Date: September 05, 2013
Author: Martin Blake /

For the good of the game: Dr Handa

When Golf Australia recently launched the 2014 Women’s Australian Open in a city skyscraper with spectacular views of downtown Melbourne, it became apparent that one of the guests, none other than the legendary Peter Thomson, was celebrating a birthday, his 84th. Dr Haruhisa Handa, also a special guest at the launch as the major sponsor of the tournament, would not let the opportunity slip. He grabbed Thomson, called everyone s attention, and sang Happy birthday to the five-time British Open champion — in operatic voice, for good measure. That s Dr Handa, Japanese businessman, philanthropist, artist and tenor of some fame, who has recorded his own music, studied literature, runs dozens of companies and advises the Cambodian government. He is also an honorary Australian (he calls Perth his second home), and a golf nut who often plays with the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen. You might well have heard of Dr Handa as a golf follower. His ISPS group holds the naming rights for many professional golf tournaments around the world, including the 2014 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, as well as big amateur tournaments and senior events. But the ISPS arrangements are not like your common garden naming rights sponsorships. They are not seeking commercial gain from the sponsorship; rather they seek to promote the game for the game s sake. The ISPS stands for International Sports Promotion Society and that is a good description of what the organisation does. Dr Handa does it out of love for the game, and what it does for people. He sees it as a powerful, positive influence on people s lives. Hence, ISPS backs a string of tournaments and players around the world, including on the European Tour. It’s a wonderful sport, a gentleman s sport, (with) the same rules all over the world, he told A good golfer, a bad golfer and ordinary golfer can enjoy it the same way using the handicap system. You don t always beat the opponent, you are challenged by yourself. Dr Handa never played golf until he was 37. He had been studying literature in Japan when it came upon him that he needed a change. I wanted to do something I hadn t done yet. This is how he rolls. He tried windsurfing, skiing, running and mountain climbing, then golf. Soon, on his customary trips to Perth where he has a hobby farm, he met someone who inspired him. Ron Anderson is one of Australia s best-known blind golfers, and by chance Dr Handa played alongside him one day. He (Anderson) is a very unique person, said Dr Handa. He’s blind, but he pretends he is an ordinary man. Most people can t distinguish that he’s blind. Anyway, he asked me to play golf. He was much better than me. He said: Mr Handa, can you see ?!!! When he returned to Japan, Dr Handa began supporting projects for the blind, providing computers for the visually-impaired, and getting involved with blind golf. He was inspired by the people. I m sad that some people try to commit suicide in their houses or can t go anywhere. I ve never met such a happy and optimistic and merry people as blind people. I was touched. I came back to Japan and established a blind golf club. Dr Handa is a decent golfer, playing off 12 at the moment with memberships at the likes of Lake Karrinyup, Royal Perth and Nedlands in WA, plus New South Wales and Wentworth in England to mention but a few. In the senior tournaments he backs, he tends to compete and tries to beat the last golfer in the field, a feat he has achieved a few times. Then there is his golfing relationship with various Asian politicians and diplomats. They say to be a successful diplomat in Asia, there are three conditions: the first one is play golf, enjoy golf; second is to enjoy karaoke; the third one is enjoy the taste of the durian (fruit). Asian leaders always play golf. He is a great friend of the Cambodian nation, through relationships with the University of Cambodia and several media outlets in that south-east Asian country, founding chairman of the Asian Economic Forum and an adviser to the government of Hun Sen, the prime minister ( whenever I go to Cambodia I make sure I take him an excellent Japanese driver ). He once built a hospital in the country. Dr Handa has a clear memory of his first meeting with Hun Sen, a few years ago, when a minder told him that he would be given 15 minutes, tops. Ninety minutes later they were still chatting. When I met him, I asked him: Prime Minister, what s your handicap? I heard your son drives more than 300 yards. So we were talking, talking and talking. We talked for one hour, thirty and it was 95 percent about golf. On the night of the women’s launch he was off to an Opera Australia production in Melbourne. That s another organisation he supports, to the tune of $3 million for one production in 2012. He is a patron of the opera, and a hugely-important figure in Australian and international golf. He is an inspiration to our whole organisation, said Stephen Pitt, Golf Australia s chief executive.