• Chugoku Shimbun

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While tourism and leisure activities have been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus, the number of golf course visitors in the Chugoku region has been growing steadily.

The total number of visitors to the 109 golf courses in the five prefectures that make up the region — Hiroshima, Okayama, Tottori, Shimane and Yamaguchi — reached 288,896 in February this year, the highest February figure in the past decade. The number further rose to 371,632 the following month, exceeding 370,000 in March for the first time since 2013, when there were 126 golf courses.

The increase reflects a growing interest in outdoor sports, which can be enjoyed while avoiding the “three Cs” — closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places and close-contact settings. Also at play is an increase in the number of young people who enjoy playing golf.

Golf courses had been facing a decline in visitors as the baby boomer generation ages, but things have begun to change.

Hiroshimasaiki CC, in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, had about 4,000 visitors in February, nearly double the usual number, and the number of visitors in March was also strong, up 4% from the previous year to about 5,200. Kure CC in the city of Kure, also in Hiroshima Prefecture, was also popular, with about 3,000 visitors in February. The number has been “unheard of in recent years,” said Kazuo Mizuta, manager of the golf course.

According to the Chugoku Golf Union, the number of visitors to golf courses in the five prefectures between April and June last year fell sharply, down 20% to 30% from the previous year, as a nationwide state of emergency was in place.

But the figure picked up in August last year to 383,215, up 26% from the previous year, and has since hovered around the pre-pandemic level, sometimes even surpassing it. The total number of visitors from January to March this year was 903,288, surpassing the 900,000 mark for the first time in 14 years.

Since the start of the pandemic, each golf course has implemented measures such as checking the temperature of visitors, disinfecting carts, installing partitions on cafeteria tables and prohibiting the use of public baths.

The union believes that “due in part to the success of the infection control measures, more and more people are now choosing to play golf instead of traveling.”

Another factor is the increase in the number of young golfers.

“Since last year, we have seen a noticeable increase in the number of customers in their 20s and 30s,” said Makoto Kakuichi, manager of Hiroshimasaiki CC.

Last year, a record 1,765 people took lessons for golf beginners organized by the union, with nearly 80% of them in their 20s to 40s, and half of them women.

“I don’t have drinking parties to attend anymore, and I don’t hang out with friends either. But golf is something I can easily invite people to because it doesn’t involve close contact,” Kazuya Takemoto, a 23-year-old worker in the city of Hiroshima, said.

Some also say they started playing golf after being influenced by videos on YouTube or because they just wanted to wear cute outfits.

Before the pandemic, efforts by golf courses to lure visitors with plans for beginners had seen little success. But now, with the unexpected rise in visitors, Hiroyuki Nagashima, manager of Shobara CC, said, “We would like to expand our efforts so that the younger generation will establish their interest in golf.”

This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published April 11.

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