Here’s why you’ll never want to hit a hole-in-one in Japan

By Master Blaster, RocketNews24

Japan may be the only country in the world that insures golfers in the event they hit a hole-in-one during a round of golf.

■ A Cinderella story out of nowhere

They say the odds of hitting a hole-in-one in golf is around 12,000 to 1 which is somewhere around the probability of finding a pearl in an oyster. And if your unlikely shot happens in Japan, you may be wishing for that pearl. That’s because upon sinking one, the player is morally obligated to hold and pay for a party in their own honor comparable to a mini-wedding.

We’re talking food, drinks, entertainment, and even souvenirs for all the guests, commemorating this special moment in casual sports. Depending on your financial situation, this may turn out to be a huge burden on your bank account. Luckily, insurance companies are here to help.

■ Hole-in-one insurance

Something known as “hole-in-one insurance” exists in a lot of countries as a type of prize indemnity insurance that covers tournament organizers.

Let’s say you want to hold a golf tournament and, as a special draw for participants, you offer a Lamborghini as a bonus prize for anyone who hits a hole-in-one. As we already saw, with the odds of hitting such a shot, it’s a reasonable risk for a sexy promotion…but you never know.

So, instead the organizers will buy some insurance at a much lower cost to cover the price of a high performance sports car in the rare chance that it’s needed.

In Japan, however, hole-in-one insurance is quite the opposite thing. Let’s take a look at an example of such a policy from a major company MS&AD Insurance Group (below).

In a nutshell it says that as long as you hit a hole-in-one or albatross (hole-in-two on a par-five hole) on Japanese soil with a witness, then you are eligible for coverage. The minimum witness is an employee of the golf course, most likely a caddy, but a combination of fellow players and other unrelated players waiting for their turn are acceptable.

Coverage includes the cost of the party, commemorative souvenirs for the guests, a commemorative tree planting on the course, a tip for the caddy (who just happens to be a key witness), and a philanthropic donation to the golf course itself up to a certain amount. Depending on the package, coverage can extend to one million yen.

■ Gentleman’s game

After reading that, if you’re cripplingly cynical, you’re probably wondering what’s to stop people from defrauding hole-in-one insurance left right and center.

I asked that of an acquaintance who has golfed on some of the finest courses in Japan and abroad and who has heard a few tales of hole-in-one parties. He said, “Golf is generally considered a gentleman’s game. It’s not in the character of the players to do such a thing. Besides, if they got caught it would ruin their reputation.”

I then asked a friend who is an executive for an insurance company the same thing. She told me, “Of course, it’s easy to defraud. To investigate we can only interview witnesses, but even if someone says a hole-in-one wasn’t made, that’s not enough evidence to prove a fraudulent claim.”

This begs the question: Why are insurance companies in their right mind allowing such freewheeling coverage? The answer to that likely lies in the history of the custom.

■ Capitalism at its purest

Reading around about hole-in-one parties, the common reason given is that in Asian culture, when a great stroke of luck occurs, one ought to pay it forward as much as possible to avoid any misfortune down the road. While that may be true for Asian culture, it doesn’t really explain why only Japan has this particular ritual.

The Kyoei Fire and Marine Insurance company claims to have been the first to offer hole-in-one insurance back in 1982. At that time golf courses were luxuries only for the highly wealthy in a country with very limited space. It was also around this time that the Japanese economy was seeing a great deal of growth.

So it would seem likely that, around this time, some golfers with massive bank accounts and egos to match began this extravagant tradition. And insurance companies keenly saw an opportunity to woo them. It was kind of brilliant in that only people who could make use of hole-in-one insurance were pretty much guaranteed to require extensive coverage in general.

Fraudulent or not, giving away a free party is a small price to pay when it means a client is guaranteed to have loads of property to insure. Meanwhile, a caddy gets a nice payday, a golf course ends up with a nice chunk of change, and, most importantly, the client gets to soak in the honor of hitting a ball into a tiny hole from really far away. Everyone’s a winner!

However, those days led to an economic bubble which burst long ago. Also, golfing in Japan has become much more affordable in recent years and it’s not just a pastime of the elite. It will be interesting to see if hole-in-one parties and their insurance can continue much longer.

In the meantime though, if you happen to be in Japan and pull off a hole-in-one, you might want to keep it to yourself.

Sources: MS&AD Insurance Group, The Kyoei Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Golfista, Sheknows

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Japanese company offers insurance plan to protect against false train groping accusations -- You’re not seeing things, that’s a cat selling roasted sweet potatoes -- Inside China’s Mission Hills Golf Club, the largest golf resort in the world

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How about this, just play the game with a group of friends. You hit a Hole in One and just keep the score card, and maybe buy a round of drinks at the bar. No need to go all extravagant over a past time hobby. If your associates complain, get new ones. They are nothing but a bunch of free loaders if they expect you to go all out for them just because you made the shot.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

This "hole-in-one" insurance was more popular back during the bubble economy, when Japanese went nuts about golfing. Insurance companies found a niche market and made a ton on selling it to the gullible golfers. It was a status thing too back then as well, if you had this insurance many people accepted that you were a serious golfer. Not necessarily a good one, but just serious about the game.

That being said, this insurance today is often purchased by organizers of tournaments and not so much by individuals themselves anymore.

Oh and I do believe that the same insurance is available in the UK and Canada as well. Not 100% sure on that but I seem to recall it isn't just Japan.

They say the odds of hitting a hole-in-one in golf is around 12,000 to 1 which is somewhere around the probability of finding a pearl in an oyster.

Well I guess I beat the odds then, and not just once, or twice, but three times! Finding a pearl in an oyster that is.......broke a tooth on one.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I can't see fraud being much of an issue. The person would risk destroying their reputation among everyone they know for what? There would be hardly anything left over for them after the required party is thrown. Certainly not enough to throw a lifetime reputation away for.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

We still have plenty of towels embroidered with the details of my father in law's holes in one many years ago. He must have had hundreds made.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Very interesting, but don't fault the insurance companies for filling a niche requirement. There's no product without the demand

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Another of the stupidest things ever to learn. I mean, celebrate if you want, but are we so spineless that we have become obligated to pay through the nose at every single insignificant thing now?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I wouldn't play golf to begin with, but if I did, I most certainly would NOT pay for everyone's everything if I managed to get a hole in one. Buy some drinks, maybe, although I reckon you should buy a drink for the person who gets the amazing shot, not vice versa. Spend a fortune on others because I got a hole in one? Nope. Don't care what they would call me for not doing it, but I wouldn't go home broke as a result.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

I've heard of two firsthand accounts of people scamming the system. Nobody is worried about losing a lifetime of "reputation." In the two cases I heard about, EVERYBODY (the alleged hitter and all the freeloaders, and a few people at the course) were ALL involved.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

One time a Japanese boss of mine got an albatross while playing a round of golf. Like the hole-in-one duffer, he had to handle this albatross thing the same way. He had to buy something for everyone in his club. I wrote the explanation for a letter in English for him ... and learned at that time how expensive doing rare things in golf can be. In case you're wondering, he got two on a five-par hole. This is also called a double eagle ... and is a rarity in golf.

By the way ... he complained about having to spend so much money on his stroke of luck ... !!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kim Jong Un would have no problems hitting a hole-in-one in Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The best hole-in-one in Japan explanation!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How sad it must be to be so financially fragile that a round of drinks makes someone broke.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Absolutely absurd. It should be that the person lucky enough to score a hole-in-one should be rewarded by his peers not the other way around!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am beginning to think that there are a few cultural differences between East and West that I will never understand.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

a colleague of mine has a hole-in-one, he's happy and brought food/party for all the guests on that day, as for overseas friends, I received a golf ball with his name engraved.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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