15 June 2005

Golf in Japan: A primer to golfing in Tokyo

The Japanese are well known for taking a good idea and making it better and golf is no exception. Courses in Japan tend to be far above international standards and nowhere else in the world can you find such lavish facilities in such staggering numbers. Virtually every famous course designer has played a part in creating a variety of great courses while the attention to detail and strict management ensures they are immaculately groomed and maintained.

Japan has been crazy about golf since it was introduced more than century ago and it has long been an intricate part of its business culture ever since. The country's first course was set on a hilltop overlooking Kobe in 1901 by British businessmen and consisted of just four holes. Today there are more than 2,300 courses in Japan-outnumbering Scotland.

Courses one open to members only now welcome the public, often at very reasonable prices. Golfers looking to try something different will love golf in Japan. It's a slight twist from the grand old game you might be used to-replace sake for scotch whiskey and you've got a golf experience you'll never forget.


When to go

In Japan, summer and winter are long and spring and autumn are relatively short. It might sound good, but summers here are hot and humid. June and early July are fine temperature wise, but tsuyu (the rainy season) makes it hit and miss. From late August into September Japan gets hit by a series of typhoons, which doesn't usually affect the hearty Japanese golfer so don't let it bother you either. Just keep abreast of the local weather forecast when planning your trip.

October and November are usually mild and dry making it perfect for golf. April and May are also great months to hit the links. In winter, inland courses will see snowfall, but properties near the ocean are usually open year round.

How much?

You can expect to pay 10,000 yen, or about 90 U.S. dollars, for a weekday round at a top-notch facility near Tokyo. That same club on a weekend will run you about double that price, and in some cases more. If you venture about two hours from the city you can find some great deals. Club rental will cost you 3,000 yen to 5,000 yen. Shoes are usually available, but don't expect much choice in the way of sizes.

Where to go

Tokyo's surrounding areas enjoy the largest concentration of high quality courses in Japan. Accessibility means higher demand and this is reflected in green fees. On weekends it can be hard to get a tee time at any price as people plan their golf outings months in advance. Weekday rounds are your best bet and you usually will pay about half of what you would on a weekend or holiday.

Now that you are ready to get out there, here is selection of courses near Tokyo that provide good value with regard to accessibility, price and overall value for a great golf experience:

Gotemba Golf Club, Shizuoka Prefecture
Clubhouse 0550(87)1555
In English 090-9892-4319
Web: www.gotemba-gc.co.jp
E-mail: ben-galloway@gotemba-gc.co.jp

Located on a hillside next to Mt. Fuji, this par 72 course provides incredible views and excellent value in one of Japan's most prestigious resort areas. Free shuttle service from the station and only an hour's drive from the Tokyo interchange. Lessons and reservations in English.

Abiding Club Golf Society, Chiba Prefecture
Clubhouse: 0475 (46) 3300
Web: www.abiding.jp/
*Self Play Okay

This course was completed in 1992 and one of the last in the world to be designed by Desmond Muirhead. It is a well-balanced, tricky course with Scottish flair. It even has pot bunkers and a Tudor-style clubhouse to complete the effect. Accessible from Tokyo by train and golf course shuttle bus.

Sun Members CC, Yamanashi Prefecture
Clubhouse: 0550 (66) 2314
Web: www.sunmembers.co.jp
*Self Play Okay

A surprisingly flat, mountain course featuring a two green configuration. The greens are fast and the fairways are like carpets. A very well-groomed course accessible from Tokyo via train and course shuttle bus. It's a fair course and quite wide open so you can grip it and rip it on most holes.

Riverside Phoenix GC
Saitama Prefecture
Clubhouse: 0487 (25) 1441
Web: www.riverside-phoenix.co.jp
*No Caddies. Cash only

Established in 1965 and located next to a slow flowing river in Saitama, this course is unusually wide and flat for Japan. Well maintained with power carts to make for a relaxing, worry-free round and its close proximity to Tokyo makes it perfect for the busy executive.

Atsugi Kokusai CC, Kanagawa Prefecture
Clubhouse: 0462 (41) 1311
Web: www.akkgolf.com

This meandering 36-hole course features a two green configuration and is the current site of the Daimler Chrysler Cup. It's so well kept that your shoes will get cleaner as you play! Very fancy baths with a view and a steam room. The proximity to Tokyo makes it pricey and almost impossible to get on during the weekends, but you can always try. Don't forget to bring about 300 dollars!

Ichinomiya CC, Chiba Prefecture
Clubhouse: 0475 (42) 7200
Web: www.ichinomiya.co.jp
*Self Play Okay

A full 36 holes next to the ocean to give you that cool breeze you need in the summer. It has a two green configuration with both a 6,556 and 6,640-yard par 72 courses. Water hazards come into play on almost half the holes, so bring a few spare balls! Priced reasonably even on weekends.

Windsor Park G & C.C., Ibaraki Prefecture
Clubhouse: 0296 (88) 2221
Web: www.wpgcc.com
*Self Play Okay

A luxurious country club, which, as its name suggests, overflows with British country house charm. It is managed by CCA, which has nothing but first class facilities. A par 72-course lined by forests with swales and water hazards to challenge your intellect. It plays 7,007-yards from the tips! Conference facilities and a full service hotel-so make a weekend out of it!

Academia Hills CC, Chiba Prefecture
Clubhouse: 0439 (70) 5111
Web: www.academiahills.com
*Self Play Okay

An Isao Aoki designed course that makes good use of the surroundings creating an eye-pleasing course. The fairways are kept in immaculate shape and there is no shortage of challenging holes to test your savvy. The carts are outfitted with GPS and you can usually play through creating enough time for an extra nine holes

Belle View Nagao GC, Shizuoka Prefecture Clubhouse: 0550 (87) 1112
In English 090-9892-4319
Web: www.belleviewn-gc.co.jp
E-mail: ben-galloway@belleviewn-gc.co.jp
*Self Play Only

This course is fun to play and not overly long at 6,019 yards (par 71), but the hilly terrain makes it feel a little longer. With a Chalet next to the clubhouse it makes an excellent golf getaway for couples. Friendly staff and less than 90 US dollars on weekdays. Easily to get to from Tokyo with rental clubs available and lessons in English in the shadow of Mt. Fuji.

Ishioka GC, Ibaraki Prefecture
Clubhouse: 0299 (58) 5111
Web: www.accordiagolf.com
*Caddy Only

Completed in 1994 and designed by the masterful Jack Nicklaus, it is rather flat, but Jack uses bunkers, swales and deep rough to increase the challenge. The course features a driving range and a nice, modern clubhouse with onsen-type baths.

Bennett Galloway, 15 June 2005

Previous Columns
  • Time to thaw out that golf swing
  • Golf made easy

  • About Bennett
    Bennett is a long time resident of Japan and the Director of Golf for Gotemba Golf Club and Belle View Nagao G.C., in Shizuoka near Mt. Fuji. Member of the Golf Writers Association of America and a teaching professional, providing lessons for all ages and abilities, in English or Japanese. He also specializes in in-bound golf tours to Japan with Golf Shizuoka and Golf Hakone.

    Contact Bennett »