This year marks the 22nd time that the Cat Ladies Tournament will be held at the Daihakone Country Club in Hakone-machi, Kanagawa Prefecture.
General Producer Sho Tobari tells us why this location came to be selected:
"Considering that the tournament is held during August in midsummer, we first decided to hold it at a summer golf resort. And, since it is within day-trip distance from Tokyo, we decided that Hakone is the best spot."
Golf has a long history in Hakone, starting more than 100 years ago in the Taisho era. Currently, there are eight golf courses in the town, and many golfers from the Tokyo metropolitan area should have come and enjoyed golf here.
Hakone is the most famous golf resort in Japan. And, the Cat Ladies Tournament has become a summer tradition here.
There is someone here who knows well the relationship between this town and the tournament. That person is Nobuo Yamaguchi (74-year old), the mayor of Hakone.
Before becoming mayor, he served in a variety of roles in the town government, including Head of the Planning Office, and in 1993 he became deputy mayor. He was involved in the preparations when the Cat Ladies Tournament was first held at Daihakone Country Club in 1998. After becoming mayor in 2000, he has continued to support the tournament.
As the 22nd time for the tournament to be held here drew near, we asked Mayor Yamaguchi about the significance of holding the Cat Ladies Tournament in Hakone.
"There aren't many examples of tour tournaments continuing for so long in one town," said Mayor Yamaguchi. "This tournament, sponsored by Caterpillar, has become a summer tradition in Hakone, and many people look forward to it every year. I am very grateful for this."
However, when we examine the history of the tournament, there is a year when the tournament almost didn't happen. In the spring of 2015, there was a small steam eruption from Mt. Hakone, and the volcanic alert level was raised to Level Three.
Even though the volcanic activity had nearly come to an end, there were voices in the media concerned about the danger of holding the Cat Ladies Tournament at Hakone that year.
"Whether or not the tournament will be held is not our decision," said Mayor Yamaguchi, "but, immediately after the eruption, many people asked us to please hold it if possible."
On the other hand, the tournament officials were committed to "safety first" before moving ahead with the usual plans.
"Caterpillar Japan originally organized this tournament in order to promote local communities. It was precisely for situations like the one that has occurred in the town of Hakone and the local community. After discussing the situation with the town of Hakone and other related parties, we decided to hold the tournament as planned." (Excerpt from the greeting by General Producer Sho Tobari printed in the 2016 Tournament Brochure)
Supporting regional development and vitalization through infrastructure improvement is the theme of Cat® products. They wanted to help Hakone when the town was having trouble.
Fortunately, the volcanic activity returned to normal levels during the tournament, and as a result, more visitors than usual came to the venue, and the tournament was more successful than expected.
The tournament officials knew they had made the right decision when they saw the smiles on the faces of the players and the spectators, as well as the those in the town who were involved in the planning.
In 2012, Hakone was recognized as a "Global Geopark" (including two cities and three towns in the surrounding area) because it is a tourist destination where people can experience global activities (geological phenomena), and added to the "Global Geoparks Network" established with the support of UNESCO.
This has become a major tourism resource for Hakone. More than 21 million tourists visit annually, of which approximately 4.6 million have stayed overnight. These numbers place it in the top class for local tourist destinations.
If the area is already such a popular tourist destination, what is the significance of bringing in a golfing event during the top season for a summer resort?
"Now, all areas throughout Japan are focusing on tourism with a special focus on inbound tourism," explained Mayor Yamaguchi. "Hakone cannot simply rely on its name value. If we don't continue to create and promote attractive tourism opportunities, we will lose tourists to other areas. I think it is important to always develop tourism resources that meet the needs of the times. In that regard, the need for participatory leisure sports has increased recently, and watching tournaments is one such leisure activity. The Cat Ladies Tournament has made a great contribution to the promotion of tourism in our region."
However, Hakone was originally a quiet summer resort. Weren't there any objections to holding the tournament during the top season?
"There might be those who think that it would be best to make it a prime tourist attraction for the off season. But, because we hold the tournament during the top season, not only the spectators but also the players and everyone involved in planning the tournament are all very happy. I think that is why it is worth it. Fortunately, there was no opposition from the people of our town. Everyone, including the villa residents, understands golf."
Mayor Yamaguchi himself was very familiar with golf in his past. Recently, due to age and a busy work schedule, he has had fewer opportunities to play, but he always enjoys watching the Cat Ladies Tournament. On the last day of the tournament, he presents the tournament winner with a special prize: "Yosegi-zaiku", a type of traditional Japanese marquetry.
"The Cat Ladies Tournament has become an event like a town festival," said Mayor Yamaguchi joyfully. "Of course many of the residents of the town look forward to it, and many residents of the villa also seem to be staying for the tournament."
Is it a big chance to promote the town?
"No, no," he said. "The event will not last long if we use the tournament in that way. The Town of Hakone simply provides a place for the tournament and supports its operation. Caterpillar uses the stage that we provide, and we just provide support to make their jobs easier."
Providing a stage and the support to use it. This, too, is a theme of Caterpillar.