Australian Links Lure Japanese

TAKAO FUKAWA is explaining one of the differences between golf as played in Australia and on his home course in Japan. In Japan, he says, a control tower ensures that foursomes tee off every seven minutes. He looks back on the second hole at the Ryde-Paramatta Golf Course here. There is no one in sight; he is playing with only one partner and certainly no control tower.

``Here, you can take as much time as you want,'' says Mr. Fukawa, who works at a golf course in Japan but only gets to play twice a month.

Thousands of other Japanese are joining Fukawa to play golf Down Under. Koala Golf Tours, the largest golf tour operator in Australia, is now lining up the links for more than 1,000 Japanese a month. Koala charges $75 to $150 per person for translator-guides, greens fees, golf shoes, clubs, and transportation to the course. ``My staff looks like walking zombies - up at 4 a.m. and working until 10 p.m.,'' says Kevin Murphy, who runs the Sydney branch of Koala.

Qantas, the national airline, is making golf a larger part of its marketing blitz this year. It is the sponsor of the big ``Skins'' golf tournament in Port Douglas, Queensland. The tournament, played last February, takes place at The Sheraton Mirage, owned by a Japanese company.

Japanese real estate developers, in fact, have been quick to add new courses for the gung-ho golfers. Of the 220 courses in Queensland, Australian Golf Digest magazine reports seven are resort courses either partly or wholly owned by Japanese. The resorts typically include one or two golf courses built around world-class hotels.

It is not surprising that Japanese are putting themselves silly. The greens fees at Australian courses are modest by Japanese standards. The Ryde club here charges $23, while Japanese clubs often charge as much as $200 per session (caddy included).

Japanese are also enthusiastic about the beauty of many of the courses. ``We don't have so many seaside courses,'' says Shozo Oshina of Hiroshima. Mr. Oshina and his wife are in Australia for seven days - and will play golf four days. Normally, they play once a week in Japan.

A CONSIDERABLE number of the Japanese landing in Australia have never played on a golf course, says Jason Hood, a Koala tours interpreter and guide.

``They have only been on driving ranges,'' says Mr. Hood. Some of the driving ranges don't even look out on grass - they are on top of office buildings.

Some Japanese companies now reward employees with golf trips to Australia. Playing in front of Mr. Oshina is the president of Mikimoto, a Japanese jewelry and cosmetics company. He and seven other high-level employees from Osaka are taking the week to check out such famous courses as the Palms at Sanctuary Cove and Palm Meadows, both in Queensland. They will play golf three out of six days. Four hundred other staff members will follow in their spike-holed footsteps over the next several weeks.

Australian officials are eager to see Japanese exchange yen for golf clubs. The Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) is now filming its latest commercials, replacing Paul (``Crocodile Dundee'') Hogan with Greg Norman, known around the golf circuit as the Shark. Although ATC officials say they don't want to attract just golfers to Australia, the Norman image will highlight the game Down Under.

In the first commercial designed for the Korean market, Norman and a Korean celebrity tee off on a Sydney course with a herd of kangaroos looking on. Unimpressed, the 'roos, which were not residents of the course, took off down the fairway.

The golfing influx is not without its hazards. Many Japanese have seen Australian tournaments on television. ``They want to do The Australian [site of the Australian Open this year] or the Royal Sydney and these clubs don't want them,'' says Mr. Murphy of Koala.

The Japanese golf invasion comes at a time when some people think there might be a links shortage Down Under. The New South Wales Golf Association, for example, estimates the Sydney metropolitan area needs another 10 courses to bring supply in balance with demand.

``There are 70 private clubs in the metropolitan area and some have a 10-year waiting list,'' says Darrell Fazio, editor of Australian Golf News, the official publication of the Association. No new courses have opened since 1972.

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