Yokohama Country Club was founded in 1960 and over the following six years architect Takeo Aiyama designed and built both the East and West 18-hole layouts. The West course hosted the 1978 Japan Open, which was one of the first professional events won by Seve Ballesteros, and the 2018 edition of the same event is due to be held on a composite course at the club.
The West underwent a major renovation in 2014/15 by Coore & Crenshaw, with design associate Toby Cobb acting as construction manager on the project. The upgrade involved reconstructing and raising the height of every tee and fairway, with additional spoil brought in by civil contractors from other construction projects in the local area. The old double greens on every hole were also replaced with single greens and sub air systems were installed to cool the bent grass putting surfaces during the summer.
Furthermore, the old par five 18th was converted into a new par four 8th and par three 9th and the former 13th and 14th were combined to form a new 4th hole. Holes 17 and 18 on the East were also renovated because they will be used as the 1st and 2nd holes during the Japan Open, avoiding potential problems caused by spectators using a tunnel to access holes 2 and 3 on the West when the tournament is on.An interesting little par three 19th was also built on the West during the renovation to allow players to settle bets when matches are still tied after a regulation round over the 18-hole layout. Of course, for those golfers who just want to get back to the clubhouse after finishing their game, it makes the walk back a little more fun if they choose to play this short hole on their way to the locker room.
When Yokohama Country Club decided it was time to renovate, possibly the single best choice they could have made was to look towards the dynamic duo of Coore & Crenshaw. When you walk down the first hole it doesn’t take long to realize just how good this decision was.
Yokohama starts with a fairly stern handshake with a medium length par 4 of 414 yards that plays out to a fairway with plenty of width but the approach will have to be played significantly uphill into a highly undulated green. Care needs to be taken not to miss left, which will lead to serious trouble. After a solid drive I found myself approaching with a hybrid which proved a daunting task. It’s an excellent start.
The 2nd and 3rd holes take us to an adjacent and separate parcel of ground. The 2nd being a medium length par 3 of 156 yards with a green sloping severely left to right. Bunkers surround the green on nearly all sides as might be expected on a solid par 3 of this length.
The 3rd hole welcomes the first short par 4 and a driveable one at that. It’s playing slightly uphill at 294 yards. Visually to me this hole doesn’t at first glance welcome going for it, but once you reach the green there is an adequate bail out area on the right side so it might not be the worst choice. However, everything from 5 iron up to driver is a good play. The best part is that it makes you think about how to play it. Coore & Crenshaw are masters of this.
The 4th hole is a very long (464 yards) and tricky par 4 that rewards a fade off the tee with a steep slope that brings the green into play with a short iron. In order to reap this benefit the player needs to take on the OB on the right. The approach is from a downhill lie and needs to carry a small pond which is a bit of a knee knocker. The green is fairly large at 40 meters deep and about 20 meters across at the widest point.
The 506-yard 5th hole is the first par 5 and again sets up perfectly for a fader of the ball willing to take on the OB on the right side. The reward is a nice speed slot and when played just right will leave about 240 yards uphill to reach the green. With a good drive here the player has the first realistic scoring opportunity.
The 6th hole is another short par 4 at 337 yards. This tee shot is all about positioning as the green has crazy undulations and run offs. The approach will play fairly steeply uphill as well making club choice tricky. This was my favorite green on the front 9. No matter where the pin position is on this hole or how strong your tee shot is this approach is exacting. It’s a great hole.
Talk about contrasts; walk off the short 6th and step onto the 473 yard par 4 7th. The tee shot plays lightly downhill, but in order to have a go at this green in two you need to take on the bunkering on the inside of the dogleg right. Longer hitters will need to play a fade here to set themselves up for the approach. A smashed drive will leave a long iron or fairway wood into this green. On top of the length of the hole, the green is also tricky with a ridge running through the right center and guarded with bunkers on the left side and in the back. I like the fact that the front is open and welcomes a low runner, within reason, even with the warm weather grasses. Visually the centerline bunker plays havoc with your mind even though it’s a good 50 yards short of the green.
The par 4, 8th hole plays to 387 yards, straight into the wind on our day. The right side bunker make the player think in diagonal lines off the tee while the ideal tee shot on our day aimed straight at the left side bunker about 250 yards out. Interesting is that the best angle of approach comes from as close to the left side of the fairway as possible without hitting into the bunker.
The green sits diagonally from left to right running away from the player and is guarded by two bunkers in front and right and one behind. An approach from the left side allows the player to use the longest portion of the green affording the highest percentage chance of holding when it lands.
Interestingly enough the front 9 culminates with a 221 yard par 3. A centerline bunker sits well short of the green which has almost a meter height differential from the front to the raised back. It’s also a notably long green guarded front right and along the left side with bunkers. It’s a seriously tough shot.
The back 9 wastes no time in challenging the player with a serious hole. If you somehow started to fall asleep after the customary lunch following the front 9, the 10th hole, a par 4 at 478 yards will definitely wake you up. A tee shot down the left side can catch the kick plate and leave a long iron to fairway wood into this one for us mere mortals. If that wasn’t enough the bunkering front left and right side suits a long draw approach. Good luck with that. It’s an excellent par 4.5.
The 11th hole brings some relief at 418 yards. A solid drive over the right centerline bunkers affords the best angle of approach. Visually it plays tricks with you as the natural line feels like it’s left of this bunker. However that angle will make for a tricky approach, especially for the left hand side pin locations. The green slopes severely from back to front left to right.
The 12th hole is the first par 3 on the back 9. It’s a lovely hole played over water from 185 yards on our day. This green also slopes severely from back to front and is well protected with deep bunkers front and back right and on the left hand side. It has a sort of kidney bean shape to it with a sort of dogleg left in the middle of the bean. This shot looks straightforward but seems to get tougher as you wait your turn.
The 13th hole is a solid par 5 of 536 yards that has a slight double dogleg to the left. The first part occurring around the 250-yard mark and if you want a chance to reach in two you will have to be fairly long and ideally hit a draw off the tee. To do so you need to take on the left hand side bunkers. Once successful your approach will in most cases also need to be a draw into this green up the hill. While most will play this in three shots and let the doglegs dictate your safest play – given the uphill approach there is ample challenge even with a short iron.
The 14th is a very narrow medium length par 4 which played at 385 yards on the day. This hole plays downhill up to about 80 yards in, then rises significantly uphill to the green – so a long drive leaves a very tricky approach with a half wedge. Ideally you would try to play to a distance to allow for a full shot in, however this is much trickier than you expect given the downhill nature of this hole. The green also has a huge bunker protecting the front side of it. Which means if the approach is played too close it’s semi-blind.
Hole 15 is a reachable par 5 playing 511 yards, however, to do this you need to either hit another draw to the left center of the fairway or take on the trees on the left side with a fade. The tee is raised highly on the side of a hill and though the entire hole plays uphill once you hit the ground the tee gives it a high-low-high playing shape. Given the uphill nature of the hole after the drive, even an excellent drive leaves a very tricky and exacting approach into a great green that has some crazy undulations. It’s really a perfect green for a short par 5 bringing several risk reward elements, off the tee and with the approach. I was forced to play this as a 3 shotter and fared better than my playing companion who went for it in two and slightly missed on the left side. The green is protected by four bunkers, one well short of the green at 50 yards out, one tough one right front, another tricky one back left and one scorecard wrecker behind.
The 16th hole is our last one shotter playing 169 yards. Visually this hole is very deceptive, as the undulation in the fairway makes you feel like it plays uphill, however, the tee box is actually higher than the green. The green is very heavily sloped back to front and full of undulations and a false front. There is a huge bunker in front of the green, another on the right side and one back right. The left side falls off. It’s a very tricky green to putt on and fairly crowned as well. This makes recovery shots from the bunkers or around the green very challenging.
The 17th hole is a short 4 at 317 yards. There may be a temptation for longer players to go for this one, however the green is raised on a hill. The best play may well be an iron down the right hand side which leaves a tricky uphill approach. The one caveat is that left center of the fairway has a tree about 70 yards from the green. This may be a controversial place for this tree but it really defines the strategy of this short hole. Hitting an iron off the tee, for example, that ends up anywhere on the left side of the fairway will leave a near impossible approach that will need to contend with this tree. Off the tee it blocks the view of the left hand side of the green. The green itself is also highly raised, undulated and falls off front, back and left side. There are also 3 large and deep bunkers guarding the approach.
Finally, the 18th hole is a 395-yard par 4 with a strong dogleg right about 250 yards out. A solid drive taking on the left hand side bunkers will leave a downhill approach into this very wide green with a significant ridge running in the direction of the line of play right down the middle. The green is heavily guarded with bunkers and undulations and an appropriate closing hole to an excellent and varied course.
As previously mentioned, in every way this bold move to bring Coore & Crenshaw over to Japan was a huge success. Not only because it transformed Yokohama CC completely into a course very much a World Top 100 contender, but also because of the significant future impact this move will have on the Japanese golf world. It serves as a near perfect example of what’s great about current golf course architecture trends. Ample width off the tee, thoughtful and natural shaping that ties into the surroundings and terrain, a wide mix of variation in short and long holes, wonderful bunkering that is not overdone and finally absolutely fantastic greens with excellent shaping!
If you ever get an opportunity to travel to Japan for golf and you are lucky enough to have a chance to play this great course, I’d say it’s a must and an unforgettable experience.
Coore and Crenshaw have reached the shores of Japan. The club owner made many trips to the US to research the architect he wished to lure to Japan to renovate the West course. After seeing the likes of Sand Hills, Old Sandwich and Friar’s Head, his mind was made up. He convinced Coore and Crenshaw to engage and the contract was signed two years ago. The results are simply world class. Only Hirono and Kawana (Fuji) might be ranked ahead of it in Japan. It’s the Asian version of Old Town Club, and it absolutely knocked the socks off me.
The greens are truly remarkable with Coore personally crafting the contours, the bunkering is arguably their best ever, and the undulating land is perfectly suited for a dramatic C/C golf course with swooping wide fairways and large aprons surrounding the greens. Coore/Crenshaw maintained many of the traditional Japanese golf course features – for example, a single lone tree standing in a fairway and large bunkers in front of greens. The routing was mostly untouched, but on a few occasions C/C took the opportunity to change the configuration on a number of holes to introduce more strategic shorter holes and take advantage of the fabulous land. It is a seriously impressive and thrilling golf course worthy of global acclaim. When can I go back already?!
The course is selected for the 2018 Japan Open, however the superb East course 17th and 18th holes will be used for the tournament replacing the isolated shorter 2nd and 3rd holes on the West course which are not on the main paddock and not conducive to large crowds. I had the immense fortune of meeting the head of construction who outlined for me the passion that Coore and Crenshaw have brought to this darling project and sensational golf course.