Japan’s golf industry, which is still largely dependent on seniors and corporate outings, is changing in the face of the aging population and stiffer competition from other leisure activities.
To attract younger players, some golf clubs are opening schools for children or adding facilities where other outdoor sports can be indulged.
“Golf is the kind of sport through which we can strengthen family bonds,” said a 47-year-old company president from Tokyo.
The man used to play with his colleagues and friends but now likes to tee off with his 11-year-old daughter. He’s been playing a round with the fifth-grader every month since she enrolled in Kids Golf, a school for children, two years ago.
“Now we can communicate through my favorite sport. . . . Golf has helped get us closer,” he said. “My goal is to win a parent-and-child competition at the school.”
The school buses children to a golf course. Professional instructors separate them into small groups to train them and teach course etiquette.
Kids Golf has nearly 300 members, mostly in elementary school. It also organizes tournaments and other events involving parents so families can enjoy the sport together.
“Customarily, Japan’s golf has been largely dominated by the so-called ‘settai’ (wining and dining) business outings and certain groups of people, and we wanted to change that,” said Yuji Nakazaki, president of Tokyo-based operator Kids Golf Inc.
“If we invite families, a wider group of people can play together, and that will help put a brake on the decline of Japan’s golf-playing population,” he said.
The number of people visiting courses in 2013 totaled 8.6 million, down about 20 percent from a decade ago, although still 8 percent higher than in 2012, according to a report on leisure by the Japan Productivity Center.
Tokyo-based Pacific Golf Management K.K., meanwhile, opened an outdoor resort facility in June dubbed Outdoor Sports Park in Yoshikawa, Saitama Prefecture, where visitors can enjoy barbecuing, running and cycling on top of golf.
“With these facilities, we are looking to attract people who have had no interest in golf,” an official said.
In another effort to attract the younger generation, more than 200 golf clubs and driving ranges launched a service in August targeting people aged 20 in collaboration with Recruit Lifestyle Co., allowing them to play free of charge anytime until the end of next March.