Ah, Japan, Land of the Rising Sun, the world-famous Bullet Train, sushi, and, yep, some of the most spectacular golf courses on the planet.
In Japan, golf has a reputation for being a game played by the rich and famous. However, in recent years, through the Japanese Golf Association’s tireless efforts and golf clubs throughout Japan, golf has become much more accessible to the everyday person.
But with that being said, it still has a long way to go to catch up with countries like the USA and Australia, where golf is remarkably affordable.
Golf In Japan; Is It Really That Expensive?
- 0.1 Golf In Japan; Is It Really That Expensive?
- 0.2 How Many Public Courses are In Japan?
- 0.3 Golfing In Japan Cultural Oddities
- 0.4 Local Tips
- 0.5 Karuizawa 72 Golf Course
- 1 Seta Golf Course
- 2 Final Round
The short answer is yes.
How does $300K a year sound? Despite what you may think, these outlandish prices are relatively common. But wait, here’s the kicker; the $300K fee is only for membership; it doesn’t include greens fees, the use of a cart, access to a caddy, or even practice facilities.
The primary reason behind these staggering prices is quite simple; Japan is a small country, and land prices are some of the highest in the world. Building a golf course takes up a lot of land, so recouping the money via membership seems logical.
Green fees generally range from $100-$300, which might seem not too bad, but after you’ve just put down $300K, you’d think your round would be included. Now when I compare to the courses back home in Australia, oh hang on, you can’t compare them. Prices are so much cheaper in Australia that many Japanese people take annual trips for golfing holidays.
In the U.S. and Australia, the vast majority of public golf courses charge roughly $50, which includes your round and generally a cart too.
How Many Public Courses are In Japan?
As a matter of fact, you might be shocked to learn that Japan has the second most golf courses globally, with only the U.S. having more. There are just a little over 2,400 golf courses in Japan, and for a country so small, it says a lot about just how much the Japanese love their golf.
Before Japan’s infamous financial collapse in the late 80s and early 90s, influential high-rollers like CEOs, actors, and sports stars traded golf memberships like trading stocks.
However, after the financial bubble burst, the value of memberships plummeted by a whopping 90%; it’s estimated that 20 percent of the 1.5 trillion in debt was attributed to the negligence of the golf industry.
Golfing In Japan Cultural Oddities
Golf in Japan is not just a round of; it’s an event, a big occasion. You’re greeted by smartly dressed staff as soon as you hop out of the vehicle, and before you know it, your clubs have been whisked away, and you’re escorted to the lobby.
In the lobby, you’re assigned to a specific golf cart that’s been set aside for your group. From there, you are escorted down to the change rooms to change into your golf attire. It’s worth noting here the change rooms in Japan are some of the most opulent and magnificent facilities you’ll find anywhere in the world. They resemble 5-star hotels rather than country clubs.
After the staff take your golf bag, make sure you take your valuables with you; this isn’t because the Japanese aren’t trustworthy; they are; Japan is actually the safest country in the world. The reason is you won’t see your bag again until the round starts, so if you need to buy drinks or balls, you’ll be out of luck.
In Japan, after you’ve finished the first nine, the group heads back in for lunch. I’m not talking about a ham and cheese sandwich either; rice curries, tempura, sushi, soba noodles, and beer all grace the table when you return.
Now the round has finished, you can head down and relax in the enormous hot spring baths, sit in the sauna and even have a massage should you choose. After that, it’s back up to the clubhouse for more drinks. If you’ve driven past a golf course in Japan and wondered why there are so many taxis, now you know why.
As for on the course, there are no real surprises; Yellow markers are placed at 230 meters or 250 yards out from the tee. It’s courtesy not to tee off until the group in front passes the yellow markers. As with any course in the West, clubs have their own local rules, but generally speaking, they’re pretty universal here in Japan.
O.B. or “Out Of Bounds” tees are positioned further along the fairway, which is an excellent idea and really does help to speed up play.
Female caddies are almost always provided, but most speak little to no English. Still, they are some of the politest and most experienced caddies you’ll find anywhere. Finding a job as a caddy is hard to come by; the job typically passes down through the family.
Rounds vary significantly in price from weekdays to weekends, with a $100-$200 difference for the same course. Oh, and be careful, Japanese golf clubs do not allow singles or pairs; you must be in a group of three or four to play.
Karuizawa 72 Golf Course
Located in the beautiful mountain area of Karuizawa, the Karuizawa 72 Golf Course boasts 4 Courses. Karuizawa is known in Japan as an iconic Summer and Winter getaway for the rich and famous. Many Actors, Sports Stars, and C.E.O.s have multi-million dollar retreats here, or “Summer Houses,” as the Japanese call them.
There are five hotels situated in the surrounding area, all within a 10-minute drive to each of the 4 Courses.
I’ve chosen this Resort at No.1 because the four Courses cater and offer something for golfers of all abilities.
The North Course
Measures 7,076 yards Par 72 and is only an 8-minute taxi from Japan’s high-speed train, the JR Shinkaruizawa Station.
Professional Tournaments are held here annually. The course is laid out on a relatively flat expanse of land, and there are several ponds and bunkers strategically placed that challenge even the highest level of Golfer.
The East Course
Is actually two Courses. The Iriyama Course comes in at 6,941 yards, Par 72, while the Oshitate Course comes in at 6,838 yards, Par 72.
Both courses require golfers to display varying skills and techniques.
Most courses in Japan require you to take a caddy provided by the club; the great thing about the East course is that you have the option of carrying your own bag.
The West Course
You guessed it, are also two courses. World-renowned Robert Trent Jones Jr designed the Courses in 1972. The Gold Course measures 6,834 yards, Par 72, while the Blue Course comes in at 6,791 yards, also Par 72.
The Courses are widely laid out and follow the natural undulation of the plateau. I’ve been lucky enough to have played here several times, and it always reminds me of the wide-open fairways of my native Australia.
The expansive space on these 2 Courses is a real rarity in Japan and, in my opinion, makes them a bit of a National Treasure.
The South Course
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr in 1972, measures 6,598 yards for a Par of 72. In Japan, it’s customary to have lunch after the first nine holes. The South Course has been designed to play with no breaks. The Course itself has numerous lakes and bunkers, which require golfers to use strategic decision making (not one of my strong points)
Seta Golf Course
The Seta Golf Course is located near Japan’s largest freshwater lake, Biwako, in Shiga. The Course is home to the world-famous U.S. Women’s Mizuno Classic played annually. There are three courses. The North Course measures 7,012 yards Par 72, the East Course comes in at 6,895 yards Par 72, and the West Course at 6,621 yards Par 72.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to have played here several times. The Courses are built on relatively flat land but are dotted with multiple ponds and hazards that give the courses a unique characteristic.
They offer breathtaking views of the lake and are immaculately kept. The Japanese have tremendous pride in their gardens, and it shows through on all courses, but this course, in particular, is stunning year-round.
Technology is at the forefront in Japan, and Seta offers the latest Carts equipped with G.P.S. Navigation. Carts can be driven on the fairways and are not assisted by caddies, making it easier to play at your own pace.
At 136 meters tall, the nearby Otsu Hotel is an exquisite place to stay. Rates are actually very affordable, depending on the seasons. Cherry Blossom season from mid-March to mid-April is the most stunning; however, rates are higher.
The hotel is only 10-minutes from the JR Line Station and is an ideal base to sightsee in nearby Kyoto.
Kawana Hotel Golf Course
The Hotel is home to the Fuji Golf Course, which consistently ranks top 100 worldwide. At 6,187 yards, Par 72 it’s short in today’s standards.
Designed by C.H Alison in 1936, it offers gorgeous views of nearby Mt Fuji and Sagami Bay. The Course is flanked by deep fairway bunkers, which have bought much distinction internationally.
Kawana hosts the Fuji-Sankei Ladies Classic played annually in April and must be walked with a caddy. Play is only available to hotel guests.
The Resort was opened in 1936 and offered sensational views of Mt Fuji and Sagami Bay.
The nearby Ito JR Line Station is only 15-minutes away, making it easily accessible, and it’s one of the rare Golf Resorts in Japan that have english speaking staff.
Daihakone Country Club
The Daihakone Course was designed in 1954 by Komyo Otani and Yasuhiko Asaka and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful courses in Japan. Measuring 7,289 yards Par 73, it is laid out on the spectacular Sengokuhara Plain and flanked by the outer rim of the Hikone Crater.
The Course is home to the C.A.T. Ladies Pro Golf Tournament, held annually during the summer months.
Believe it or not, all 18 holes were “hand made” without the use of any heavy machinery. The masterpiece is the 17th hole par 3, named “Lotus flower.” At 199 yards off an elevated tee, the green is surrounded by small deceptive bunkers of varying depths.
The Resort Style Hotel, surrounded by the natural beauty of the Highlands and the Hakone Crater, is second to none. Sit and relax in the natural volcanic Hot Spring baths or enjoy a glass of wine (or two) and take in the scenery of the fall season.
25-min drive from Gotenba I.C. and 40 min from the J.R. Odawara Station, the resort is a little off the beaten track but definitely worth the effort.
Hakone Yunohana Golf Course
The Hakone Yunohana is a 6,318 yard Par 71 Course and offers incredible views of Mt Komagatake with Hakone in the background.
The Course itself is well suited to beginners and is laid out on relatively flat land. The fairways are expansive and easy to hit, even for newcomers to the game. Yunohana has a very relaxing vibe which allows you to take advantage of the views offered by Sagami Bay, which sits down below.
The Hotel is situated nearly 1000 meters up in the highlands and gives remarkable views of the surrounding landscape.
The Hot Springs in this area are some of the highest in Japan and, due to the fact they are volcanic, have wonderful benefits for your skin and overall health.
The Hotel is also known for its “kaiseki” dishes, which are prepared with seasonal ingredients only.
As with the previous course, this one is also off the track, taking a one-hour drive from Atsugi I.C. and 40 min from J.R. Odawara Station.
Japan is one of the most unique and interesting countries in the world. Its beauty and traditions combined with cutting-edge technology, produce some of the best golf courses and equipment in the industry.
If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend a visit to japan; oh, and don’t forget, bring your golf clubs,