Chief Course Manager of Daihakone Country Club Tomomi Sakiyama Interview with the Chief Course Manager:
"Strong awareness of tournament throughout the year led to improvements in course management skills."
Daihakone Country Club, the Cat Ladies battlefield, was ranked No. 1 in this year's "Top 30 Golf Courses with Highly Rated Course Maintenance" published annually by a major golf portal site.
This ranking is generated based on the "word-of-mouth" evaluations by users posted on reservation sites. Comments this year included:
"There is no other golf course that is so well maintained."
"The scenery is nice, and I enjoyed playing while remembering the tournament."
"This is a golf course I could visit anytime. It is in my top 3."
In response to this high evaluation from actual users, Tomomi Sakiyama, Chief Course Manager and Greenkeeper at the Country Club said, "The 'Cat Ladies' tour has been held since 1998. We have been able to improve our skills each year by keeping a strong awareness of this tournament during maintenance throughout the year." He said that this tournament has been a driver for improvements in management technology.
The courses on which tournaments are held are required to be in the best condition at the time of a tournament. However, this means that often amateur players must endure periods of maintenance.
But, players who use Daihakone Country Club say that "this golf course is well maintained anytime we play".
This year, before the 23rd Cat Ladies tournament, was held here (this is the 24th year for the tournament overall), we asked Greenkeeper Sakiyama about this while accompanying the Ladies Professional Golfers' Association of Japan (LPGA) and tournament officials on a tour of the course.
Regarding this high evaluation, Mr. Sakiyama first said, "That makes me very happy. Whenever I receive a compliment from a customer, it makes me glad that I worked so hard." Then he added, "But, to be honest, there are a number of other courses that have even better course management, and we strive to be like them. I've been working hard on the goal of avoiding large fluctuations throughout the year, and that worked well last year. I think that is why we received such a high evaluation."
What does "avoiding large fluctuations" mean?
"If you try to always keep the condition of the turf at 100%, the condition will always drop, such as times when it drops as low as 50%. That will be disappointing to the customers who come to the course at those times. I always aim for a condition of about 85%. And then in August, for the Cat Ladies Tournament, I aim for a condition of 100%. To achieve that, I set a goal of 120% about three weeks before the tournament. If we can do that, we can recover quickly from anything that happens to the course due to weather."
However, 3 weeks before the Cat Ladies Tournament is the time of year when the turf is under the most stress, during the heat wave immediately after the rainy season. Moreover, it is the busiest time of year for Daihakone Country Club, which is a popular summer resort golf course. Isn't it difficult to adjust the turf and keep it in top condition at this time?
"I've been managing this course for a long time, so I've learned how to control the conditions of the turf to some extent," said Sakiyama with a smile.
"In order to make sure the turf is strong in midsummer, it is important to get a quick start in early spring. But how well the turf was managed the previous fall determines how well our start goes in early spring."
So, it is a daunting job throughout the entire year.
Mr. Sakiyama is 52 years old. He enjoyed raising livestock and farming, and so after graduating from an agricultural high school, he got a job here to work with nature.
30 years have passed since that time. Recently, even if he has only a little time, he tours courses where the Japan Open is held, as well as golf courses that are famous for the management of their turf.
But not only in Japan. He also visits famous golf courses and tournament courses around the world, such as St Andrews.
This year he also watched the Masters Tournament. Then, he went to Pebble Beach where the U.S. Open is held, and gathered as much information about course management as possible. He happily recounts how he remained in Augusta National Golf Course until closing time, and the staff had to remind him that it was time to leave, because he was busy observing their management work and discovering many useful things.
Do you enjoy studying hard?
"No, no. I don't really like studying," he said. "But, we were chosen for such a great tournament like Cat Ladies, and so many people participate. So, I just want to make the course as good as possible for everyone to enjoy."
As a result, he just naturally felt a drive to make improvements.
The greenkeeper Mr. Sakiyama is greatly inspired by Sho Tobari, the Cat Ladies General Producer.
During our tour of the course, Mr. Tobari was giving instructions and making requests to Mr. Sakiyama about the course setting. But, they weren't talking only about the tournament.
"Mr. Tobari gives me advice not only about the setting and course management but also about the shape of the course and its landscaping. He knows well the top courses around the world, and so he tells me about different golf courses both in Japan and around the world, and which ones I should visit. And when I actually go there, it is exactly as he described. I can really learn a lot," he said happily.
"Cat Ladies certainly is held at a time of year when weather conditions can make it difficult to manage the turf. Even so, this has forced us to improve our skills. Our younger staff members are also very ambitious, and recently have started to volunteer to help with course management at other tournaments."
The "Golf Courses with Highly Rated Course Maintenance" article by the golf portal site mentioned at the beginning concludes with this quote from Mr. Sakiyama:
"I believe that reconsidering existing concepts and policies and creating a paradigm shift will satisfy the players who visit our course and will lead to an increase in new golfers. We will continue to make every effort to create new innovations, without forgetting the need to face new challenges."
We are very happy and proud that Cat Ladies has been one of the factors in motivating Mr. Sakiyama in his quest for further improvements.