Greenkeeper with Blue Eyes

Maintaining Japan’s number one korai greens

Text by Minori Fukushima, golf writer

Photos by Norimoto Asada

This week Keya Golf Club will be the venue of the RIZAP KBC Augusta golf tournament which is an annual stop on the Japan Golf Tour.1 This article was originally published in the 4 September 2018 issue of ゴルフダイジェスト (Weekly Golf Digest) and the translation from Japanese to English has been kindly provided by Mr. Yukio Ueno. The golf course was built fifty-four years ago on a hill which commands a spectacular view of the Genkai Strait. Designed by Shiro Akaboshi, one of the legendary golf course architects in Japan, the golf course boasts something in addition to its delicious rice-in-soup called Taichazuke they serve at their restaurant; that is their fast and firm korai greens. On top of that, there is an American golf course superintendent who maintains this high quality turf at this historical golf course.

Andrew McDaniel Andrew McDaniel

“The greens at Keya Golf Club are firm and fast. Their turf is a reflection of the greenkeeper’s and staff’s skill and passion. Grass is a living creature, so the maintenance practices will change depending on the amount of sunlight, rain, air flow, temperature, and many other elements of nature. In addition, the crew must perform special tasks for the tournament, as in extra mowing, additional rolling, water management, and so on. All this while perhaps they are talking with the grass every day while maintaining the turf with low mowing heights, making them firm with pinpoint watering knowing the turf is going through a very stressful week. Finally once the tournament is over, maybe they really say “Thank you” to the grass for its superb performance! The excellent greens here bring me into such a fancy. I like these greens very much though they are so difficult to play on. August 23rd, 2016.”

Ryo Ishikawa wrote this in his blog, and five days later he won the RIZAP KBC Augusta Tournament which was held here. This was after five years of his painful struggle on the PGA Tour and while he was just beginning to gain his confidence back in his golf game.

He was fascinated, encouraged, and inspired by the greens at Keya, which are taken care of by Andrew McDaniel, born in Mississippi, who is the assistant general manager/golf course superintendent. Andrew says he was unreservedly happy when he saw the comment from Ishikawa. “I know golf pros who express their appreciation to the course maintenance, but Ryo observed the grass so carefully,” Andrew says. “Last year, when Yuta Ikeda won the tournament, he gave us a little too much praise,” Andrew laughed. “During his winning speech, he said, ‘I played on some of the best tight and firm bermudagrass greens during a major U.S. tournament this year but the greens at Keya are just as good. Players are so thankful, because playing on superb greens like Keya makes the players grow and become better players.’ During the speech he also referred to me by name.”

While looking a little shy when talking about the words from his good friend Yuta Ikeda, Andrew continued by saying, “Our team works hard all year for this event so I want all players to do their best also.”

Keya has been the host for KBC Augusta (now it is called Rizap KBC Augusta) since 1983. In addition to this annual event in late August, Keya is also host for the Landic Challenge, a developmental tour, which started five years ago. This year, there was yet another tournament played at Keya, the 103rd Japan Amateur Championship held in early July.

Unfortunately, this event was canceled due to the typhoon No. 7 and the subsequent heavy rain that hit western Japan. “We were very excited because we made the course conditions exceed the level we thought we could,” Andrew says. “The greens were firm, stimp meter reading was fast, and then came the rain. We were all disappointed that we missed the top event for our nation’s amateur golfers. Yes, we had to work hard during the rain, but that is not the point. We all missed what could have been an exciting tournament,” said Andrew.

These words are indicative of his “Player First” spirit. “We pushed the turf up to the standards for professional golfers. It’s a shame we couldn’t finish the tournament. I wish we had a clear four days and the players could have showcased their talents …”

Although the event was canceled, many players said the greens were wonderful after their practice rounds. An official from the Japan Golf Association, expressed his surprise by saying, “I didn’t think such a fast green was possible with korai.”

“We’re very grateful that they were happy,” says Andrew. “You know, you can tell someone the green speed with a number, but on korai greens you feel the ball rolls faster. When you hit along the grain, the ball rolls really fast and our greens are firm, too.”

"I like to get on the machines from time to time. It is a time of meditation and helps clear my head."

“I like to get on the machines from time to time. It is a time of meditation and helps clear my head.”

Andrew came to Keya in March of 2013, so it has already been five and a half years. He has lived in Japan for seventeen years and likes Japan because it is safe, people respect other people, and the level of service is so good anywhere you go in the country. “Once you get used to these traits, and then go back to the U.S, you’ll be frustrated,” he laughs. “The people here work hard. When I came to Keya, I was so impressed with the high quality of service and hospitality from clubhouse staff and caddies. Upon your arrival, during your golf, and as you leave the course everyone is greeting you, one after another, and you will be recognized and remembered even as a visitor.”

The staff at Keya consists of a little more than 100 people including caddies. The level of communication between the staff is the key component of their first-class hospitality. Susumu Nishimura, General Manager, describes Andrew as follows: “He has the Japanese spirit. In some ways he is more Japanese than ordinary Japanese. You know what I mean, …He is like a warrior …we tend to think that the U.S. is a country of individualism, but Andrew always keeps the organization in mind, first of all. So, I let him do what he has to do, and not worry.”

“I hear it often,” Andrew responds while smiling. “But it’s not like that everywhere in Japan. In other golf courses, you may see the president or general manager often get too involved in the course maintenance affairs. But not here, they give me my space. Think about it, don‘t you think it is surprising that they hire a foreigner? Normally people are worried about staff relationship with a foreigner. Many think having a foreigner is too big of a risk.’’

Company culture is made by the people who work there. Andrew is a staple part of the Keya culture. As the general manager jokes, “Well, after all we are a golf course in the country side,” then Andrew follows by saying, “Yeah, and it’s maintained by a redneck.” You can see there is a deep relationship of trust between them.

During my interview, I told Andrew a comment I heard from a local golfer, saying “Greens at Keya have been really good for the past few years. They use korai, yet the turf is tight with high density and the ball rolls smoothly.” Andrew responds. “I’m thankful. Greenkeeping is in the heart. If you don’t have a passion for growing turf, it would be hard to make it.” General Manager says, “You see, he is so like Japanese, isn’t he?”