Name of the game
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.