Golf in Japan

G'Day Japan! / Golf in Japan

There are many reasons why Golfing remains a globally popular sport over centuries. Like other sports, participants range from those who are committed enthusiasts to casual players. They all appreciate its beautiful environment and the high level of exercise, which is an ideal sport to maintain both physical and mental health.

While Scotland, the United States and Ireland are among the world’s best golf destinations, little is known about golfing in Japan. Increasing number of tourists visit Japan every year but few know to stop and enjoy its stunning golfing experience. Even though Japan has seen massive decline with the golfing population, it still has the second most golfers, approximately 7.6 million of them, following the United States.

Contents Provided in This Page

Introduction of Japan Golf

Arthur Hesketh Groom

One might wonder how Japan turned itself into a golfing paradise. The Japanese golf history dates back to 1901, when an English merchant, Arthur Hesketh Groom, created the Kobe Golf Club. Unlike others with 18 holes, the first Japan made golf course only had 4 holes. Also, it was not targeted for Japanese but mainly promoted to foreigners. The golfing cultures began to root in Japan as the number of golf courses expanded. However, World War II forced most of the courses to close down as it was predicted that the Japanese golf could never achieve a prosperous future.

Thankfully, this prediction was off. Followed by the rapid growth of the post war period, Japanese golfing revived once again with numerous golf courses rapidly developed by major construction companies. As the median personal income increased, more people took up golf to enjoy their wealth, leading to the development of ‘high-end’ golf courses by world-renowned architects. Over 1,000 golf courses were built by 1975 which contributed to the growing number of golf participants.

Japan as the Hidden Golf Gem

The rapid expansion of golf courses also prompted Japan to become the world’s third largest country in numbers of golf courses. About 33,600 golf courses scatter across the world and Japan boasts 2,450 of them, which account for 7.3% of the total number of golf courses –– more than half of all the tracks combined in Asia. It is surprising to discover Japan is an unrevealed golf leading country, considering the limited land area and geological features. Japan has hosted its first PGA TOUR tournament in 2019 as top players such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas all gathered to compete in Narashino Country club, Chiba. This has triggered Japan to bring itself to the spotlight as a ‘golfing destination’ but the country deserves more attention not only for rich golfing experience but also traditional, cultural and natural encounters.

Golf is actually an accessible sport in Japan and even though the domestic participants are on the downside, Japanese golf courses with beauty, perfect course maintenance and warm hospitality, remains to be discovered by international golf lovers.

The Charms of Japan Golf

As every golf- lover knows, one of the pleasures in playing golf is the spectacular scenery that each golf course offers. This is no coincidence- as the natural beauty plays a vast role when selecting the course locations. Despite the golfers’ playing conditions, they still appreciate their time playing in the stunning landscapes and views that can be the privilege to only players on the course.

The 4 Seasons of Japan

One solid factor to unique and attractive golfing would be four distinct seasons, which is among the main purposes for international visitors travelling to Japan. From the iconic cherry blossoms in spring, the full vitality and shine in the bright green in summer, the vibrant shades of orange and red fall foliage and the world-renowned powder snow in the winter, each season shows different faces to the golf courses.

Golfing in Japan can be enjoyed anytime in the year. The most optimal time to golf on the main island is spring (April-June) and Fall (October-December) but this can differ according to the area.

Most golf courses close as Japan enters the winter months. However, you can still go to Okinawa-Japan’s southernmost prefecture, made up of 160 islands, during the winter for golf as well. The average temperature in Okinawa is around 17 degrees due to its subtropical climate.

The Japan’s Exceptional Hospitality

The ultimate caring and attentive practice which is signified in the term ‘omotenashi’ is a highlight in Japan. The unique approach to show kindness and consideration to welcome any visitors can be experienced even in little moments and encounters during your time in Japan.

Golf courses are no exceptions for these ‘omotenashi’ practices. Some golf courses employ caddies services, which can enhance the golfing experience with caddies being attentive to the players throughout the game and aware of the challenges and obstacles throughout the round. Their work goes beyond providing intimate knowledge and technical assistance. One golf course established a customer database so that all caddies understand what clubs/ preferred styles each golfer has in order to provide the highest quality of service.

The concept of omotenashi aims to create a pleasant atmosphere for all guests. And this is clearly shown in the perseverance of golf courses as well. Japanese green keepers are well aware that well-maintained golf courses contribute greatly to the players’ satisfaction. Even if the courses are created by a famous designer, poor maintenance such as long and rough fairway grasses, untidy buggy paths and overgrown plants in the Green, all discourage the players’ expectations, making them never visit the site again. This is exceptionally a challenge for Japanese golf courses. Japan’s four distinct seasons and its humid subtropical climate invites unpredictable weather including rainy season, heat and typhoons with torrential rain, hence constant and attentive maintenance catered to each season is required to preserve its high quality.

The climate is not the only concern. Due to its geological features, greatest attention and techniques need to be given to accommodate the requirements unique to each course. Japanese green keepers should be highly praised as one of the most dedicated workers in maintaining the finest green in the world.

Let’s Play Golf in Japan

What to Expect upon Reservation

It can be a challenge for those with limited Japanese skills when making a booking. However, the number of golf courses that now take bookings in English is on the rise with more tapping into the foreign market. For these courses, direct English bookings can be completed via their online reservation system.

If your preferred golf course does not fall into this case, hotels, travel agents or websites that offer online golf tee times are the next best option. They often have their own deals or golf travel packages. In addition, golf booking apps are available with an access to tee time sheet, online bookings and discounts.

Some golf courses accept same-day reservations from 6am. So even if the favoured golf course was fully booked beforehand, there might be a chance to have the spot open to fill the cancellations.

Dress Codes of Japan Golfing

Traditionally, golf is regarded as a ‘gentleman’s game. Just like any other countries, shirts with a collar that are tucked into pants or knee-length shorts are considered as a proper male golf attire in Japan. Players are instructed to wear jackets while they are inside the golf clubs except in the summer season. For female players, blouses or shirts with golf shorts, skirts, slacks or even dresses are to be appropriate. While some have lifted dress codes, most golf clubs- especially world renowned ones, expect players to dress accordingly. For more information, please refer to the following video ‘Vol.1 Check in‘.

The General Cost of Japan Golfing

In the past, the fee to play golf was not cheap in Japan. Fortunately, as the pricing in this chart shows, this is starting to see some changes.

Needless to say, additional fees are incurred with various options such as caddy fee.  By being the loyal golf club members, benefits such as exclusive discounts are to be offered. Still, it might be a little overpriced compared to some golf courses around the world.

Here are some tips to keep the cost down.

  • Make golf adventures out further from the major cities for cheaper green fees.
  • Go in specific off-peak periods. Due to Japan’s mountainous terrain, golfers prefer adding values to their experience by enjoying the beautiful cherry blossoms or bright red maple trees whilst they play. This means that summer and winter can be quieter with some golf clubs offering off-peak prices.

Japanese Golf Etiquette and Customs

1. Japan is dedicated to punctuality and the golf courses fall into this. Be sure to arrive one hour prior to the tees time. If there is a delayed player, the whole group needs to wait for everyone to be on the site. Therefore, it is always nice to have extra spare time to be fully prepared and have a cup of coffee to start off the stunning experience.

2. Upon arrival, staff will be giving you a warm welcome at the entrance of the golf club. Personal belongings should be taken out from the golf bags before handing to the staff as they will be transferred to be loaded onto the cart. Also, tagging the bags in advance helps to ensure their safety from getting lost.

3. A check-in is a must procedure for anyone participating in the round. Once in the reception area, you will be asked to fill out a registration form. After the registration, a scorecard holder and locker key will be provided.

4. Changing gears are to be conducted in the locker room as each is assigned by the number on the scorecard holder. There is no need to carry cash, hence wallets or any kinds should be stored in the valuables lockers as most of the courses allow any purchases on the site by showing this number and have the bill settled when leaving the club.

5. Golf ball markers, scoring pens and sheets are placed in the caddie master’s precincts. Pre-round warm-up can also be arranged in this session as well. Most golf courses would offer an area to exercise the pre-shot routine where a basket of 25- 35 balls are allocated to each participant.

6. The uniqueness of golfing in Japan becomes evident as a lunch break is pre-arranged after completing nine holes. This refueling time usually lasts for about 50 minutes. While tastes and food trends are constantly evolving, Japanese club houses have put an effort to provide best dining experiences as well. After boosting up the energy to enhance the performance for the latter half of the round, the staff will be informing the next tee-off time.

Must See Before a Round of Japan Golf

Vol.1 Check In

Vol.2 Prepare to Play Golf

Vol.3 On Course

Vol.4 Check Out

Off-course Activities

Whatever the outcome is, the beauty of Japan’s natural surroundings, well-manicured fairways, precisely designed and maintained greens all account for the stunning experiences and challenges, intriguing all levels of golfers.

Even more, the pleasure of golfing continues off-course. What golfers need for a tired body after the long hours of round is the onsen- the Japanese hot spring. Because they have various benefits such as loosening the worn out muscles and healing fatigue, there is no doubt that some even play golf to appreciate its fullest effect and satisfaction. With golf courses located in abundant natural resources, many golf courses also have access to mineral-rich spring water, right at a spot of scenic beauty overlooking the land and sea. The onsen is not just for relaxation, but it is also a place to reflect on the game you’ve played. There is always a chance to connect and interact with the local golfers as well.

For those dedicated to improving their skills, Japanese golf clubs always allow post-round-practice to exercise whatever good shots and swing flaws experienced whilst they are fresh for any corrections. However, be sure to hydrate and take some time to unwind before these activities.

The extensive and efficient railway networks encourage visitors to hop around, consistently making them explore to utmost their stay in Japan with both golfing and sightseeing experience.

Japan Golf Stories

Jonathan Kellerman

Ever since he started playing golf at the age of six, he has played golf all over the world including South Africa, France, Thailand and Japan. Now residing in Japan, his golf hub was Kobe- Japan’s second largest region in numbers of golf courses. He has now moved to Tokyo and is eager to expand his new golf adventures.

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Play Golf and Travel Around

Coming Soon

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While Japan still remains a hidden gem for golfing destinations, the demand will surge as Asia has been brought to the spotlight for golf hot spots. Japan boasts a wide range of natural sights and with the distinct seasons, different perspectives and the unique features of the country are to be seen accordingly.

The arguably rich and diverse food culture and the hospitality, which Japan is highly praised for, take all of the golfers to the next level of golfing adventure. With more doors opening to the world, a transition in the golfing trend is set to occur. Japan will certainly be the next go-to destination to international golf lovers, known for the fabulous ‘omotenashi’ golf hospitality.