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Japan

Exclusive clubs plus the caddies, the lunches and the baths (!) make for a fun, unique and memorable experience.

The Courses

Royal Lytham

Kasumigaseki (East)

First opened in 1929, the 36 hole Kasumigaseki Country Club is significant as the first club to adopt the two green policy - a concept unique to Japan that clubs use to spread wear on their greens. Originally designed by Kinya Fujita and Shiro Akaboshi, the course was converted to two greens in 1937 by Seiichi Inoue. This was after an experiment by British architect, Charles H. Alison  and a local botanist to cultivate an evergreen bent grass for the putting surfaces had failed. Strangely, however, there is no course in Japan where multiple targets work better either visually or within the strategy of the hole.

Kasumigaseki East features a classic routing across parkland which appears quite flat but is not without nice golf undulation, each little break or bump in terrain being well used within the subtle design. From the slightly side hill aspect of the opening tee shot through to the final valley approach, this is the most consistent test in Japan with barely an indifferent hole on the course. The design is surprisingly strategic given 36 greens dot the property, but with both targets often in fairly close proximity the reward for a good drive is an equally short shot or superior angle no matter which green you are playing to. The East Course, with all of its best elements combined, is as impressive as the celebrated classics of London's Heathland or Melbourne's Sandbelt. Although short by modern standards and internationally unknown, Kasumigaseki is a true Japanese gem and is a track that anyone with the means to play should.

Kawana (Fuji) - #71 in 2013 Golf Magazine's World Top 100

The Kawana Fuji course is often called Japan's Pebble Beach because it is a golf resort set on cliffs near the ocean. The course is accessible only to hotel guests. Kawana is located in Shikuoka Prefecture, two hours from Tokyo on the Izu Peninsula. It is located within a national park on Sagami Bay. The course was completed in 1936 by Charles H. Alison, partner of the great H.S. Colt. Alison took a vacation at the Kawana Hotel in 1930 and convinced the owner that he should use the amazing land here to build a golf course. During the Second World War almost all the golf courses in Japan had to be converted into farmland to produce food. The remaining courses were taken over by the occupation forces. Hotel Kawana was taken over by the U.S. Eighth Army and was later handed over to the Australian troops to be converted to a recreation centre.

Kawana is a beautiful Alison course with brilliant use of terrain, a lot of shot variety, beautiful bunkering and memorable par threes. The start at Kawana is one of the best in the world. You tee off from a high, elevated tee down into a narrow fairway with a view of the water in the distance. The shot from the elevated tee is quite dramatic and drops about 100 feet. The greens at Kawana are almost always elevated, as was typical of Alison's design style. They are also well bunkered. Planet Golf compares the terrain at Kawana to Turnberry, Mid Ocean and Pebble Beach. Kawana definitely belongs in this small group of the world's most scenic courses.

Naruo

Naruo Golf Club is located in the hills between Kobe and Osaka. Naruo is a private golf course and you must play with a member. The course was designed by Scottish professionals Joe Crane and H.C. Crane in 1904 with revisions made by Charles H. Alison in 1930. The course was founded by British expatriates and is Japan's hidden gem. Naruo is a narrow, hilly, quirky and very difficult golf course. The greens at Naruo are 'korai' grass, which is like a thicker version of Bermuda and is quite slow, running about an eight on the stimpmeter. As with all private courses in Japan, there are caddies and you walk the course. How difficult is Naruo to walk? So difficult that they have built in a traction system around all eighteen holes so that the caddies don't have to push the carts up and down the hilly terrain. The mechanized system works with some sort of magnets under the ground and the caddie manages it by remote control.

The course is not only narrow, but also has a lot of uneven lies. Playing Naruo requires you to embrace the Japanese phrase 'nanakorobi yaoki' which translates to 'perseverance is better than defeat'. The Japanese occasionally adapt a close variation of an English word to describe something. I wouldn't at all be surprised if Naruo were a bastardisation of the English word 'narrow'. The course has tiny greens, most are elevated and as is typical on an Alison designed course, well bunkered. Naruo was host venue for the 2010 Japan Senior Open.

 

Hirono- #37 in 2013 Golf Magazine's World Top 100

Hirono is Japan's most distinguished golf club, located near the port city of Kobe. Hirono is a private course and you must play with a member. The course was built in 1932 by Charles H. Alison. It is his masterpiece, and the best course in Japan. The course was built on an estate that was previously owned by a feudal warlord. The course has uniqueness to it similar to that of Morfontaine in France or Pine Valley in the United States, with a great routing and unique holes. As with these two great courses, most holes are isolated from the others by dense trees. The par threes at Hirono are especially strong. The greens and fairways are in meticulous condition and even the trees throughout the course are manicured from top to bottom like a Japanese garden. It also has all the key elements present in the courses of this great designer: strategic bunkering, small elevated greens, double dog-legs and forced carries over ravines.

Most of the greens at Hirono are elevated. The trouble at Hirono is off the tee and around the greens. The course is built on relatively flat terrain and most of the lies you get in the fairway are level. Alison's design is very effective in creating illusions and incorrect depth perceptions. Alison wrote about Hirono: "Almost every hole has some bold natural feature, and for variety of scene and strokes Hirono is difficult to beat. I can name no superior among British inland courses." Alison's basic point is right on. Hirono is both a classy club and a brilliant Golden Era course designed by one of the masters of the trade and clearly deserves to be ranked among the top 50 courses world-wide.