From the air, Japan looks like a land of golf courses. Most planes flying into Tokyo’s two main airports—Narita and Haneda—fly over the Boso Peninsula, which is bordered by Tokyo Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The Boso Peninsula consists mainly of mountains, jungle, and agricultural land, but as you fly into the airport, one other aspect stands out: it’s covered in golf courses.
In truth, you could fly into one of the two airports from almost any direction and see the same thing. While Tokyo is a concentration of people and buildings, Greater Tokyo looks like a concentration of golf courses.
The Kanto region includes Tokyo and its adjacent prefectures— Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa—and Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma to the north. All are easily accessible from Tokyo and its two air travel hubs, providing a sensational golf experience.
New St. Andrews GC
While golf has existed in Japan for around 100 years, it really took off in the “Bubble Years”—1986 to 1991—when the sport boomed and developers pounced on cheap land in the areas outside Tokyo. Swamps were drained, mountains were cleared and palatial clubhouses built as golf boomed and membership fees
The result was hundreds of beautiful golf courses within an hour or two drive from central Tokyo. But it wasn’t a great time to play golf. Many golf clubs were members-only, green fees were high and booking a tee time was tough.
That’s all changed. The bursting of Japan’s economic bubble sent the golf business into a tailspin. Membership dues plummeted, course construction was put on hold, and many clubs went bankrupt. The upside was that golf courses in Japan had to re-evaluate their product and make them more user-friendly. Foreign investors came in and started to help rationalize the golf business.
Today, you can play on almost any of the 2,000-plus courses in Japan, and it won’t break the bank. If you’re staying in Tokyo, the choice of greens around the
Kanto area is tremendous. Eighteen holes including lunch, shower and bath can be had for as little as ¥5,000 (us$40). You can even play in Tokyo itself. The Wakasu Links course is built on reclaimed land and is only a short taxi ride from Shin-Kiba subway station, which is just a few stops from downtown Tokyo.
The other courses in Tokyo are mainly built on riverbanks around the city and are roughly equivalent to municipal courses found in the u.k. or u.s.a. They may not be glamorous, but they are accessible and perfectly playable.
Most golfers looking for a round on a good course will involve a trip into the countryside. Some courses can be reached in less than an hour, but most courses will need slightly longer than that. The rewards for investing in that journey, however, can be fantastic.
Manna Golf Club
Traditionally, Japanese golf requires you to take a lunch break between the front nine and the back nine holes, but many courses now have a “through” option (although this is usually limited to those starting early in the morning or around midday). In addition, several courses serve breakfast, but few stay open beyond sunset.
Most require you to use golf carts and usually have the latest course navigation systems. However, it’s rare for carts to be allowed on the course, and many follow an electronically guided path around the course.
Typically, a weekday round of golf will cost between ¥5,000 and ¥15,000, double that for a weekend round. But this will buy you a grand day of golf. The courses are usually maintained in impeccable condition and can be played year-round.
The clubhouses are something to behold, many of them more like massive palaces with huge restaurants, well-appointed changing rooms, showers, communal baths and private party rooms. You can send your clubs to your hotel or home for around ¥1,500. Alternatively, you can rent clubs (and shoes) at most courses.
All that’s left is to choose your course. Websites such as www.golf-in-japan.com and www.air-golf.com have information on courses and playing in Japan, and MK has a golf travel package to take you and your group from your hotel or house to the course and back again. So you’re spoiled for choice in this golfer’s paradise.