I had the directions scrawled on a piece of loose-leaf paper, folded up in my lap — 7065 Sandhill Road. I was driving along a stretch of country lane, craning to catch house number as I passed. As we came through a bend in the road, my wife spoke out.
“I’m pretty sure that’s it.”
Directly ahead of us was a large white barn, trimmed in bright red like one of The Destroyer’s signature masks. A caricature of The Destroyer — resplendent in a Tam O’Shanter and snazzy golf knickers — adorned the face of the building, with a sign reading “Destroyer Park Golf.”
Yeah. This is definitely the place.
On June 22, wrestling legend Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer — along with his daughter, Kris Beyer Jones, and his son-in-law, Chris Jones — opened the first park golf course in North America to be certified by Japan’s NIPPON Park Golf Association.
The two nine-hole courses sit near Beyer’s home in Akron, New York, less than 30 minutes away from Niagara Falls, and about a 25-minute drive from my front door.
Park golf differs from traditional golf in several ways, like how table tennis differs from traditional tennis. First of all, players use only one club for the entire course; you use the same mallet-faced club to putt as you do to drive. No hole is longer than 100 meters, and the ball is about the same size as a billiard ball.
The game was developed in Japan in 1983, which is where Beyer discovered it. “I used to play golf in Asahikawa with a friend named Seo,” Beyer said. “He used to beat me by a stroke or two every time. Then, one day, on the way to the golf course, he pulls into this parking lot at a park. I see tees lined up. He says, ‘Today, we’re going to play park golf first.'”
Beyer was hooked.
Now, 12 years later, and after more than two years of construction, The Destroyer has brought park golf to North America.
And I was eager to give it a shot.
I pulled the Chevy Malibu into the lot, and Beyer was sitting in a golf cart, enjoying a warm July evening. I hadn’t made an advance reservation; they’re not needed. Beyer simply enjoys being out on the course and greeting visitors.
My wife and I entered the barn which houses The Destroyer Museum, featuring an incredible array of photographs, trophies, championship belts, and plenty of Destroyer and Dr. X merchandise for sale. A round of park golf (18 holes in all) is $8 per person, including club and ball rental. A round takes about an hour and a half to play. The course is open from 7 a.m. to dusk.
We started, appropriately enough, at the first hole, a 54-meter, par 4. The Destroyer, no doubt sensing I was about to make a fool of myself, pulled his golf cart in beside us to watch us tee off. I gripped the short club, addressed the ball, went into a backswing … and whiffed. To his credit, The Destroyer had the good form to not openly laugh at me. My wife, on the other hand, did not.
Though the wife and I struggled through the first few holes, we quickly adapted. The ball gets very little loft, so driving requires a solid hit and just the right amount of power; too much power will literally send the ball off into the next hole (as I quickly discovered). Putting is particularly difficult. Even though the hole is eight-inches in diameter (about the width of a Folger’s coffee can), the grass on the green is longer than a traditional golf green, which makes it difficult to gauge the appropriate force needed for a putt.
At the end of nine holes, I was at eight over par. The wife was doing slightly worse, despite Beyer openly cheering for her over me throughout the front nine.
At the break between courses, Beyer introduced me to “Kris with a K, and Chris with a C,” his daughter and son-in-law, respectively. Kris told me that there are now more than 1,300 park golf courses in Japan, and that the sport has spread to eight countries, with the U.S. being the most recent.
Unlike golf, park golf is a more relaxed game that can be played without expensive club memberships or pricey equipment. In Japan, there is both casual and competitive, professional play, but the game can easily be played by players of all ages and experience levels.
Beyer, who recently celebrated his 83rd birthday, said he still enjoys playing “a hole or two every now and then.”
“I’ll tell you this, Harley Race should get into this, because the balls don’t go so far,” Beyer said. “I played golf with him once, and he lost 15 balls in nine holes. That doesn’t happen in park golf.”
My game improved noticeably over the last nine holes, as I knocked down a pair of birdies (well offset by four bogeys). “Great shot,” The Destroyer chirped from his golf cart as my ball careened over the green and 15 meters past the hole. “Not a good shot for this hole, I mean, but maybe on another hole it would have been a great shot.”
Despite being well over par, both my wife and I had a terrific time, and made a mental list of all the friends and family members we knew would get a kick out of the game. We grabbed some Pepsis at the snack bar, and I finally got around to buying my copy of Dick’s book, Masked Decisions: The Triangular Life of Dick ‘The Destroyer’ Beyer, which he happily signed.
We’ll certainly be back … and next time, I won’t let The Destroyer’s trash-talking get me off my game.
For more information on The Destroyer’s Park Golf Course, go to destroyerparkgolf.com.