By Joe Gaughwin
Its about 6 am in the morning and I am watching a small group of men and woman chatting on the train. They are evidently golfers as the brand names on their clothes tells me so and I get a real sense of camaraderie and excitement from them by the smiles on their faces. Having probably been up since 4 am they are well aware that the day with their friends will probably end sometime after dinner and I must admit that being able to spend a full day with three of my closest friends on a golf course would make me grin from ear to ear. I really could think of nothing better.
There is no doubt that the Japanese view golf with a sense of great reverence, where ample time should be taken to enjoy the day, paying homage to the game, the course and really just enjoying the opportunity to be with friends. I always get an unwavering sense, even from members, that the opportunity to play golf should not be taken for granted and to make the most of the occasion. This is the reason they spend not just the time at the golf course together but after the game also, enjoying dinner together. It's something that I have really come to enjoy and look forward to, as it gives a sense of community, something in this day and age we are sorely lacking.
Golf in Japan is not slow but better described as measured. The game is be enjoyed and not rushed, taking time to immerse yourself in the culture, eating the delicious food after 9 holes, taking time to relax and even soaking yourself in the onsen afterward. I must say that through my experience here, once guests understand the cultural differences, find the experience becomes a very civilized way to spend a day and people always have the most wonderful time. You are on holidays anyway so what`s the rush.
Having lived in Japan for 5 years I have tried my best to be open-minded about golf, especially considering the reputation it has acquired in Japan. For the first few years, my golf experiences have surrounded Tokyo and understandably so with Taiheiyo Club owning and operating 13 clubs around the Nations Capital. Tokyo is the place that I am well acquainted with and enjoy immensely, so my tendency, when asked, has been to suggest and encourage overseas guests to play around what are familiar surroundings to me.
As I started to travel further around Japan to play I have found the golfing experience in the Kansai region to be more varied and cultured than in Tokyo. I am not saying that Tokyo is not cultured, because it is, but Osaka and specifically Kyoto offer much greater diversity in terms of atmosphere and experience. If golf and culture are synonymous in Japan then why not experience it in the cities that represent the diversity of Japan and its distinctive society, choosing places that have less of that `big city` feel like Tokyo.
The first advantage of playing golf in the Kansai region, especially the Taiheiyo courses, is their proximity to Osaka and Kyoto. The courses lay within an hour of Osaka and just over an hour from Kyoto (if you are driving or take a taxi), making them so much more accessible than its counterpart in Tokyo. The opportunity to reach your hotel an hour after finishing golf, to enjoy the afternoon exploring somewhere like Kobe, for me, a very strong reason why every golfer should consider Kansai.
Taiheiyo Club, apart from having an English speaking concierge service at HQ, also has staff at each of the courses who speak English. Having this support to greet you and take care of you while you are there is what really sets Taiheiyo Club apart from the rest of the clubs in Japan.
The real gem in the Kansai experience is the choice of what cultural experience you want to have before after playing golf. Do you prefer Osaka, a city with more personality than Tokyo or the more traditional and refined city of Kyoto? The alternative is you can experience both and have a melting pot of experiences. The dual city experience in my mind is something you cannot get anywhere in the world, especially with them being so close in proximity, yet such polar opposites in attitude.
Osaka to me is like a smaller version of Tokyo but a little rougher around the edges and slightly less refined, but I like that. Osaka has a great personality and so do the people and there is no doubt they are a more outgoing and unique bunch than Tokyoites. It's tougher to get around at there is less English assistance but that always makes for a more unforgettable experience and worth the extra effort. It's the food capital of Japan and the nightlife is off the charts. The shopping is everything you expect from Japan with the areas around Namba station being everything the shopper can desire and more.
Kyoto, on the other hand, moves at a completely different speed. A more traditional and culturally rich area that has sightseeing for days. It's charming, romantic and if you prefer visual stimulation, ryokan inns, slippers, and traditional dress then this might be the place for you. The food is typically more traditional and the whole place has a much more zen appeal. I have traveled to Kyoto a few times and enjoy the less hectic feeling that Tokyo provides but at the same time it does not have the electricity of somewhere like Osaka.
The shopping districts are a mix of branded retail giants but around the corner sits the rich history of Kyoto displayed in the traditional arts and crafts that are in abundant supply.
Kyoto also has a nightlife but is not even close to that of Osaka. and I think that's how the local people like it.
Golf embarrasses us and takes our soul little by little, even in the tranquil surroundings of Japan. It comes with no surprise that some golfers need to socialize and talk about their bruised egos over a nice meal and a few cocktails in a rowdy environment.
I might not know much but I know golfers, and their psyche and a night out on the town in Osaka after a round of golf can tick all the necessary boxes. Golf can send some of us over the edge so if you like to kick your heels up and let loose a little and then the vibrant city of Osaka is for you. The engaging nature of the Osakian people combined with the tremendous food and enormous drink lists is, to be honest, a great end to a day playing golf in Japan.
Kyoto on the other hand always feels like a perfect transition from the golf club. The serene and flawless setting and sublime service of the golf courses is mirrored in Kyoto town. For some, it's the perfect tranquil ending to a day on the course. The transition from a golf course to Osaka is like turning the volume up to full and although Kyoto defiantly lacks the stimulation of Osaka it makes up for it in so many other ways. Maybe the more sophisticated golfer might enjoy the more conservative flavor of this beautiful town or even if you just the need to unwind from a busy work schedule. Either way you certainly won't be disappointed.