Saturday June 12, 2010
With the air still fresh with Friday’s activities, the buzz was beginning to develop that the finals were near, and at least in the Women’s Open division, the title was all but delivered to Valarie Jenkins, as she has simply obliterated the field here in Tochigi.
With some of her most recently secured fans following in her shadow and a field of compliments and high-fives coming from all directions, Val’s Saturday was shaping up to be a memorable one, as she made her way into the packed clubhouse restaurant for a light lunch with her “crew”, including mom and dad. I feel it my duty to say that when someone is surrounded by love and respect there is no limit to where one’s goals can be set. In the case of Miss Val, her actions and accomplishments have sent a clear message to us all that with a positive mindset and a concerted effort to surround one’s self with good company and influence, the champion born within all of us can then emerge. That said, THIS GIRL’S GOT IT GOIN ON!
The technical aspects of Saturday’s final disc golf experience here at Nasu Shiobara’s best kept secret were immense. It’s obvious everywhere you look that these plans were laid many months ago as every element of color and craftsmanship throughout the clubhouse property and two championship courses seemed to flow together, elegantly. There were banners of all shapes and sizes, waving in the mountain breeze, wind socks telling short stories in all the right places and Hero’s Airman looming in the foreground of the massive stone walled clubhouse with its story book spires rising above even Friday morning’s fog. Hero Disc and Innova have left no stone unturned to create the world’s most dynamic stage in professional disc golf.
Inside the beautiful Nasu Highlands clubhouse the hustle and bustle throughout the morning was quite a sight as visitors and players alike awaited their chance to jump into the current of those seeking custom JO merchandise of an amazing variety. Men’s and lady’s golf apparel of all styles, custom embroidered or stamped with this year’s full color design by Takadasan and Levi Wilcox. Handsome rain jackets and hooded sweatshirts, long and short sleeve tees, full-color Cloisonné fobs and lapel pins, 9-color silkscreened metal mini’s and an exhibit showing the finer elements of the screening process were in full display. A sign of a new era was evident this year as the Hero product line now displays the Airman logo signifying that these items have passed through a rigorous trial and development process and have been awarded the Airman symbol of quality, workmanship and functionality. Just one more example of how Hero and Innova are leading the way in disc golf products and promotions.
This years’ full-color silk-screened Samurai Warrior disc was displayed in a way that seemed to bring the design to life as you catch the Samurai’s eyes at each passing. Others were there to pick up the newest Dodgebee products or to grab a souvenir caddy book, which became yet another instant favorite amongst this year’s guests. Those that couldn’t quite decide on their final purchases were encouraged by the announcement that any remaining merchandise would be easily available through herodiscusa.com.
Amongst this maelstrom of energy and commotion is the large projected scoreboard, placed in a manner that was easily read from wherever you were. The logo-laden roster scrolled each round’s results, and each player’s cumulative scores, continuously throughout each day of the Open.
As the Taiko drums sent off the semi-finalists Saturday morning, some would take their last spin out to the tees and make good on the reminder to get pictures and participate in this very special and quite personal send-off that each and every player receives as they take to the Raijin and Fujin courses. Hero staffers and supporters awaited players’ passing with applause or an extended hand to show their support: a true sign of the Japanese tradition of achieving success by working together towards a common goal.
The men’s final was completed after only the second sudden-death played in JO tournament history. Feldberg’s shortfall may have been tragic to some, but stranger things had happened in pro sports, given the simplicity of the scenario. The lesson learned could possibly be that, when in doubt…step away from the tee box. Locastro’s victory will ripple the waters for a while but I assure you that no one has taken a more powerful message from the outcome than Feldberg himself. Nikko’s play told the story, and this recent series of events will remain pivotal in the mind of all of those present, that in the game of disc golf there is no end to what is possible when the mind and body work together on the course. We witnessed so many highs and lows on the course all week, just to gather and return each day for another shot at reward and redemption. Good luck to these two and all of this year’s players as you make your way back to your lives and loves. It was an honor to join you all on and off the course for this historic week of sports and fellowship.
The awards party was being prepared back at the Towa Pure Cottage complex as players arrived on the returning private shuttles. An enormous transformation had occurred while everyone was at the golf courses all day. The Hero vehicle fleet was now placed as cornerstones for the elaborate set-up. Dozens of traditional Japanese (chocheen) lanterns lit the performance stage that served as the centerpiece for the “party side” of the ceremony. International party goers and staff were seen latching onto each other to form a classic “party train” bobbing and weaving its way through the crowd, growing with each stride. Later the Taiko Shonin drums and performers took the stage for their encore to the weeks’ unforgettable performances. A continuous buffet of traditionally prepared cuisine wove its way through the parking lot turned ball room. Crab legs, sashimi, huge ocean prawns, chicken and beef skewers lay piping hot and prime for the picking. Every fresh veggie known to man, and more, were being enjoyed at the dozens of tables placed within reach of the awards stage. Tubs of ICE COLD Asahi Super Dry were accompanied by smiling staff members, as all present stocked up for the many Kampai! (cheers) throughout the evening. A favorite to many while here in Japan was the hibachi grill, as it sent its signature aromas into the air.
Now it was time for the awards ceremony to begin. Thanks to Suzette Simons, who took the opportunity to thank Kozo Shimbosan for his efforts with a warm show of appreciation from all of the participants. A rarity was also in place as Dave Dunipace was on stage to personally present players with their rewards and congrats. Samurai Sam Ferrans and Kozo Shimbosan made quick work out of recognizing the age division winners and others as the time came for Open Women and Open Men awards. With our champions now holding their bounties and the energy around us reaching for a new high, it was announced that a lucky few would be asked to don traditional Yoroi Samurai battle uniforms and take to the stage! These hand-crafted masterpieces were so intricate and laden with detail, only to find out that all but one was made of PAPER! Not the amazing helmets though, as they weighed a good 5 kgs. (11 lbs.) sitting atop one’s head. I was lucky enough to be asked to join in on the fun and I can tell you firsthand that it was an honor to do so. More than a couple of the lucky few to wear these symbols of Japan’s Samurai history were spiritually aware of their greatness and meaning while displaying them from center stage. After the disc golf program was complete, some began to notice the slow but steady influx of those here to take part in the Ultimate tournament happening on the playing fields just above the lobby building of Towa Pure headquarters. Many new friends were made I assure you, as the night seemed to flow into morning, all to a soundtrack of language and laughter heard only every two years throughout the forest here at Towa Cottages. It was now time to prepare for tomorrow’s many sightseeing options and retire once again to the luxury that has been provided by our gracious hosts, Hero and Innova.
For some, Sunday morning didn’t go quite as planned. First of all, many of us were startled by the 6.1 earthquake that rumbled throughout the property, bumping and shaking its way in and out of the cottages and balconies with no harm done. Then at breakfast, I see that Avery Jenkins and Justin “Jatwater” Taylor missed the bus that would deliver them to the Nasu Highland Golf course for a traditional ball golf match. A quick nod from Masumi of the Towa staff and they were headed for the club in a private vehicle. Others opted for the more vigorous outing that would take them to a number of ancient relics and hidden historical hideaways such as the Toshogu Shrine and other Buddhist landmarks. Shopping would be the target activity for others as they were led to a popular Tochigi commerce center. There they found many local goods and crafts to take to family and friends back home, awaiting witness to their journey.
After such a long day for many it wasn’t quite clear how Sunday evening would play out. Well, it was soon discovered that a Japanese favorite was in store for this evening’s meal. Yakiniku (ya-kee-nee-ku) is a popular Korean style barbecue that has been adopted by the Japanese for tableside dining. Here at the sprawling deck alongside Towa’s anchor French restaurant “Les Rosier”, Hero and Towa staff had set up individual table-top grills for all to use as we were treated to a plethora of meats and seafoods and garden-fresh vegetables to personally place and cook at our tables. The sights and sounds that accompany a Hero Disc event are just amazing in every way. It was AWESOME! Again, the dream that is the Japan Open continues! This was only the pre-show to what would become to some, the icing on the cake: Karaoke! Through the night air, the sounds of merriment and song could be heard winding its way throughout the forest and surrounding cottages. With opening numbers such as the RHCP staple, “Suck my Kiss”, and Jerky Jurkovich with her version of “Baby got Back” (with Yeti on stand-by vocals), it became clear that just about everybody wanted a piece of the microphone before it was all over. This private Karaoke room, reserved by Hero, was now full to its capacity as dancing and cameras flashing and fine wine tasting and Cocktail Partner sipping served as a reward for reaching the next level of this old fashioned game. A new spice to this recurring favorite chunk of the JO was the trombone that I so innocently brought to allow for some spontaneity during the week. Well what I didn’t prepare for was that Denver’s Dan Hart would show up to blow my mind and all those in attendance with some of the coolest-sounding t-bone playin’ I have ever heard. It was no doubt that this young man had paid his dues, as we were all caught off guard while he and his lovely bride, Michelle (vocals), NAILED the Sade classic “Smooth Operator “. Then there was Val and Natron that would belt out a funky number like they were auditioning for America’s Got Talent. FYI: Thanks to Tron there was always a full basket of ice cold Asahi Super Dry to keep the wheels greased. Once this amazing display of talent and off-the-course revelry was over, everyone had to take a deep breath and say, “WOW, did that really happen?”… Yes it did! The party made its way up and down and all around the complex as the night wore on. For some it was a chance to sneak in a “see you soon” rather than a goodbye which is always a bit uncomfy at these things. A gentle mist had begun as the clock struck 4:00 am and it was said by some that they heard taps being played from somewhere within the complex. It seemed to put a closing note to this week-long extravaganza, as we were witnessing history’s final entry in what would be the 2010 JO testament.
As we look back on this week’s excitement and activities, I can assure you that many plans have already been laid for the 2012 event. Kozo Shimbosan has made a legacy out of his commitment to not only outdo each of his previous events, but also to constantly improve the stage on which these rich and remarkable dreams-come-true occur when we reunite for each Japan Open. As we once again witness the power and the tradition that has become synonymous to the Japan Open, I will remind you that it is no longer about “who was there and what went on”. It’s now about “who wasn’t there and what did they miss”. As this year’s record number of guests return to their homes and lives around the world, I can guarantee you that there are a whole bunch of stories being told right now. Why don’t all of you out there make sure that you’re a part of them in 2012? You will never believe what awaits you until you arrive. Come join us in the “Dreamland” of disc golf for the Japan Open 2012. The world will be watching…
When Nikko Locastro missed his birdie putt on the fourth hole of the 2010 Japan Open finals, he waved his hand through the air and dropped his head, as if he was resigned to the imminent win by David Feldberg, who was then holding a commanding four throw lead. Feldberg would go on to gain yet another stroke advantage after the fifth hole, so the only thing that seemed to remain was the coronation of the defending champion David Feldberg with his 2010 Japan Open crown.
But in a stunning turn of events, Nikko Locastro overcame that five throw advantage on the remaining four holes with a combination of solid makes and Feldberg mistakes. At the end of the nine-hole finals, Feldberg and Locastro were tied to force a sudden death playoff under the abundant sunshine and breath-taking scenery of the Fujin course at the Nasu Highlands Golf Club in Tochigi prefecture, Japan. Feldberg could not imagine that it would all slip away so quickly, especially with a two-throw buffer remaining even on the last hole of competition. But after Nate Doss landed his tee shot to within 15 feet of the basket, and Locastro pulled up alongside Doss’s drive, Feldberg may have felt compelled to “match that” with a throw of his own.
The temblor was just about ready to begin, though Feldberg still had an entirely makeable putt left that would have preserved a one-throw margin of victory. Upon his release on the 99th hole of competition, Feldberg’s putt was tracking to the center of the chains. But a prevailing tailwind drew the disc down and into the front of the basket, leaving the number one ranked player in the world only able to watch to see if Locastro could convert a relatively simple throw-in. The quiet tremors then started, as Locastro did make the putt to force a playoff for the second time in the last three Japan Open’s. The last one being a two-hole playoff between Avery Jenkins and eventual winner Steve Rico.
This playoff, however, was over almost as soon as it started, as Feldberg’s drive rolled away from putting space in front of the elevated green and out-of-bounds. The green Teebird that was so reliable for Feldberg all week hit the sentinel boulder that rises out of the manicured lawns in front of the basket at Nasu Highlands and found the out-of-bounds sandtrap. This gave Locastro an opportunity to quickly end the epic battle. And to Locastro’s credit, he took full advantage of Feldberg’s mishap and struck a powerful coursing hyzer throw off the tee to land within ten feet of the pot of gold at the end of his Japan Open rainbow.
Locastro’s made putt kicked off an earthquake of emotion for the 21-year old from outside St. Louis, who has been finding ways to win at some of the PDGA’s biggest events over the last few years. The Japan Open gallery was also clearly shaken, as they had just witnessed one of the most dramatic turn-arounds, not only in Japan Open history, but in all of disc golf.
Locastro’s win was also a major step in dispelling a major concern related to his inability to bring home wins on the disc golf tour, especially after winning for most of the competitions. And while it may have seemed like Locastro had accepted the runner-up spot after missing that putt on hole four, clearly he had not. Indeed, he might have actually been playing possum in the middle of the road with Feldberg’s semi-tractor trailer barreling towards him. At the very moment that it counted, Locastro found a way to roll out of the way and to emerge, not only unscathed, but with one of the most coveted titles in disc golf now on his resume…the 2010 Japan Open title.
Nikko Lacastro and Valarie Jenkins are the 2010 Japan Open Champions
Stay Tuned for more….
The weather is wonderful this morning. Sunny, breezy, temperature is in the high 60′s. Forecast shows the winds picking up for the afternoon which will make the final round a bit more challenging. We are in the semi final round this morning and at 2 PM the final will kick off. The final round will include only the top 4 men and the top 4 women.
Friday is essentially the half way point of the Japan Open, as it is a three day event and everyone plays two rounds on the first two days. Saturday brings the semis and finals. The big change this year was the decision to carve TWO courses out of this Robert Trent Jones Jr. masterpiece. This allows not only for more holes to be played, but by making more efficient use of the duel venues EVERYONE will participate in the Saturday semi-finals. There were certainly no arguments with this.
Friday is moving day here at Nasu Highlands and things are starting to take their final shape as the end nears. The weather Friday morning was appearing to go sour with occasional drops of rain during the first light of day
The golf course as a whole appeared to be filled with thick smoke as a heavy fog crept into every nook and cranny of the winding mountain courses. Not to worry though as the clock worked its way closer to the 8 a.m. players meeting, a spot of sun appeared and slowly but surely, the thick coating was burned off by the emerging sunshine.
After the morning and afternoon rounds were completed, the event would welcome everyone back to the Nasu Highlands Amusement Park where a feast was being prepared for the evening meal and players party. The featured entertainment tonight was the return of the Taiko Shonin drums which are played before the start of every round. Each group is applauded and high-fived with a shout of “gambate kudasai” (good luck) as they depart from the larger-than-life clubhouse. This evenings performance was a bit different though. Their performance would tell the traditional story of kitsune (the fox) that appears in this region traditionally each fall to signal the start of the fall festival of the Nasu region. With even more instruments and players than seen earlier filling the Hero stage area, it was a display that will never be forgotten by anyone in attendance. These taiko drums weigh in excess of 200 kilos (440 pounds) and in the case of the larger varieties (400 kilos+) may be carved from one solid piece of tree trunk. The performers bobbed and weaved their way through the audience while playing different shouldered drums and hand held traditional percussion instruments. No one had any idea that they were going to witness this beforehand and it was apparent as during occasional unison stops in the songs, it was so quiet you could hear an ant blow its nose. Or maybe it was a fly, I cant remember. After the performance was finished and a roaring applause continued for more than a couple minutes, the taiko shonin masters allowed a few lucky disc golfers the chance to play the largest drum of all for a closer experience. Papa Leroy Jenkins was in the zone for a bit as was Johnny “Rumble” Pecunia and Justin Atwater-Taylor as they were literally on center stage feeling the remaining taiko energies. But there was one performer that had not yet had their chance to fill the air with thunder this evening. The 6 year old son of one of the taiko masters appeared with sticks in hand and began to play this massive drum with all the poise and power of a seasoned pro. While everyone within earshot was moved just short of tears, the tiny tapping tot finished his performance with a perfectly executed finishing drum roll and decrescendo that brought the house down. His father arrived to remind him to bow TOWARDS the audience as I think even this half-pint hero was blown away by his display and reward. This whole taiko drum tradition is something that every person in the world should be able to experience for its age-old musical and historical value.
After the evenings schedule was completed, it was back to joe’s bar for the traditional afterglow and cocktail party hosted from this futuristic, totally automated and self-sufficient night club on wheels. Iwa Joe was on his mark all night as the tunes rolled throughout the towa pure cottage compound and surrounding forest. Language after language was being added into the conversation mill and there were a certain few that were apparently ok with turning on their “I am not really super worried about playing tomorrow” light inside their head. Ping pong and karaoke also were enjoyed in the deluxe game room adjacent to the party. Nikko locastro and samurai sam ferrans were awarded the final number and wowed everyone with their own version of James Brown’s “sex machine”, while dancing side by side.
It was a late-night gig for sure and the partygoers slowly but surely filtered out of the party area to advance to their cottages and retire. There is no doubt that the end is near but the Japan Open is more of an experience than a schedule of events, in that guests are invited to carve their own path of memories to return them to the dreamland of disc golf, whether in person or in spirit. There are only a few chances for these breakthroughs to occur and already folks are speaking of their imminent return for JO 2012. As we approach the semis and finals tomorrow, I hope that all of you who were not able to join us this year, to honestly consider treating yourself to one of professional sports’ most dramatic stages… the japan open. We’ll leave a light on for you. Mata ashta… (see you tomorrow). Kiyobou kute…(take care)
With the 2010 Japan Open moving into the final day of competition on Saturday, Nikko Locastro finds himself in familiar territory at the top of the leader board. It’s a position that most disc golfers here in Nasu Highlands would welcome at this truly international event. Yet Locastro, the 21-year old disc golf phenomenon who seems to embrace his rise in the disc golf world, still remains restless, believing that his best play still lies ahead of him.
“It’s hard for me to stay in the zone for 18 holes in a row,” Locastro shared after a fourth round performance that eventually put him into a tie for the lead with David Feldberg. “It’s like I play these great holes and then take a five on a birdie hole. That’s not what I should be doing if I’m trying to win this tournament.”
Locastro’s downbeat assessment of his performance on the beautiful Nasu Highlands courses belies his results. Both Locastro and Feldberg, the defending Japan Open champion, have distanced themselves from the field and for some reason that does not seem to be good enough for the wirey-haired Locastro, the PDGA’s 2009 Disc Golfer of the Year.
Whether Locastro believes he should be further ahead, or whether his concerns rest mainly on the fact that he has been in this position before, only to drop into the runner-up spot at the end of the tournament, this wealth of disc golf talent is an enigma. He appreciates the great things that are being afforded to one of our sports great players, but he still does not seem satisfied.
“This is a really good experience out here,” Locastro said, understanding that anytime he can compete on our sport’s biggest stages might bring him closer to the top of the disc golf mountain. “But I don’t want it to be better luck next year.”
In a way this is beyond his 21 years, Locastro clearly recognizes he must capitalize on these all-too-frequent opportunities now. But he seems to want to race ahead to the champion’s circle of each tournament, rather than savor the path each winner must walk before getting there.
“I’m sick of leading tournaments and giving it away,” Locastro admitted. “I just want to go out there and do as good as I can tomorrow. I know if I do my best, I’ll win.”
But before he can taste victory in Japan, Locastro will have to get past one of his perpetual disc golf foes, the world’s number one ranked player David Feldberg, who is in familiar territory too at the top of the Japan Open leader board. But more importantly, Locastro will have to overcome what many view as his number one obstacle…himself.
“I get so aggravated that I let it effect my next shot and that’s always been my weakness,” a subdued, but agitated Locastro offered. “But I can’t blame it on anything. I’ve got a lot of great Frisbees in my bag right now. I just need to focus a little more and just take it for the moment.”
Whether Locastro can put his wisdom to work during the final day at the 2010 Japan Open remains to be seen. But what is still indisputable is that Locastro will remain hard on himself, whether he wins in Japan or even in Jacksonville or Juno.
Disc golf is what Locastro wants to do for the rest of his life. But to be successful, he will have to survive his own high standards in order to achieve that one goal that is even greater than winning disc golf tournaments—being happy.
As Fridays’s dusk approached, this years’ players, family and friends gathered just outside the “Les Rosier” restaurant, just before the long-awaited seafood buffet dinner was being prepared. As the crowd began to organize, it was announced that we would enjoy a bit of pre-dinner entertainment provided by our local host, Hero Disc.
As a hush developed amongst us in front of the perfectly centered deck/stage, a beautiful young lady appeared, dressed in a sheer bodysuit, covered with swirling reds and purples that seemed to create visual movement in its artistry. As she is now in clear sight, we see that she is stunning in her facial glow and perfectly sculpted physical condition. Then, all of the sudden, you could hear the announcer…. “Ladies and Gentlemen, performing her self-choreographed dance routine that recently won First Place in the Japan National Modern Dance Competition, please welcome……. Megumi Shimbo!” Holy Moly, it was Kozo Shimbosan’s daughter! I personally had not seen Megumi since the mid 90’s, and I will always remember her and her sister, Hitomi, and mom, Yukosan, showing their admiration for their “Papa”, as he remained dedicated to his life’s mission.
What was being witnessed this evening though was extraordinary in that Megumi was achieving body positions and calculated crescendos of movement that seemed to flow like a liquid being held captive on a slightly tilted flat surface, almost running over the edge before being swayed in a different direction. The music that supported her original choreography could be felt within you as she wove her legs and torso into titillating vertical holds and emulated the birth of a flowers’ bloom. The routine, which is named “Rusty Drop”, is Megumi’s personal creation that served as the score for her journey to become Japan’s Modern Dance National Champion. For those of you that witnessed the performance, I am sure you will not long forget this shining moment of cultural immersion.
Megumi, thank you for the unforgettable artistic experience on that perfect evening in Nasu Shiobara. One thing’s for sure, all of us (and even the birds and trees and Mother Nature herself) will be talking about your performance for a long, long time. Here’s to your continued success and adventure through dance, art and beauty.
Carts are essential to getting around these courses. Keeping the carts sorted and ready to go is one of many details the staff takes care of that allows the players to keep their days running smoothly and their heads in the game.
As with most golf clubs, the air gun station is a required stop for all persons coming into the clubhouse from outside. It is a discipline that the players do not mind keeping up with as they enjoy the pristine facility that the Nasu Highlands Golf Club is.
There is no question that it takes great people to run a great disc golf event of any size. The players and guests of the Japan Open are looked after by an astute staff made up of people from Hero Disc Japan, Hero Disc USA, Innova Disc Golf, and many others. Every detail is covered here and all the staff members deserve a huge “Thank You” for a relatively thankless job.
The 2010 Caddy book is now available to you in PDF format.
Cloudy and cool weather with calm winds and no rain made for ideal conditions for Round 3 this morning.
The boys are finishing up Hole 1 on the Raijin Course, their second to last hole in Round 3.
There has been a lot of talk going around about two 18 hole rounds v.s. the one 27 seven hole round from years past here in Nasu. Although each group has a golf cart, the terrain here is tough, and it requires a little extra endurance to get through the day. Below, John Pecunia from the US stretchs before tackling the first Friday morning round
Friday morning brought cloudy skies and a shroud of fog that hung over the Nasu Highlands Golf Club. Visibility was poor on most for the beginning of the 8:30 AM round. By 10 AM most of the Fog had drifted away and the sun started to peek through. Forecast shows a sunny afternoon.