INZAI, JAPAN – Yasuo Shiina left his home in Tokyo on Thursday morning to get a spot on the tenth tee of the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, which is about 90 minutes away. Shiina plays about a round a month and watches a lot of golf on TV. But he has never seen Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day up close.
"It is difficult to see such players in Japan," he said Shiina, 51, works for a housing association. "I will be very impressed to see tigers."
Shiina was not disappointed or alone. By the time Woods turned up at 8:40 a.m., the crowds were 10 people deep, including some fans with orange and black tiger themes. The cheers for Woods were as loud as for the favorite sons Satoshi Kodaira (who was with Woods) and Hideki Matsuyama. After Woods got into the first driveway, the crowds crowded like commuters on a rush hour train to follow him down the fairway.
"It was loud, it was very loud," said Woods after his first lap. "The people here in Japan came to support this event and it was great fun to play in front of them again."
The enthusiastic spectators were a happy start to the Zozo Championship, the first Japanese event to be included in the PGA tour schedule. All around 80,000 tickets were sold for the tournament, whose title sponsor, the fashion retailer Zozo, hosted the event for six years. The $ 9.75 million wallet and 500 FedEx Cup points at stake attracted 14 players who have won major tournament titles. One of these players was Woods, who got over a shaky start and shot a six-under par 64 and game Share the tour with Gary Woodland after the first day, Matsuyama ended the day a shot behind.
However, the tournament encountered an unexpected roadblock: the weather. The game was canceled on Friday, though more than ten centimeters of rain The track was soaked and the spectators are not admitted on Saturday for safety reasons. The last round was postponed to Monday.
The Zozo championship is Woods first tournament in Japan in more than a decade since he played a Japanese tour event in 2006 in Miyazaki on the southern island of Kyushu.
Whether Woods appeared or not, the PGA Tour hoped for a successful Zozo championship to strengthen the tour's presence in Asia. The tour, which has offices in Beijing and Tokyo, has already hosted tournaments in China and South Korea. Japan was added this year – instead of Malaysia – on the three-country tour of the region. There are also development tours in Canada, China and Latin America to attract young golfers.
In some ways, An event in Japan was a natural addition. The country has more than 2,000 golf courses, the third highest in the world, and is home to major sponsorships from companies and golf giants like Bridgestone. Japan has many well-heeled golf fans who are willing to pay 12,000 yen (USD 111) or more for a day pass. The sale of golf equipment – from clothing to clubs – is substantial. Golf in Japan will get another boost next year during the Tokyo Olympics.
However, the success of a PGA tour event in Japan is not certain. Last year, about 6.7 million people played the game in Japan, more than half less than when the country collapsed in 1992 his bubble economy. While young people take up sport through screen golf, visiting golf courses, and other alternatives to a five-hour round, the sport is reserved for the older men who started playing golf in the 1970s and 1980s, when golf was a popular form of corporate entertainment ,
"Golf is a symbol of the bubble economy when everyone felt they had to play golf and ski," said Munehiko Harada. Professor of sports economics at Waseda University in Tokyo. "This generation is getting older and there are no new, younger golfers."
As the number of golfers has decreased, companies like Accordia Golf, which operates more than 170 golf courses across Japan, have tried to adapt. They have reduced green fees, added flexible tee times and given golfers the opportunity to find tee times online. Yuko Tashiro, managing director of Accordia, which is owned by Narashino Country Club, said she hoped the Zozo championship would motivate more young players to start the sport.
"We need this event to help people who haven't played golf come onto the course," she said.
Other sports organizations have tried to encourage participation by visiting Japan. The N.B.A. has been planning games in the country for the past three decades, including this month when the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors played near Tokyo. Major League Baseball has sent long teams and all-star teams to Japan, where M.L.B. Games are often broadcast live.
Even so, American football and hockey have failed to gain a foothold numerous visits by N.F.L. and N.H.L. Teams.
However, sports like golf and tennis are more driven by individual stars, and Japanese fans love to see the best in their craft, which is one reason why Harada, the sports business professor, believes that PGA tour events in Japan are persistent.
"Ordinary people are not interested in the PGA, they are interested in Tiger Woods," he said. "If a guy like Tiger keeps coming to Japan, the tournament will attract a lot of people."
Although Japan offers its own professional men's and women's tours, organizing a PGA tour was a challenge. In the beginning, the organizers had to find an appointment that was acceptable for the local men's tour and their media partner.
"We didn't want to come in and do something that would have hurt the Gulf of the country," said Ty Votaw, executive vice president of international affairs for the PGA Tour. "It is the second largest golf industry in the world and we wanted to be welcomed with enthusiasm."
Megumi Hatakeyama, vice president of golf at Zozosaid the location of the course, between Tokyo and Narita International Airport, was crucial. The course also has 36 holes, so there was enough room for hotel tents and other facilities that were common at events in the United States. Further adjustments were made, including safety guidelines, so fans could bring backpacks on the track. Hatakeyama has also adjusted the menu to include more comfort foods like Tater Tots that American golfers prefer.
"I wanted to give them the same things they would have done on the PGA tour," she said.
PGA Tour representative Jay Monahan said Zozo agreed to sponsor the event for six years and he expected Maezawa to continue to play a central role. The tour had no intention of postponing the tournament.
"If we commit to launching a new event, it is a permanent commitment," said Monahan, "and we never intend to leave Japan to always do a PGA tour in Japan from that day on." "