Kiichi Sorimachi, Rakuten Group Executive Officer and Vice President of Rakuten’s golf business, Rakuten GORA
Japanese golf superstar Hideki Matsuyama’s success at the 2021 Masters Tournament has attracted significant attention both in Japan and on the international stage. It even prompted us to push for Rakuten GORA, one of Japan’s leading golf reservation services, to become a Masters TV commercial sponsor in Japan for the first time ever this year.
Matsuyama made history by becoming Japan’s first male golfer to win a major championship, and his pathbreaking victory at the world’s most prestigious golf tournament is only the latest sign of Japanese success on the fairways. Japanese women, as well as men, are soaring up the world rankings. Seven out of the top 50 female golfers in the world are Japanese and they regularly show up on LPGA leaderboards.
“Rakuten wants to create a win-win-win situation for golf courses nationwide, golfers across Japan and for Rakuten GORA.”Kiichi Sorimachi, Rakuten Group Executive Officer and Vice President of Rakuten’s golf business, Rakuten GORA
Rakuten is playing a strong role in this Japanese golf renaissance. This year, we signed our first affiliation partnership with a professional golfer, Mone Inami. She has won a total of 11 tournaments* on the Japan Ladies Professional Golfers’ Association (JLPGA) tour. Starting this season, Inami is playing on tour sporting a Rakuten logo-bearing cap and clothing. She is already offering golf lovers instructional videos on the Rakuten Golf Channel on YouTube.
The rise of Japan’s golf scene
Rakuten is committed to empowering fans, communities and society at large through the power of sport and, over the years, has undertaken various initiatives to accomplish that mission — including owning and managing professional sports teams. Now we want to bring that experience and expertise to golf. Our hope is that rising stars such as Inami can boost the game at home.
Because Japanese golf is ready for a boost. Although Japan is home to half of all the golf courses in Asia, the industry has flagged since the 1980s. Back then, thousands of courses were built and the game boomed, but until recently, the number of golfers nationwide had been in decline for years.
However, the global pandemic has sparked a resurgence of interest in the outdoor sport. The benefits of playing golf are being recognized by people of all ages and demographics, and it has been gaining back its popularity, acquiring new players in the market.
Empowering golfers across Japan with Rakuten GORA
Rakuten is addressing the challenges in the industry, moving to democratize and inject some hipness into the sport. Our Rakuten GORA golf reservation service allows affordable tee times to be booked with a few clicks at 1,900 courses across Japan, and even allows for competition entries and lesson bookings at select courses.
The service has integrated itself with the Rakuten Ecosystem to make each golfer’s experience more engaging and rewarding by providing Rakuten Points to users, Japan’s number one loyalty point program in overall customer satisfaction.
“Rakuten’s partnership with Inami is representative of our commitment to and aspirations for Japan’s golf scene — we believe both have bright futures ahead.”
GORA also allows golfers to check COVID-19 control measures at any golf course before making a reservation to ensure that they can enjoy their experience with peace of mind.
Rakuten wants to create a win-win-win situation for golf courses nationwide, golfers across Japan and for Rakuten GORA. For example, lower golf fees are great for golfers, but can become difficult to sustain for golf courses. GORA provides revenue management services which benefit both golfers and golf courses by flexibly adjusting prices in line with demand to arrive at rates ideal for both parties. GORA is also actively developing other services to increase golf course profitability through the digital transformation of Japan’s golf courses, such as course management using drones.
Rakuten’s partnership with Inami is representative of our commitment to and aspirations for Japan’s golf scene — we believe both have bright futures ahead.
*As of June 13, 2022.
About the author: Kiichi Sorimachi has served as the Vice President of Rakuten’s golf business, Rakuten GORA, since 2016 and as a Rakuten Group Executive Officer since 2018. Sorimachi joined Rakuten in 2006, working in the golf business as the General Manager of both the Eastern Japan Sales Department and the Marketing & Web Design Department, where his team worked to expand their portfolio of golf course photos and other content.