There are two courses on the Izu Peninsula at the Kawana Resort and the Fuji course is universally considered to be the best. “This paradise is at least two hours from Yokohama,” wrote Charles H. Alison, “and much of the journey is along a narrow and earth quaked road, cut in the rocky coast. It lies among the hills beyond the hot springs of Ito on a pine-covered plateau bordered by red cliffs which descend down to the blue sea. From a wooded bay, a mile distant, a fishing village sends out boats with brown sails to complete the last detail of a perfect scene.”
The Fuji course is the younger of the two courses at Kawana and it was designed by Charles Alison, opening for play in 1936. It’s laid out on a ripped elevated promontory and it’s the favourite course of many Japanese golfers. With breathtaking Pacific Ocean views from the cliff tops, sunken folded fairways and plateaux greens surrounded by mature woodland and Mount Fuji as the backcloth, it’s easy to see why this course is so popular. At approximately $300 per round, the Fuji is the most expensive green fee in Japan, it needs to be something special. With a back nine containing some of the best and most scenic holes in Japanese golf, we think that the Fuji course is worth every single yen.
Masa Nishijima wrote the Kawana Fuji course description that follows:
Many golf tournaments have been held on the Fuji course and the most memorable one would be the World Amateur Golf Team Championship for the Eisenhower Trophy held in 1962. And recently, it has been the site of the well-known Fuji Sankei Classic.
The 11th hole is a 568-yard par five – the longest hole on the Fuji Course – and Mt Fuji can be seen to the left. An interesting feature of this hole is that the green is at the foot of the lighthouse. If you glance at the lighthouse, you will immediately notice that it’s shaped like a tee peg. This and a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean is a feature of this course.
The 15th is a 415-yard downhill par five with beautiful scenery that is very reminiscent of Pebble Beach in California. The unsuspecting golfer will soon discover the undulating fairway as it extends along the sea and this hole is often singled out as one of the most difficult and challenging.
The par three 16th measures 172 yards but although short in length, it is perhaps the hardest hole on the course because the green is on the top of the small hill. Owing to its shape, we call it “Battery Green”. The 17th is a 388-yard par four and a real feature of this hole are some very deep and extremely challenging bunkers known as “Alison Bunkers” – named after the architect.
We use the caddy system and play Kawana on foot.
This was my second visit to the Kawana Hotel over the past 7 years. The resort itself is world class, and a very old traditional hotel with incredible elevated views over the ocean. There are 200+ refurbished bedrooms which are very pleasant. In the past 3 years, the hotel has added in a Hot Springs spa facility. For men, there is an indoor and outdoor hot springs infinity steam bath which fits perfectly with the traditions of many other Japanese golf clubs of having a hot bath after golf. Some would argue that this is the best thing about golf in Japan! I assume similar high-end facilities exist for ladies. As always, the food, hospitality and the ability to speak English was highly commendable. The Japanese culture is very welcoming and they really go out of their way to make you feel at home.
Regarding golf, there are two courses at the hotel, namely the Fuji course and the Oshima course. In order to play the Fuji course, visitors are required to stay at the hotel. It goes without saying, the crown jewel at the Kawana Hotel resort is the Fuji golf course created by the hand of Charles Alison in 1935/1936. From the elevated first tee, you can behold breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the dramatic fall down to the first fairway. I emphasize the course was built “by hand” as Alison used manual methods to lay out the course without significant machinery. Unlike his other designs, Alison dedicated so much of his life to the Kawana area and words hardly do justice to the results of his labour.
This course boasts every classic architectural feature imaginable – sunken fairways, hogback fairways, plateau greens, Colt/Alison bunkering, glorious changes in elevation and direction, template holes from the Golden Age (e.g. Alps). In recent years, there has been wonderful tree clearance making the layout look really healthy, and there is a current project underway to install irrigation and sprinkler systems for the first time.
The poster-child hole is the par 5 15th which runs along the ocean edge and is one of the most photographed holes in the world. But don’t be led astray, there are 18 fabulous holes here. In summary, my greatest compliment to the Fuji course is that regardless of the ocean views, the course by itself is among the top 50 in the world. Many people get hung up with coastal scenery and cliff-edge excitement which distracts them (e.g. Kauri Cliffs, Old Head) resulting in overrating. Kawana (Fuji) is the real deal worthy of global celebration and this hotel is on the short-list for the #1 resort in all of Asia.
Late November 2016 was a brief holiday in Japan which included checking out four golf courses within a few hours of Tokyo.
All were beautifully presented and considering it was well into autumn were in excellent condition.
Without doubt the standout course was the Kawana Hotel - Fuji Course, generally regarded as the No.2 course in Japanese rankings.
The Kawana Hotel, several hours south of Tokyo, is a lovely journey to the past with its art deco feel and superb out door facilities by way of two large swimming pools and two magnificent grass tennis courts all with stunning views toward the ocean.
The hotel was built in 1929 and the two golf courses followed around 6 years later.
You must be a guest at the hotel in order to play the Fuji Course designed by Charles Alison.
The opening par 4 plays from an elevated tee to a fairway below which bends right with the ocean as the background.
Much of the front 9 is tree lined with conifers and driving to position is essential in order to avoid many well placed fairway bunkers.
The course is quite hilly so club selection can be tricky.
Every hole is quite different and there are some quaint touches such as the bonsai pine in the middle of the 9th fairway.
Some courses in Japan require you to have a sit down meal after 9 holes.
At the Fuji Course you stop for a snack at the hut beside the 10th tee and allow the caddy a 5-10 minute break.
The female caddies are excellent. Just one handles all 4 sets of clubs in a motorised cart they walk behind.
From the 11th there are several rather different looking holes with wider fairways and palms almost giving you the feeling you are in California. There are great views of the snow capped Mt Fuji in the distance.
The par 5, 11th winds down to the lighthouse at the far end of the course and then several holes play uphill along the clifftop before you reach the superb par 5, 15th.
The tee is elevated with the heavily treed cliff edge immediately all along the left hand side all the way to the green. The hole is initially down hill and then curves left and up a steep hill. If you take on too much of the corner then you are looking at lost ball down the cliff or in the heavy vegetation.
The final par 3, the 16th , is a cracker and its elevated green ensures that it plays considerably longer than the 172 yards from the ‘regular’ tees. The round concludes with two tricky uphill par 4’s that are well bunkered.
You would be hard pressed not to enjoy this beautiful golf course.
Kawana is a beautiful C.H. Alison course with brilliant use of terrain, a lot of shot variety, beautiful bunkering and memorable par threes. The start at Kawana is one of the best in the world. You tee off from a high, elevated tee down into a narrow fairway with a view of the water in the distance, reminiscent of the first tee shot at Spyglass. The drop off the elevated tee is quite dramatic, about 100 feet. The course sweeps beautifully over the hilly coastline and each hole has a unique character. Standout among them is the 15th, clearly one of the world's greatest golf holes. It is a par five that plays next to the Pacific Ocean on a high cliff with dramatic views. You hit over a deep ravine to a fairway below you and to the right. The remainder of the hole plays uphill to a creative green. This part of the golf course feels a lot like Pebble Beach. Planet Golf compares the terrain at Kawana to Turnberry, Mid Ocean and Pebble Beach. I've been lucky enough to play all three and agree that Kawana belongs in this small group of the world's most scenic courses. The difference at Kawana is that there is thick foliage between the edge of the cliffs and the course, but you can see the water from virtually the entire course. Golf if Japan is under-rated relative to the rest of the world because not many people get to visit and play its courses, Kawana is one of the game’s gems and a stunning place to enjoy the game and Japanese culture.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Kawana’s Fuji course was the 3rd stop on my recent Japanese golf tour. Naturally another brilliant Allison design routed along the very dynamic coastline which very much made me think of the French Riviera.
Alison confronts you with dramatics right out of the starting gate where you tee off a good 80-100 ft above the first fairway which runs straight out to the sea and doglegs slightly right to a raised green. Not quite the usual gentle handshake he learned from his partnership with Colt. In the case of the Fuji course this is his way of saying “wake up” as you are in for a wild ride. He does a spectacular job of working back and forth off the significant coastal ridge throwing one surprising hole after another at the golfer. There are many highlights on this course and the architecture is really fitting of one of the world’s best courses. One such fantastic hole is the short par 4 7th with running downhill towards the bluff over the sea. This short hole has a hogback fairway which is challenging to hit but playable from pretty much anywhere perhaps even drivable but not without huge challenge as the tiny almost skyline green is a huge challenge to hit even with a gap wedge in your hand, distance control and direction must be perfect or the result will be a very tricky chip. A realistic 3 (in fact, my playing partner and I halved with 3) BUT miss the green and your easily looking at a probable 6.
It’s always pretty amazing to play a course that leaves you thinking wow, almost stunned and able to remember the entire routing on top of that. I’d say the Fuji course is a great fun match play course for decent players. However, be advised it’s a tough course by all means, Allison’s dramatic greens require exacting approaches and exacting short games. The greens have some severe slopes and tilts and make use of this special to Japan grass called (Kyoka) which I struggled to get the hang of and read in terms of grain and speed. That would take some getting use to.
The great thing about the Fuji course is that unlike most of the other great courses in Japan this one is open to the public as long as you are staying in the hotel which is quite a nice place to stay.
As a side note, the natural hot spring for the traditional post round baths are absolutely wonderful and quite famous for this area.