The Japan Golf Tour – A Very Special Experience

Graham Marsh and I study a putt in Japan – the blind leading the blind – perhaps 

My previous memoir included the last event in New Zealand in which I would caddy. It brought one chapter of my involvement in professional golf to an end but another was about to open up.

In September of 1986 I made the decision to move to Australia from Nelson in New Zealand, not having caddied since the 1983 New Zealand PGA Championship in which I caddied for the winner, Graham Marsh.

I joined with my then partner Corals D’Ott who had moved to Sydney to establish an import/export business five months earlier and I took up a sales role with the New Zealand travel company Newmans Tours, a position which had been offered to me before leaving New Zealand.

In August of 1988 I was made Newmans’ Brisbane manager where I would be responsible for not only the Queensland sales of Newmans’ New Zealand product, but also the growing tourism  inventory they were developing in Australia.

It was a very enjoyable role in a very social industry but once again the lure of professional golf was calling. I travelled down to one of the early Palm Meadows Cup events at Palm Meadows on the Gold Coast and caught up with Graham Marsh who asked if I might be interested in caddying for him in Sydney a few week later.

That event would be the Tour Players Championship at Riverside Oaks and it was there when Marsh raised the possibility of a working for him in a full-time role.

His then golf course design company, Marsh / Watson, had been established soon after the completion of Palm Meadows on the Gold Coast in which he had been involved as the designer and the workload was beginning to flourish for the fledgling company.

Marsh felt he needed help while on the road as he continued his playing career and it was then that my earlier pursuit of work with him would yield results.

Marsh outlined a role that would require me moving to Perth and filling a position which would essentially involve  caddying for him in Japan while, at the same time, acting as a ‘Man Friday’ to assist with the many business issues he would face each day.

The role sounded almost too good to be true and, as excited as I was about the prospect, I recall trying to remain calm as I asked him if he could put something down on a fax to me (it was before the internet) in terms of the offer.

It was, after all, a chance to return to caddying while, at the same time, building some business experience so it ticked the boxes I was keen to pursue while at the same time allowing me to remain involved with one of my great passions, professional golf.

A few days later the fax arrived from Perth (Graham’s hometown) and while I had essentially made up my mind before seeing it, the more specific details made it even more attractive.

Two months later I had tied up all loose ends and had relocated to Perth where Graham’s most significant design project at the time was the Vines Resort. Marsh had played a key role for the Japanese client in both the purchase of the land and the development of the golf course and was very much ‘hands on’ in every aspect of the trailblazing resort.

It would be the start of 12 years working directly for Graham and his company, during which my eyes were opened to the golf course design industry in Asia and the Pacific and to the Japanese Golf Tour.

I settled in Perth but within three weeks we were off to Japan where our first event together would be in Kumamoto. First, however, was a dinner business meeting with golf course clients in Tokyo on the night of our arrival and a rushed trip to Sendai the following day for the opening of a golf course in which Graham had played a role in designing.

Graham and his then partner Ross Watson and I kicked on after the business dinner and in the back streets of Tokyo I soon became aware of the profile Graham had established for himself in his (to that point) 20 + year career in that country.

With the owners of a bar recognising Graham, we were ushered inside where we celebrated the successful earlier meeting and for the first and only time in my life, drank whisky. To say the least, the trip to Sendai on the bullet train the next morning was hard work.

It was the first taste of many such business activities while working for Graham and his company but I have never drunk whisky in its pure form again and never will!!

On the Tuesday morning we flew south to Kumamoto on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu for our first event together in Japan, the Mitsubishi Galant. It was the first of 25 or so events over the next 18 months, two of which resulted in victories in addition to several other near misses.

Graham finished 6th that week behind the winner, Jet Ozaki, brother of Jumbo, following up the next week in Sendai with a top 20 behind Jumbo Ozaki before winning the Sapporo Tokyu Open in the northern island of Hokkaido a few days later (see video).

It was such a thrill to have been involved in a win in just my third event in Japan, Graham at the age of 45 indicating there was a lot of good golf left in him despite being well into his forties.

He was chased home that week by one of the greats of Japanese golf, Tommy Nakajima, who would finish three shots behind in a share of second place. Nakajima won 48 titles on the Japan Tour and is still the third highest earner of money in the history of the Japan Tour behind Jumbo Ozaki and the more current Shingo Katayama. He loomed as a real threat with a few holes to go but Graham held him off.

Marsh wins Sapporo Tokyu Open in our third event together in Japan

It was therefore a great start to the arrangement Graham had put in place for me to work for him in Japan and the first of two victories there during that time. The other would come 15 months later at the Tokai Classic in Nagoya when a third round of 64 had given him the lead before play was abandoned on the final day and Marsh declared the winner.

In one of the more amusing experiences of my caddying career, I was ushered onto the stage setup in the clubhouse to be part of the official party for the presentation ceremony as rain pelted down outside. As the caddie of the winner that week in Nagoya, I was given a year’s supply (in vouchers) of Coca Cola who had sponsored the event. I liked Coca Cola but not that much!!

My time in Japan would come to an end at the end of 1990 when Graham offered me the chance to work in a marketing role for his golf course design company based on the Gold Coast.

I saw that move as a great opportunity to further my business career but have to say I was sorry to have been leaving a relatively brief but very successful sojourn caddying in Japan, a country which I had truly grown to love.

There were so many great experiences both on and off the golf course in Japan. Admittedly, I had the good fortune to be working for Graham and his company and the hotels and travel I enjoyed were at a much higher level than in my earlier caddying days but there was something about the efficiency of Japan and the welcoming nature of the people that was very special.

There were many particularly enjoyable occasions. The Australian Japan Tour regulars tended to socialise together with the likes of Brian Jones, Roger Mackay, Terry Gale, Wayne Smith and Marsh regularly meeting up for dinner and me being part of that group.

Left a fishing expedition in Hokkaido and a celebratory dinner  in Osaka.

One particularly poignant memory was when the tour played an event in Hiroshima. Staying just a few hundred metres along the road from where the Atom Bomb fell in 1945, I was drawn to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, established in memory of those who fell victim on August 6th that year. It remains a lasting, thought-provoking and distressing memory in my mind.

The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

Another special memory was when Graham was beaten into second place by West Australian Roger Mackay at the Sendai Classic in 1990. Graham had to head back to Tokyo that evening so Roger and I headed out on the town in Sendai for a particularly enjoyable celebration. He might have indirectly cost me money earlier that day, but I managed to be on the receiving end of some of his generosity that evening.

Mackay won eight times on the Japan Tour, was an Australian Amateur Champion and would also win the 1987 Australian PGA Championship. Despite that success, his career was curtailed by back issues but in late 2001 and 2002 he would face even bigger demons.

Mackay would pass away in 2002 at the age of 46 from complications caused by his battle with grade-four lymphoma. He was a great bloke to be around, his dry sense of humour making time in his company very entertaining but his loss was felt by all, especially given the speed of his demise.

That night in Sendai, celebrating the second of his eight victories in a country where he excelled, however, remains forever in my memory.

Above Roger Mackay a great guy and impressive player taken far too early.

Japan provided so many wonderful memories and experiences, certainly more than I have time to write here but it also allowed the working relationship and friendship between Graham Marsh and I to build further.

I visited destinations from Okinawa in the south to Sapporo in the north during a total of eight separate trips from Perth, allowing me to see some of the best of Japan.

It would also provide a greater understanding of Graham’s golf course design business and the background which I had been seeking in order to further my own goals.

It would be that experience that would ultimately provide the catalyst to my next chapter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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