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20 km NE of Tokyo
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The East and the West are two outstanding golf courses at Kasumigaseki Country Club. East or West, which is best? We’re really not too sure, but the East is the one that the members generally favour, so we think it’s prudent to stick with those in the know.
Kasumigaseki Country Club was founded in 1929. Kinya Fujita and Shiro Akaboshi, two gifted local golfers, originally designed the first course, now known as the East, and it was ready for play the same year. The members were clearly dissatisfied with the original design so Harry Colt’s partner Charles Alison was soon commissioned to improve matters. Alison’s changes to Kasumigaseki immediately gained the utmost respect from Japanese golfers and he is now widely considered to be the guiding light of Japanese golf course architecture.
So, what did Alison actually do at Kasumigaseki to gain cult status? The answer is simple. He built cavernous bunkers. The par three 10th is a perfect example and this hole is possibly the finest par three in Japan. This was a good hole in the beginning – a 180-yard one-shotter across water to a relatively small green – but Alison turned it into a great hole. Originally, the bunker protecting the front of the green was little more than a shallow scrape by the time Alison had finished it was six feet deep and this is the general theme behind his improvements to the East course.
Tom and Logan Fazio recently completed an East course renovation which was a prerequisite to the club's hosting of the Tokyo Olympics, which was scheduled to take place in 2020 but was postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Fazio's eliminated the East's traditional Japanese dual green system and also a good number of trees during the extensive remodel.
Wednesday [October 17 2018] was a big day. At 6:15 a.m. Kuni drove us 40 miles northwest to Kasumigaseki Country Club (KCC) to play the East Course. I had been there in 1988, 1993, and 1997. The East Course opened in 1929 with a basic design by Kinya Fujita and Shiro Akaboshi. Almost immediately, famous English designer Charles H. Alison came in for a major renovation. The East Course had been on the GOLF Magazine top world list right from the beginning in 1979. However, its position slowly eroded until it was removed from that list in 2003.
In 2011 the club hired the Fazio Design company to do a major master plan for the two courses here (East and West). The company was hired because of its long-running and extensive work at Augusta National. As Tom’s son Logan was wrapping up the master plan, the club was chosen in 2013 to be the golf venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. After incorporating the additional changes needed to challenge the best golfers in the world, the plan was approved in 2014. Extensive construction started in the fall of 2015 and concluded in October 2016 at a cost of $13 million, totally financed by the club.
At 8:06 a.m. I’m on the first tee with Kuni, Yumiko, and club general manager Hiroshi Imaizumi. We are walking with caddies. The course is compact, so it was an easy walk and we had a speedy round.
Immediately, the first hole got my attention because it had a totally different look and feel from what I remembered from previous play. When I walked off the first green I thought: This place has some real character. For the rest of the round that thought continued. The Fazio project involved eliminating trees, bunkers, and the Japanese two-green system. Fairways were contoured by moving a lot of dirt on nicely rolling terrain. Trees were moved to improve playing strategy. Bunkers were moved and made larger and deeper, and all greens were redesigned and mostly made larger. A new irrigation system was installed and the entire course was regrassed. Back tee yardage was lengthened from 6,979 yards, par 71 to 7,466 yards, par 71.
Every hole is tree-lined with a few tight to fairways. The course has 63 bunkers, many pinching approach shots. Water comes into play on only three holes. Fazio wanted to add water on #5, but the club (fortunately, in my opinion) said no. The greens are large and heavily contoured, but certainly not over-the-top. Nine of them are 40 yards or more in length or width. The longest is #3 at 49 yards.
What I found at KCC this morning was a totally different course from the one I had previously played. KCC East now has much more variety and a lot of gradual movement. The rhythm of the hole flow is excellent. Father and son Fazio have produced one of the very best renovation projects I have seen. It is in the top category with Los Angles Country Club (North) (Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford) and Pinehurst Country Club (#2) (Coore & Crenshaw).