Japan is a country of surprises, formality, exemplary manners, reliable cars, sumo wrestling and sushi. The Japanese people are also proud of their four seasons, which can be quite extreme in terms of weather conditions. This is why many Japanese courses have dual greens, one for summer and one for winter.
Japan consists of four main islands, Hokkaido in the north, Honshu, the main island, Shikoku and southernmost Kyushu. Additionally, there are many smaller islands, notably Okinawa.
There are more golf courses in Japan than the rest of Asia put together. With nearly 2,500 courses (and many more driving ranges), the Japanese are serious golf lovers and they have built some of the world’s finest courses. The entire tapestry and the full legacy of Japanese golf courses is hard to unravel, but thanks to our contributors from the Land of the Rising Sun, we are able to showcase a selection of the finest courses in the country.
From the book World Atlas of Golf: the greatest courses and how they are played, edited by Mark Rowlinson: “Japan’s love of the game began when the British expatriate Arthur Groom built the Kobe Golf Club in 1903. Set in the cool mountains above Kobe, the course helped create a love affair with the game that few golfing regions can rival. In fact, only the United States boasts more ground for golf than this small island nation. A century later, Japan’s greatest golf courses are not only the best group of courses in Asia but also among the world’s best.
A similar effect to Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s short visit to Australia in 1926 was felt in Japan after British architect Charles Alison arrived in 1930 and went on to have a profound impact on Japanese golf course architecture. His first course – Tokyo GC [NLE] – opened in 1932 and was widely hailed as the country’s first outstanding one. From there, Alison tacked south to the seaside estate of Baron Kishichiro Okura, named Kawana. The rocky coastline perched high above the sea offered Alison one of the most diverse and spectacular sites he was ever offered. Given the lack of natural soil on site, Alison worked hard to route a golf course at Kawana that today features dramatic elevation changes and some truly world-class holes.
Further travels through Japan led Charles Alison to his pièce de résistance – Hirono, outside Kobe. Hirono today has been softened from its rugged beginnings. But it remains without a doubt the best course in Asia and is also Alison’s lasting legacy. Other notable courses, including Kasumigaseki Country Club and Nauro Golf Club, benefited from Alison’s visit. The esteem in which Charles Alison is held in Japan is reflected in the Japanese term for a deep bunker, which is simply an ‘Alison’.”
We updated Japan's rankings in March 2020. Full details are here: Top 80 Golf Courses of Japan 2020