Name of the game

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - SARAH MORI star2@thes­

Othe rules of ground golf are so sim­ple that even play­ers as young as five can give it a shot. NCE, when I men­tioned hockey, my Ja­panese friends vi­su­alised ice hockey. Talk about gate­ball, and the ma­jor­ity would pic­ture the aged play­ing it. To avoid con­fu­sion over Amer­i­can foot­ball, I al­ways re­fer to foot­ball as soc­cer.

Golf is of­ten per­ceived as a sport for the elite. Golf club mem­ber­ship fees cost an arm and a leg. How­ever, there are many af­ford­able driv­ing ranges or prac­tice grounds where golf en­thu­si­asts can play for fun or train dur­ing week­ends. These sites are sur­rounded by huge, green nets.

A few men in my neigh­bour­hood are so pas­sion­ate about golf that they some­times pol­ish their strokes in pub­lic – at a va­cant lot on a huge rented car park, near a bush by the road­side or at the play­ground. They would stop and turn away when they see passers-by ap­proach­ing.

It’s no won­der that a lawn at a park is cor­doned off by yel­low tape and there’s a no­tice for­bid­ding en­thu­si­asts from play­ing golf there. A “No golf­ing here” sign­board is even put up on a patch of mowed grass at a ceme­tery in Kawasaki.

Re­cently, while pass­ing the court­yard of a neigh­bour­ing apart­ment, I chanced upon four el­derly folk play­ing what I thought was some kind of gate­ball. Out of cu­rios­ity, I asked one of them what they were play­ing. “Ground golf,” said the wo­man. “Not gate­ball?” I queried.

“Ground golf,” she re­it­er­ated. “We’ve been play­ing here twice a week.”

Ground golf? Yet the sandy ground has no golf holes. Could it be an­other name for gate­ball or cro­quet? But then, hole posts were po­si­tioned in­stead of gates or hoops.

Each post has a num­bered flag and two con­cen­tric rings at its base.

The old folks were hit­ting the balls with some­thing that looked like golf clubs rather than mal­lets. They had two types of clubs: one with a kid­ney-shaped, wooden club­head and an­other re­sem­bling a put­ter.

The words “Ground Golf” marked on the num­bered rub­ber mats (com­plete with a tee each) and on the flag posts’ num­bered flags con­firmed the name of the game.

In­trigued, I watched them play and snapped their pic­tures. Not want­ing to in­ter­rupt their game, I went home and Googled “ground golf” for more in­for­ma­tion.

The rules of the game are quite sim­i­lar to golf. Play­ers com­pete ac­cord­ing to the to­tal num­ber of strokes used to cover all the holes. The player with the fewest strokes is the win­ner.

A course can be made on a park or square by set­ting up start mats and hole posts at eight lo­ca­tions in the “out” and “in” cour­ses. One can play with only one club from tee-off to hole-out. No caddy is needed.

Each coloured, solid plas­tic ball is 6cm in di­am­e­ter. It is smooth and not pock-marked by dim­ples like the con­ven­tional golf ball. For safety’s sake, the club is de­signed so that the ball will not fly high when struck.

A set of hole posts usu­ally com­prises 16 pieces: eight pieces each for the “out” and “in” cour­ses. Since the court­yard is small, the el­derly neigh­bours used only four hole posts and four rub­ber mats sans mark­ers, marker hold­ers and score cards.

As ground golf in­volves light ex­er­cise, it has be­come a pop­u­lar re­cre­ation among se­nior cit­i­zens, although the younger gen­er­a­tion can also en­joy it.

Guess what! There is even a Ja­pan-hawaii Ground Golf As­so­ci­a­tion which in­cludes chil­dren and youth, on Face­book.

Cu­ri­ous, I asked sev­eral Ja­panese friends if they knew about ground golf. One wo­man replied: “You mean gate­ball?”

As I looked back at the snap­shots taken last year when many se­nior cit­i­zens gath­ered for a sports event at the far end of a park, I recog­nised their sports equip­ment. Aha! They were ac­tu­ally play­ing ground golf and not gate­ball as I had as­sumed.

Iron­i­cally, some­where on the lawn of that park stands a plac­ard with a no­tice ban­ning golf. Hmm ... isn’t ground golf con­sid­ered golf, too?

And oh, I also came across “park golf” and “golf cro­quet” on the In­ter­net. Park golf is a form of golf whereas golf cro­quet is a ver­sion of cro­quet. None­the­less, I shall not delve into them be­cause yours truly is al­ready con­fused by all these vari­a­tions. n Sarah Mori, a Malaysian mar­ried to a Ja­panese, has been liv­ing in Ja­pan since 1992. She hopes to try her hand at ground golf if she has the op­por­tu­nity.

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