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Southern Comfort


Not everything good is near Tokyo. The top-ranked golf course in Japan, Hirono Golf Club, is in Hyogo Prefecture, as is no. 3 (Naruo) and no. 6 (Ono). And, let’s not forget — golf in Japan started in the Kansai area.

If you’re looking to play in mid-western Japan, the Kansai area offers a great variety of places to choose from. It consists of Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Shiga, Hyogo, and Mie prefectures and it stretches from the Japan Sea to the Pacific Ocean or about 250 kilometers north to south.

Many of the courses are within an hour of the main cities of Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka. Japanese golf was introduced by an Englishman on Mount Rokko overlooking Kobe in 1901 with a simple four-hole course. Long-time resident and tea merchant Arthur Hesketh Groom — who had never played golf before — and a small group of friends decided to create their own little course. This was expanded to nine holes in 1903 when it became known as Kobe Golf Club. Nine more holes were added a year later.

You can still play it today, although it doesn’t quite match up to newer courses. It’s a par-61 with 11 par-3 holes and seven par-4s. Its 91-year-old clubhouse is a heritage site. Golf sort of took off, but there were only seven clubs in the country when the Japan Golf Association was formed in 1924, and at the start of World War 11, the country still only had 23 courses. However, some of these were significant and remain prestigious courses today. The Hirono Golf Club is in Hyogo Prefecture, which has around 160 golf courses and borders Osaka and Kobe as well as the Japan Sea to the north and the southern Honshu coast to the south. Hirono was founded in 1932 and is often called “the most important golf club in Japan.” It has hosted all of Japan’s major golf tournaments and was designed by Englishman and legendary golf course architect Charles Alison.

Unfortunately, it was used as a runway during World War II, but it was restored using Alison’s original blueprints and is regarded as one of the best courses in Asia. It is, of course, fairly exclusive and difficult to get a tee time — but if you can’t get on the course, you can always spend time in its adjacent museum.

Alison’s most famous disciple was Seiichi Inoue and he also designed some classic golf courses in the Kansai region. One of his most well-known courses is Mie Prefecture’s Ise Country Club, close to Ise Shrine, the spiritual center of Japan. In typical Inoue style, the course challenges the golfer with its natural contours and varied terrain. Inoue liked it even more after famously notching a hole-in-one at the 17th hole. Another great Inoue lay- out in Mie Prefecture is Kuwana Country Club, which he designed in 1960 and is rated at a tough 74.8. Nemu Golf Club, designed by former American Society of Golf Course Architects President Damian V. Pascuzzo, has one of the most spectacular settings in Japan: surrounded by water on three sides.

Neighboring Wakayama Prefecture also has a couple of impressive oceanside courses. Shirahama Golf Club is set high up on a spit of land in southwest Wakayama, while the Nachikatsuura Club can be found on the southeast side. Both are in fairly remote locations. Shirahama is right next to Nanki-Shirahama airport and close to Shirahama station, as well as the Kinki Expressway. Part of Nachikatsuura Golf Club actually lies on top of the Kinki Expressway and it is close to Nachi station.

A more accessible Inoue creation can be found at the 54-hole Seta Golf Course, sandwiched between Lake Biwa and Mount Hiei in Shiga Prefecture. They are complemented by a spectacular clubhouse and the nearby 38-story Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel. The North Course at the Seta Club is a rare in-and-out – or “one way” – course in Japan and hosts the US LPGA’s Mizuno Classic. There are a number of other courses around the southern end of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, including the 27-holeBiwako Lakeside Golf Course, is popular with beginners, as it is flat and cheap.

Another historic club is Kyoto Golf Club, which is very close to the north of Kyoto City. It has two courses — the Kamigamo Course and the Adachi Course — and is just 10 kilometers from Kyoto Station. The course was built at the request of the U.S.-led Military Administration Department of GHQ in 1948 and 18 holes were completed by March 1949. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful courses in the region.

If you’re looking for something truly spectacular in Kyoto, however, you’ll have to travel all the way to the north of the prefecture to reach Kumihama Country Club, a stunning seaside course built on Kumihama Bay. It’s very much the Pebble Beach of the Kansai region and not to be missed on a golf tour of Japan.

Not everything good is near Tokyo, but golfers in the Kansai region already know that.

Hirono Golf Club: Naruo Golf Club: Ono Golf Club: Kobe Golf Club: Ise Country Club: Kuwana Country Club: Nemu Golf Club: Natchikatuura Golf Club: Shirahama Golf Club: Seta Golf Course: Biwako Lakeside Golf Course: Kyoto Golf Club: Kumihama Country Club:


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