said, “ISPS will bear the cost of conducting polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to all players, staff members and press before the tournaments.” He also explained that bentos will be offered to the first 1,000 spectators every day during the tournament held at the end of October. “Bento of the day, all-you-can-eat ice cream, baked sweet potatoes and mandarin oranges will be offered. Spectators in Halloween costumes will receive extra treats. The players can enjoy fishing in a makeshift pond during their free time,” he said, stressing that these ideas and efforts help create a golf culture and contribute to society at the same time.
ISPS has already sponsored men’s and women’s tournaments and two senior tournaments with galleries from July through September to encourage professional golfers and the golf industry. Two of them were also for charity to support health care workers and medical institutions. The charity tournament held on Sept. 14 and 15, sponsored by ISPS Handa and co-sponsored by Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki, a renowned Japanese professional golfer, gathered 1,138 spectators.