Equipment Blog - Japan and Korea

Claire Bates, The R&A’s Assistant Director – Equipment Standards, regularly meets manufacturers and golf associations from across the globe. She recently travelled to Japan and Korea to meet some of the most important people in the Asian golf industry…

After just two weeks back in the office since returning from the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, the Equipment Standards team has been off on its travels again – this time to Japan and Korea. And it was a very busy two weeks at that! Catching up with all of the submissions that had accumulated in our absence; taking part in The R&A’s annual Referee’s school in St Andrews and preparing for an Equipment Standards Committee meeting.

Once all of this had been addressed, we duly headed off to the Far East, unfortunately for some, on the morning of St Valentine’s day.

The primary purpose of this visit was to attend the Japan Golf Fair and to meet with the manufacturers congregated there. This is done in a variety of ways – either on an individual basis, via the board of the Japan Golf Goods Association (JGGA) or via an open Forum for smaller manufacturers. All are useful vehicles for us to convey key messages and to listen to the issues and challenges being faced by the industry. On this visit, we were keen to remind manufacturers about the Joint Statement of Principles that was first published in May 2002 and to re-emphasise the importance of this document in the shaping of our decisions and rule-making activity.

The tough economic climate and the effects of last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami were never far away from our discussions, as well as issues of participation, cost and the general health of the game. It was clear from our discussions that the development of the game is something that manufacturers and regulators can certainly claim to stand shoulder to shoulder on. Whilst our views on how this should be approached may not be 100% aligned, understanding each other’s perspective is vital.

The Japan Golf Fair itself is not as big an affair as the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, however it was certainly busy, with more than 50,000 visitors recorded during the three days – helped by the fact that it is open to the general public. The R&A’s representatives are kindly invited to attend the opening ceremony – where, after two or three welcoming speeches, the President of the JGGA drives in. This is an entertaining tradition and the current President, Mr Hiroyuki Bamba, duly hit his drive straight down the middle of a simulation of the 16th hole at the Fuji Classic golf course.

We also made time to meet with the Japan Golf Association – an organisation with which The R&A has forged very strong links over the years. They are one of the few affiliated unions to have formed their own Equipment Standards Committee and they have a solid understanding of, and appreciation for, equipment Rules. We always expect challenging questions when we meet with the JGA. Most important of all, they are a loyal supporter of The R&A and the work we try to carry out – and they do everything within their means to assist us and to further prosper the game of golf in Japan and throughout the world.

After finishing our business in Japan, we made a slight detour before heading home. It had been seven years since we last visited Korea in an Equipment Standards capacity and so we felt it was time that we arranged a meeting with Korean manufacturers. Whilst much of the equipment used in Korea is imported from overseas, we have seen a growing number of submissions from Korean manufacturers, partly prompted perhaps by the success of Korean golfers in the international arena. We were not disappointed with our decision to visit and we spent a very worthwhile morning with approximately 90 representatives of the game in Korea, including the Korean Golf Association, the Professional Tours, Korean golf club owners and manufacturers themselves. Even from the short time we were there, it was clear that golf in Korea had been thriving since our last visit – in every respect – and we resolved not to leave it as long before visiting again.