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Zama golf club aims to rein in stray drives

Grip it and rip it? Not anymore — at least not on two holes at the Camp Zama Golf Club.

In a bid to prevent wayward slices and hooks from leaving the base and winding up in a Sagamihara city neighborhood or middle school courtyard, U.S. Army Garrison Japan has made a few changes on the course. Among them, players can no longer hit a driver off the tee at the first or fifth holes, both par 5s.

The city claims 90 golf balls have been found outside Camp Zama since April. In May, officials said, one went through some trees, bounced a couple of times and struck a Japanese boy in the face. He wasn’t seriously hurt but did wind up with a nosebleed.

Last year, 47 golf balls were reported found, up from 15 in 2006, according to data provided by Sagamihara city.

Ed Roper, a Zama spokesman, said he couldn’t verify the numbers but acknowledged that "some golf balls do fly out."

"We’re trying to achieve a zero count," he said Friday. "We take safety for the community members inside and outside the gates very seriously."

In July, the tee box at No. 5 was moved back about 15 yards and the angle changed so players were hitting away from the fence. That came after the garrison got reports of errant drives clearing the course’s safety net, landing on concrete and reaching a local middle school courtyard, according to Roper.

"None flew directly into the kids. The ball would roll in on the concrete," he said. "But we [prohibited] use of drivers on No. 5."

Sagamihara officials asked for the same restriction on the first hole, Roper added, and the Army obliged last Monday.

He said the post has been alerted over "isolated cases" involving a dented car, busted window or roof being hit. Local Japanese residents have notification channels to claim property damage, he added.

"We tell golfers to please notify us if they hit the ball out," he said. "We work to make sure damages are taken care of."

Sagamihara deputy mayor Kazuya Sakai visited Zama in May and returned again Tuesday to discuss preventive measures with Col. Robert Waltemeyer, the U.S. Army Garrison Japan commander.

According to a city official, Waltemeyer told Sakai the base might raise the height of safety nets as a long-term solution.

"We appreciate the considerations that were made," said Akio Sasano, a Sagamihara foreign affairs division official. "We will continue to examine the situation and the effects [of the measures taken]."


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