A Special Place as we look to the Tokyo Olympics 2020
When you think of Japan, the first thing that comes to mind is not usually golf! For me it’s definitely Sushi and after two weeks of having some raw fish everyday it still was, and will always be, a welcome sight! Your thoughts may be of Saki, Green Tea, Kobe Beef or maybe Ninja’s are your thing! Meat lovers don’t despair, you’ve heard of the Kobe and Wagyu Beef? On this trip we was introduced to thinly sliced Matsusaka beef cooked with a blow torch on rock salt – YUM!
Japan became a golf crazed nation long before the rest of the world. In 1957 Japan hosted the original World Cup of Golf on the East Course of the prestigious Kasumigaseki Country Club founded in 1929. The tournament attracted 60 players from 30 countries, including Sam Snead in his prime and the then budding Gary Player. The result was an extraordinary team victory for Japan which triggered a major golf boom.
For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the newly redesigned (Tom Fazio 2016) East Course will once again have the eyes of the golf world upon it. Fazio successfully maintained the original classic look and feel while adding undulations to fairways and greens while adding more demand to bunker play! It will be an exceptional test for the Olympians at 7,466 yards and to a Par 71. https://www.kasumigasekicc.or.jp/english/
If you happen to be going to these Olympics and checking out the golf the course is located in Saitama, approximately 45 KM (30 miles) outside of Tokyo. Probably no need to battle traffic to get there as the greater Tokyo area is serviced by a complex network of trains including the super express Bullet Train.
Times are changing with respect to golf in Japan. There was a time when golf courses were super saturated, very expensive and almost impossible to get on! That is no longer the case. Golf still caters to the higher end demographic, but then that is the case anywhere. In general, costs associated with golf, playing and product is pretty much in line with US costs. Only spending a couple of days in Tokyo I had the pleasure to stay downtown at the Takanawa Prince Hotel (that too was only a couple of stops from the Haneda Airport by train).
The Prince Hotels in Japan are big time into golf! I had the opportunity get out to a Prince course, Musashigaoka Golf Club, a totally public course not too far from the upcoming Olympic venue. And what a course it was! Like every course I stepped foot on in Japan, conditioning was superb. Most interesting on this course and a few of the others is that every hole here had two greens. The course is well laid out, good variety of holes including risk/ reward opportunities, elevation changes are prominent and a good collection of visually intimidating water holes on the back nine.
Customs and Etiquette
Showing up at golf courses and even playing your round is not exactly like we are accustomed in America. First off, when you go to a golf course you may be required to wear a sport coat and bring your golf attire. You sign in and you are provided with a wallet for the day and key to your locker. Your wallet has a number associated with it, you charge all your expenses for the day and settle when you check out. It is also customary to play the first nine and take a 45 minute lunch break before resuming the back. Like many things in Japan, what at first seems alien to us has a logic to it that is both practical and enjoyable. Walking off the 9th green you are given a tee time for the 10th and can then enjoy some great food and maybe a pint before heading back out. And no worries as no one will be slipping in ahead of you!
Japan is a highly developed country with a very high standard of living and yes Tokyo is a pretty crowded place with over 14 Million of the total population of 127 million living there. In the 378,000 sq. meters of land which is Japan they have managed to craft over 2,400 golf courses in climates and regions as diverse in style as the ever popular Bonsai trees. Putting it into perspective Canada, which occupies almost 10 million sq. meters, has 3,400 golf courses for its 34 million people.
The country is divided into 47 Prefectures (Pourism Provinces), with Hokkaido being the northern most. Just as well known for its skiing as golf and easily recognized for its capital city of Sapporo. A beer drinkers must stop!
You can tee it up all year long in the southernmost Okinawa Prefecture, over 160 islands make up this resort style region home to over 40 courses, beaches and coral reefs.
We had the pleasure of visiting two of these Prefectures, first, Mie Prefecture a region in the heart of Japan’s main island, and host of the first ever Japan Golf Tourism Convention. Our post-convention visit was to Shizuoka Prefecture, home to the world renowned Mt. Fuji.
Sixty-nine courses in Mie give you plenty of options to play. But as a first time visitor it is hard not to get distracted by the culture and many other attractions that the area has to offer.
Nonetheless, our first test was the Nagashima Country Club a 27-hole complex highlighted by the panoramic views of the Suzuka Mountains as you gaze down the rolling fairways.
One of the golf highlights was the family atmosphere at the Jumbo Ozaki designed Tsu Country Club, a once private club which has not only opened its doors to guest play but have just opened up their own lodging. Katada Lodge are villa style cottages adjacent to the 18th green.
The Fuji OGM Excellent Club Ise Ohtori Course with its floating island green, jaw dropping clubhouse and views from within to closing nines that are magnificently protected by watery graves. Steve Pate and Japanese LPGA Champion Hiromi Kobayashi completely redesigned a seaside gem, Nemu Golf Club rerouted provides spectacular seaside views of Ago Bay.
The must do’s in Mie…a visit to Mikimoto Pearl Island and a meal at Ama Hut, try the spinny lobster and everything else! Experience sunset at Shima Kanko Hotel, find some Matsusaka beef, it won’t be hard to do. Get some culture at Ise Grand Shrine – millions of people do each year – and of course try the Saki!
Next stop Shizuoka Prefecture with its 91 courses to temp your pallet, many along its sparkling coastline and almost everyone with views of majestic Mt. Fuji! Only two rounds here but extremely memorable. First up Susono Country Club a challenging mountainside course with great variations in terrain, great views and large undulating greens.
Truly saving the best for last! It was an honor to play one of the Top 100 in the World – Fuji Course at the classic Kawana Hotel. Think Pebble Beach and then some! Mt. Fuji on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Smallish greens, undulating fairways and terrain changes add to the challenge! Kawana Hotel is exceptional and do not overlook the Oshima Course also on property!
Shizuoka is easy to get to with its location between Tokyo and Kyoto and linked by Bullet Train.
Must do’s in Shizuoka – bring a camera, try the green tea, indulge in some wasabi, shop at one of the largest outlet malls, try some of the craft beers and, oh ya, more Saki!
If Japan has not been on your bucket list it should be! Golf is your excuse but aside from the exceptional golf product you will be overwhelmed by the warm hospitality, culinary delights, history and culture.
Here are links to a few organizations that can make that happen for you!
Mie Golf Tourism Association – www.miegolftourism.jp
Tourism Shizuoka Japan – https://exploreshizuoka.com/
Prince Hotels Japan – http://www.princehotels.com/en/golf/index.html
Golf Shizuoka – www.golf-shizuoka.com
Japan Golf Travelers Club – www.japangolftravelers.jp
Japan Golf Tourism Association – www.jpgta.jp