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Dennis Foye, design superintendent for Ship Repair Facility Yokosuka, works on his golf swing last week at the driving range at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
Dennis Foye, design superintendent for Ship Repair Facility Yokosuka, works on his golf swing last week at the driving range at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. (Jim Schulz / Stars and Stripes)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Christmas came just one day late for golf enthusiasts here.

Dec. 26 was the day the base driving range reopened after a monthlong closure and extensive remodeling.

With everything new — including ball washers, sod, targets, paint and putting green — what’s billed as Japan’s only free driving range filled up during a sunny noontime last week.

In between swings, reviews were good.

“It’s tremendous,” said Dennis Foye, design superintendent for Ship Repair Facility Yokosuka, as he hit drive after drive. “Everybody else has a golf course. For us, this is it. It used to be just a dirt field. Now, it’s great to come out here. We can really work on our game.”

The six-station range, open seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. including holidays, always was busy, said Scott Langworthy, base athletic maintenance supervisor. But it wasn’t always pretty.

Base athletics director Kyle Rhodus noticed the range was “pretty run down and poorly kept” soon after he arrived in Yokosuka in May 2002.

Shortly thereafter, he began planning renovations.

“The closest military course is Atsugi so I thought it paramount for us to have a good practice facility at Yokosuka,” Rhodus said in an e-mail.

In all, $100,000 was spent on Astroturf and $20,000 on new equipment. Almost everything else was supplied by the sweat of the staff at Athletic Maintenance.

Langworthy and his staff dug out sod from an old football field, carted it over to the range and replanted it there. They also repaired golf nets, using more than two miles of parachute cord.

But a new putting green made of Astroturf is a particular favorite of Langworthy.

“It was nothing more than a mound of dirt with a couple of holes with some sand in it. You couldn’t really putt, or chip and hit normally,” he said. “It was a back-yard type of deal.”

Now, in addition to the turf, the driving range has three professionally contoured chipping targets and a big chipping and putting area.

“It’s like night and day,” Langworthy said. “We’ve put a lot of determination and hard work to turn something that was mediocre into something really spectacular.

“We just go out there for a cup of tea. Just to enjoy the pristine glow of the rays of orange light dancing on the morning dew.”

It’s also pleasant in the afternoon warmth.

“It’s much nicer,” said Wayne Nafke, who works at the base Ship Repair facility. “I wouldn’t tell them, but I would even pay for it.”

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