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- Shiro & Rokuro Akaboshi
Shiro & Rokuro Akaboshi
Shiro Akaboshi was born in 1895, the fourth son of businessman Yanosuke Akaboshi. Shiro attended Azabu Elementary School and Junior High School in Japan before leaving for the United States to enrol at Lawrenceville School in New Jersey then Princeton. Golf didn’t really feature in his sporting activities at university though he did play a little American football.
Shiro then returned to Japan in 1921. After completing one year of military service, he took up a position with Standard Oil where he worked for a few years until joining up with his younger brother Rokuro to coach Japanese golfers. In 1926, he won the Japan Amateur Golf Championship, with his brother Rokuro in second place.
As a golf architect, he was strongly influenced by C. H. Alison and some of his more notable designs include the courses at Hakodate (1936), Hakone Country Club (1954) and Gotemba Golf Club (1971). Towards the end of his career, he became more involved in coaching female professional golfers while acting as honorary chairman of the Japan Women's Professional Golf Association.
Rokuro Akaboshi was born in 1901 and, like his older brother Shiro, left Japan as a 19-year-old young man to study in the United States at Lawrenceville School in New Jersey then Princeton. He played golf while at school, and was later coached by Cyril Walker, who won the US Open in 1924 at Oakland Hills.
He returned home after four years of study, joined Tokyo Golf Club and Jogaya Country Club, and worked with his brother Shiro in training and coaching Japanese professionals and elite amateur players. He won the inaugural Japan Open Golf Championship as an amateur in 1927, beating his nearest rival by ten shots. After this, he worked for a while editing golf magazines.
C.H. Alison’s short trip to Japan in 1930 had a big impact on Rokuro and he tried to bring some of the Englishman’s design features into play at courses such as Sagami Kantsuri Club and Abiko Golf Club. He died of sepsis on 25th March, 1944 aged only 42 years old.
An appreciation of Rokuro Akaboshi by a Japanese commentator:
“One person who cannot be removed from the history of golf course design in Japan is Rokuro Akaboshi. Until he worked at the Sagami Country Club, most of the golf courses in Japan were timid and uninspiring.
Thankfully, Sagami is one of a handful of layouts that survived the war in the Kanto region, a golfing masterpiece born in the unpleasant atmosphere of conflict.
Akaboshi, who studied abroad at Princeton University in the United States, was also a member of Pine Valley, which opened in 1919, and he won the Spring tournament at Pinehurst Golf Club in 1924.
At that time, the golf industry in the United States was leading the way. For example, the Green Research Division of the USGA was launched in 1920 and the weight and size of the ball were regulated the following year.
Famous courses such as Baltusrol (1922) and Winged Foot (1923) were born and the number of courses had grown to 1,903 by 1923. Research on steel shafts had become active and Bobby Jones won the first of four US Open titles in 1923.
It was the Akaboshi brothers who brought their newly acquired golfing knowledge back to Japan and were able to use this expertise to design courses in their homeland. Hugh Alison’s arrival from England in 1930 also helped them realize their design dreams.
Previously, Japanese courses were built with the goal of being safe. And, by designing courses in the dark, so to speak, it’s not fair to criticize architects for what had gone before. Now it seemed possible to set out a course that displayed the bolder, more artistic side of an architect’s personality.
‘The golf course must be completed as a piece of art. The layout is an expression of the character of the architect, and it is to embody the dream of the designer,’ was the Akaboshi philosophy, announced in a 1932 golf magazine published by Meguro Bookstore.
Rokuro was aware that ‘golf follows a course of technological progress year after year, so the course should be adapted accordingly’ and this could be accomplished by extending the overall length and making hazards more strategic.
Of course, Shiro Akaboshi also realized the value of remodelling and it was he who suggested to Hugh Alison that a greenside bunker should be expanded to ten times its original size on the 10th hole at Kasumigaseki Country Club’s East course.
During the fifth edition of the Canada Cup in 1957, Dai Rees from Wales struggled to get out of this sand trap, proving the value of an architect trying to keep pace with equipment and level of player skills.”
“There were 2-3 good candidates to become a great golf architect during the 1920s and early 1930s. The Akaboshi brothers attended Princeton, got to know C.B. Macdonald, and went to study courses in Scotland ... but then geopolitics intervened, rather forcefully [and] the war cut careers short… after the war [they were] saddled with the two-green system as a new standard, which made it almost impossible to design great courses.” Tom Doak