|From Humble Beginnings…|
Launched in 1987 by Mr. Kozo Shimbo, the Japan Open began in the Tokyo neighborhood of Tachikawa Showa Kinen Park. Real estate was (and continues to) be gained at a premium in this country, which meant that, while disc golf would be allowed on the much-used grounds, it had to be confined to a smaller area than many players are used to in the United States or Europe. Safety concerns were the major reason why disc golf was played with “150-class” discs; this is a legacy that continues even today and seems to satisfy park managers' concerns. (Trivia…Did you know that 150-class discs can legally weigh as much as 152 grams?)
Given the high usage and location of this government subsidized park in Tokyo, Mr. Kozo Shimbo was under pressure to conduct his growing event within the very restrictive time frame of 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. And while the course was inherently shorter at Tachikawa, this still created a backdrop of anxiety for players, organizers, and fans to get the event concluded in time. Added to the dynamic of Mr. Shimbo’s relationship with the park, was the fact that the event grew throughout the years. After only a few tournaments, the Japan Open was forced to accommodate more-and-more players on the same minimal space during the same eight hour stretch. This became increasingly challenging for Mr. Kozo Shimbo.
Eventually, Hero Disc’s influence on disc sports grew throughout Japan. The Japan Open itself provided a great promotional event to bring, not just the Japanese, but the rest of the international players, all together to celebrate our great sport—Japanese style. The growth of the Japan Open eventually outstripped Showa Park’s ability to host the event. In addition to the tournament, Mr. Kozo Shimbo was also interested in conducting an event that could feature some of the wonderful hospitality and culture for which that the land of the rising sun is renowned. This lead Hero Disc on a comprehensive search throughout nearby prefectures to find a venue that would meet the high standards Shimbo san expected of himself and his events. The course was expected to be world-class, but the amenities too had to be worthy of the commitment and sacrifice international players endured while traveling to the island nation. Their search eventually lead to the Nasushiobara resort (Nasu Highlands).
When the prospect of hosting an international DISC golf tournament was presented to the managing group at Nasu Highlands, they were not quite sure what to make of it. Golf was something they knew rather well, maintaining a championship 18-hole ball golf course designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, Jr. But disc golf? This would certainly entail a risk from the facility's management, but, with the great professionalism of Mr. Kozo Shimbo, himself a Professional Disc Golf Association Hall of Fame member, Nasu took a chance. And their chance paid off.
Moving to the Nasu Highlands, with its beautiful course and “top-shelf” amenities, the 2004 Japan Open proved to be the “shot in the arm” the event needed to attract a more widespread international field. Certainly the Americans responded by filling out 28 of the 68 player field. And the images beamed home from the mountainous course setting provided enormous intrigue to disc golfers from around the world. Oregon’s Avery Jenkins captured the 2004 event by a one-throw margin over Steve Rico and Ken Climo. Kazuo Shirai was the top Japanese finisher, landing in eleventh place.
On the women’s side, the 2004 Champion, California’s Carrie Berlogar, and eventual World Champion, Valarie Jenkins, were severely tested by the Japanese golfers. Chieko Kakimoto played runner-up to Carrie, while Ayako Ito battled to capture fourth place behind Valarie’s third. Combined, the men’s and women’s purse was Y2,000,000.
Most importantly, though, the 2004 Japan Open began to draw the sport’s best players, who took their amazing experience back home with them and told everyone who would listen about the Japan Open, “You gotta go!”