One round of golf with a blind man opened my eyes

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Millionaire Japanese businessman Haruhisa Handa wishes there were more hours in a day so he could make more money. 

But his desire isn’t inspired by personal greed – this humble humanitarian and Shinto priest wants to be able to fund an increasing number of good causes throughout the world. 

Handa, 58, arrives at his Queenstown Hill holiday home today before pairing with Kiwi golf legend Sir Bob Charles in the inaugural Handa New Zealand Tournament, held at Millbrook Resort from tomorrow until Sunday. 

He’s stumping up $200,000 for the prize purse – making it the second largest senior golf tournament in Australasia, behind the $A300,000 Handa Australian Senior Open. 

A keen golfer who plays off a handicap of 20, Handa has poured millions of dollars into major senior, junior and women’s golf worldwide during the past 20 years through his not-for-profit International Sports Promotion Society. But his passion for the sport began 23 years ago on a golf course while playing with a blind man, 
Handa’s long-time friend and Australian-based international golf director Wayne Smith says. The blind man told Handa “life was wonderful because of golf” despite being unable to see. 

“That inspired him,” Smith, a former Aussie pro golfer, says. 

“He found out there was no support for blind golf, no tournaments or sponsors, so he became their sponsor. He’s now the patron of the International Blind Golf Association. What’s really driving him now is to get blind golf into the Paralympics in 2016.” 

While Tokyo-based Handa loves being able to bring people together through golf, he gets a greater kick out of helping extremely needy people, Smith says. 

He’s founded more than 100 schools in remote regions of China, two schools and a health centre in Albania and built a 24-hour free emergency hospital in Cambodia. 

The list of social causes Handa’s involved in is impressive. 

He’s vice-president of the United Kingdom’s Royal National Institute for the Blind, advisor to the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, chairman of the International Foundation for Arts and Culture, director of World Faiths Development Dialogue, founder and chairman of Asia Faiths Development Dialogue and president of the International Shinto Foundation. 

He’s also authored more than 100 books, is a trained opera singer, actor, poet, calligrapher and painter – he’s even painted Lake Wakatipu in watercolour. 

The self-made Handa owns a raft of businesses including a publishing company, packaged food firm, travel agencies, furniture stores and radio stations. 

“He has a philosophy that the harder he works, the more money he can make to give away,” Smith says. 

“The reason he works so hard is so that he can help these people. 

“I don’t know whether he gives away 10 per cent or 90 per cent but I can assure you, you would never know that he was wealthy enough to do what he does. He’s not flamboyant or ostentatious, he’s very quiet about it.”
The workaholic, who never married, doesn’t use email or own a mobile phone and catches sleep in between meetings. 

“I’ve never heard him complain. The only time he’s ever sounded like he’s complaining is that he wishes he had more money to give away,” Smith says. 

His generous nature stems from his Shinto beliefs, an ancient Japanese religion, in which he is an ordained priest.
Handa entered the priesthood at Mt Hiei near Kyoto – one of Japan’s oldest monastic centres dating back to the 8th century. Smith’s unsure when he became a priest but knows he’s been practising for more than 20 years. 

“Shinto religion is very passive, similar to Buddhism. They’re sort of lovers, and he’s very much that way,” Smith says. 

“Mr Handa’s a very passive man who tries to do the right thing by everyone all the time. He doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. He’s a genuine, good person.”