Golfing in Japan
Japan is home to many prestigious golf courses with illustrious histories. Many of them open their doors to visitors in addition to members, and offer outstanding levels of hospitality in addition to excellent golf.
Playing golf in Japan offers a pleasant chance to take a break from sightseeing and enjoy a change of pace while getting some light exercise outdoors in pristine natural surroundings. Many of the best courses are located in well-known resort areas such as the Izu Peninsula, Karuizawa and Miyazaki, where fabulous views of coastal or mountain scenery can be enjoyed while you play a few rounds - there are even courses with spectacular views of Mt. Fuji.
Golf in Japan typically tends to be an all-day affair. This is partly due to longish travel times to most courses, as they tend to be located well outside city limits where land prices are at too much of a premium to build golf courses. However, the relative remoteness is also responsible for the stunning natural scenery that can be enjoyed once you have teed off.
Players typically tackle a round of golf at a leisurely pace over a whole day, pausing for a lunch break between the first and second halves of the course. The etiquette and rules for playing golf in Japan are broadly similar to when playing in other countries. However, one unique feature of golf in Japan is what follows after: players typically head to the clubhouse’s communal spa baths (onsen) to relax and soak away the fatigue from their aching muscles - a uniquely Japanese experience that combines perfectly with eighteen holes.
Although premium prices usually apply on weekends, on weekdays it is possible to pay 6,000-10,000 yen per person for an 18-hole round of golf, including lunch and golf cart. Since golf courses have traditionally been places where business has been done, most courses do not accept single players and may apply a surcharge for pairs of golfers. Rental clubs and caddies are available for an extra fee.
While many courses now accept online reservations in Japanese, only a handful are known to accept reservations in English. Therefore the best bet for foreign visitors wishing to squeeze in a round during their trip is to make a reservation via their hotel concierge or a travel agent. Bear in mind that staff members at most clubs may understand little or no English (English-speaking caddies are rare), and that signs and rules on the golf course will likely be displayed in Japanese only.
Golf courses in Tokyo
Get a slice of history along with your game at Showa-no-Mori GC. Originally established by the US Occupation after WWII, it is now a public course. Their website is only available in Japanese (http://www.smgc.co.jp/), but the club is reported to make an effort to provide English-speaking staff for foreign golfers.
What it lacks in scenic views, Wakasu Golf Links makes up for in convenience and accessibility. Located on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, the course is operated by Tokyo Port Terminal Corporation and is open to the public, so anyone can play.
Koganei CC is located in Tokyo’s western suburbs just a short train journey from central Tokyo. It has an English website (http://koganeicc.jp/en/) and accepts reservations in English, although its guidelines states that “in general [players] should be referred or accompanied by a member.
Golf courses near Tokyo
A little further afield, but potentially with stunning views of Mt Fuji if you are fortunate enough to be teeing off on a suitably sunny day, is Gotemba GC, which has a good English Gotemba Golf Club website.
Guests staying at the hotel are eligible to play at Ashinoko CC on the shores of Lake Ashi, also located tantalizingly close to Mt Fuji. The club has basic English website (scroll down to the bottom for the fees).
Windsor Park GC/CC is not a members club and operates an open access policy, accepting reservations for both individuals and groups. Located in Ibaraki, just a couple of hours north of Tokyo, the club is highly rated by players for its flexibility, location, friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and the good of English spoken by its staff. It has an English website.
Another golfing hotspot is at Kawana Resort in Shizuoka, a couple of hours from Tokyo. Prince Hotels operate a number of hotels with golf courses, including the venerable Kawana Resort Hotel, which has two highly-rated courses. They are Oshima Course, which is open to non-guests, and Fuji Course, which is built along cliffs facing the Pacific Ocean and is ranked as one of the top 100 in the world, but is only open to staying guests. See their website for more information.
For more recommended golf courses, see: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/attractions/rest/sports/golf_1.html.
Golf in Japanis your one stop shop for all you golfing in Japan needs, offering detailed information on courses and reservations.