Tokyo Golf Club was founded in 1913 but the club moved site twice before settling on its present location, close to the former castle town of Kawagoe or “Little Edo” as it is known locally (Edo is Tokyo’s former name).
“Golf has been played continuously here since 1953 and four post-war Japan Opens have been staged,” writes James Spence in his book The Finest Golf Courses of Asia & Australasia, “the first in 1954 and the most recent in 2001 where the winning score was 277, a mere 7 under the tournament par of 71. Even though Tokyo Golf Club is not a long course by modern standards, it protects its par well. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to play here, it will serve you well to remember this.”
Komyo Ohtani who studied in England laid out the course in 1940. Ohtani was an admirer London’s brilliant sand belt courses and he brought a sprinkling of Surrey to Tokyo Golf Club. Two sets of greens for each hole is common at Japanese golf clubs, one is generally in play during the summer and the other is generally a winter green, seeded with a more hardy strain of grass. Tokyo Golf Club employs this dual green system. “This permits variation in length and difficulty of the holes with some cost to the visual impact of the holes at the margin.” Writes James Spence, but he goes on to say that Tokyo “is a delight to play but the back nine has a little more feature and more pronounced bunkering than the front.”
You’ll need an invite to play here at Tokyo Golf Club but if you are lucky enough to receive one, take it immediately. This is a world-class golf course that is mature way beyond its years.
In October 2009, Gil Hanse was commissioned by Tokyo Golf Club to create a master plan for the restoration of the classic Ohtani-designed Tokyo course and the work was completed in 2010. Click here to read an interview with Gil Hanse by Tokyo Golf Club committee member, Mr Ito.
Tokyo Golf Club is built on relatively flat land. It is characterized by its elevated greens, fairways that get progressively narrow as you get near the green, and extremely difficult rough. Because it gets so hot and humid in the summer Tokyo was designed with two sets of greens with different types of grass: one strain that is better in cooler weather and one set is better in warm weather.
The course has a lackluster front nine but a much better back nine, particularly holes ten through fourteen. The 10th hole is a good example of how the fairway narrows and snakes its way toward the green. The narrowness of the layout puts a premium on a player’s ability to hit fairways and greens. I liked the 11th hole quite a bit. It is a short par four with a highly elevated green and beautiful "Alison" bunkering. The 17th green at Tokyo Golf Club is again a good example of the elevation found around the putting surfaces. This beautiful downhill par three places a premium on hitting the green.
Tokyo Golf Club at times reminded me of the George Thomas designed Los Angeles Country Club North Course in both style and feel. The dual greens are an interesting twist and the club itself has a very exclusive and upper crust feel to it.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
The last of my visits on what turned out to be an amazing visit to Japan was the very traditional and highly esteemed Tokyo Golf Club. This is yet another experience not all too different from Hirono and Naruo in terms of old school, traditional and understated beautiful courses. Alison again had a hand in the original design and while it was altered during the war much of his original design has been brought back to life afterwards by Komyo Ohtani. For me one very interesting aspect of Tokyo Golf Club was the fact that they had two completely different green sites for every single hole. This is something you can hear about in advance but still it seems tough to really visualize it until you see it the first time.
In the old days there was a summer and winter green to split up the usage. Imagine the extra costs involved in terms of maintenance! Surely this must be one of the most unpractical set ups possible. On the positive side the greens were terrific and this could be largely due to the fact they get enough time to recover.
The layout of the course is excellent. We played in a rather high wind which made it really tough for me given many of the holes require shaped tee shots that I struggled to pull off on the day. Might not of helped that it was my 20th round of my trip in 15 days but then again I was fit enough to walk out onto the course. Just caved in by the time we reached the front 9 (after lunch). We had started on the back 9. The course seems to have a nice flow to it that allows it to be played either way and still makes sense whether starting at 1 or 10.
My two favorite holes were 1 and 2, or 10 and 11 as it was on my day there.
It’s certainly another course full of strategy off the tee where pin positions play an essential role in the optimal angle of approach. There are also many diagonal angles brought into play off the tee like at the par 4 2nd hole forcing the player to pick a line off the tee to clear the diagonal bunkers running left to right.
Tokyo Golf Club has the feel of a very old and traditional club and they treat the game with the utmost of respect.
If ever you have an invite to play this great course you most certainly must jump on the chance.