Golfing at Poston?

One Hazard Less: Poston Camp II’s 9-Hole Sand Golf Course
By Troy Ishikawa
Photo: Roy Ishikawa with “Sherry” surveying the ball line to hole. Poston Camp II, Photo July 1945.

Unlike the big fish stories that many a fisherman has exaggerated about the size of the fish they caught, my dad unabashedly admitted that he was a “hack golfer.” I believed his frankness in a joking way.

According to my dad, Roy Ishikawa (Poston block 211-13-G), he used to play golf on Poston Camp II’s 9-hole sand golf course. Can you believe a leisure sport like golf in a concentration camp? Poston, Arizona was one of the locations of World War II American concentration camps. Poston or the official name, Colorado River Relocation Center consisted of camps I, II, and III and at its peak collectively held over 17,000 prisoners. Poston along with America’s nine other concentration camps, spread out in six states became “home” to 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. My family spent more than 2 ½-years behind barbed wire fences.

Over the years, after the concentration camp my dad derived great pleasure “chasing the little white ball” as he used to say and would wake up early on weekends to play golf throughout California’s Central Coast, at such courses as Pasatiempo, Laguna Seca, and the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Looking back, Dad claimed he never participated in any camp golf tournaments because he wasn’t skillfully adept. I inquired, “What was your handicap?” He couldn’t remember, but he said that it was “high.” Fortunately, he improved and was an amateur tournament golfer during the 1950s and ‘60s. He even won some big-sized trophies along the way.

Poston Camp II’s 9-hole sand golf course was located near Block 220. The longest hole measured around 335-yards and the shortest hole possibly measured around 80. This hole was closest to the “lake” most likely a seasonal lake, and knowing the desert, there was probably not much rain year-round. I asked, “How did you get the golf balls?” Dad said, “Golf balls were difficult to get. We used to buy balls from someone who lived on Block 220.”

The few photos we have of Poston Camp II include my dad and mom playing golf. In fact, he attempted to teach golf to his wife, Edna who used to hit a low-ball flight, but admitted he wasn’t such a good instructor. “She wanted to learn, but I didn’t know how to teach.” Apparently, my dad had brought to camp a set of golf clubs and a bag. Could he have mistaken the camp to mean “summer camp?” He remembered that he used to carry four clubs: one driver, one putter, a 4-iron and he couldn’t recall the last.
Photo: Edna Ishikawa at Poston Camp II Fairway, Photo developed July 1945.

Another question I asked was “Who was your golfing partner?” That was easy to remember, George Ninomiya (Poston block 211-13-F), a Nisei (second generation) from Monterey. He worked in one of the camp canteens. Speaking about jobs, my dad had a couple of jobs in camp, one was as a policeman and the other was a foreman for the irrigation canal. He worked at the agriculture department and used to borrow the John Deere tractor after work to repair sections of the golf course.

Photo: Roy Ishikawa – Poston Camp II 9-hole Sand Golf Course, Photo developed July 1945.

I still wondered, “Who designed the golf course?” My dad did not know, though he believed the course was built about six-months after entering camp, so that would have been around January 1943. But my line of questions did remind him of an episode that he did not forget. An Issei (first generation) from Salinas named Endo-san, who liked to practice singing, had a lot of interest in golf, but probably did not understand the rules and regulations, not to mention the principles of how to play the game. As most of you can relate, Japanese people can be fairly pragmatic. One day, Endo-san cut down a “hazard” tree that blocked the entrance to the shortest hole. I bet there were some “angry” golfers left in the wake! From a golfer’s point of view this was dreadful, however from a Japanese pragmatist, this is classic: cutting down the tree made it easier for him to reach the putting green. He probably asked, “Who designed this course anyway?”


Anonymous said...

What a great article!! Appreciate the resourcefulness of the internees...despite harsh circumstances they were able to make the most of their time behind barbed wire! Enjoyed the photos...

pcreight_OH said...

Interesting article and provides some unusual insight into 'Life in America' as few of us know it.