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Top 30 Golf Courses of Japan 2017

24 September, 2016

Top 30 Golf Courses of Japan 2017

We update our rankings for the Land of the Rising Sun

Top 100 Golf Courses first published rankings for Japanese courses in 2009 so this is the fourth biennial update of that chart. Having started out eight years ago in a very modest fashion with a Top 10, we’ve gradually increased our coverage of golf courses in that particular nation to produce a Top 30 and we now present the latest edition of those listings.

We’re indebted to Masa Nishijima, our International Consultant, who’s been advising us for the best part of a decade now on courses both worldwide and within Japan. He operates a Golf Course Academy website with a large number of contributors who assist him in updating his own national Top 50. It's impossible to argue with (or improve upon) such a thorough, local evaluation process, so we intend to showcase Masa's rankings both now and in the future.

Another member of the Top 100 Team, David Davis, is more than three quarters of the way to completing his personal quest of playing every course in the World Top 100 and he was in Japan earlier this year as part of an Asian Tour where he visited a number of world ranked tracks. David’s hosts arranged access for him to play each of the top four tracks in our new Japanese chart and if you’d like to find out what he thought about them then click this link.

Japanese golf has come a long way since the game was first introduced to the country at the start of the twentieth century by English merchant Arthur Groom and a few of his friends who built the first 9-hole layout at Kobe in 1903. There’s no doubt the arrival of Harry Colt’s design partner, C. H. Alison, in 1930 changed things for ever.

He was only in Japan for a matter of three months, designing several courses and making substantial alterations to a few others, but his design techniques – especially with regard to his bunkering – made such a lasting impression on local architects such as Kinya Fujita and his assistant Seiichi Inoue, they carried on with his work long after he set sail for home.

In the modern era, non-indigenous designers have been called in to renovate old layouts so the likes of Gil Hanse upgraded the course at Tokyo Golf Club in 2010 and Rees Jones reworked the West course at Ibaraki Country Club a year later. More recently, the West course at Yokohama underwent a major renovation by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw and there’s more to be said about that project later.

Other American architects who have completed new build projects include Robert Trent Jones Jnr (Pine Lake in 1984 and Golden Valley in 1987), Robert von Hagge (Horai Country Club in 1990) and Pete Dye (Maple Point in 1994). Jack Nicklaus has also designed more than twenty Japanese courses down the years and his latest commission close to the capital city is one of our highest new chart entries.

Taking a closer look then at our new Top 30, there’s no change at the very top.

Courses at number 1 to 4 remain in exactly the same position as they were when we first established the rankings eight years ago. Quite frankly, it’s going to take something out of the ordinary to shift any of this quartet of timeless Golden Age classics – headed by Hugh Alison’s “best gift to the golfing world” at Hirono – from their current location at the summit of the table.

Two courses make impressive upwards moves and they’re both designed by Osamu Uedu.

The first one climbs five spots to number 5 and it’s the 18-hole layout at Ono, which lies 17 kilometres to the northwest of Hirono. Its fairways are laid out within a wooded, hilly landscape with water coming into play at several holes.

The other course on a fast track up the standings, rising eight places to number 8, is Osaka. Built in 1938, this charming old layout is set along the cliff tops overlooking Osaka Bay where the lie of the land forced the architect to set out a rather peculiar closing five-hole configuration, attracting par values of 3-5-3-5-3!

There are four newcomers in our updated chart, two of which enter in lofty positions.

The West course at Yokohama Country Club leaps in at number 6 and this spectacular new entry is due to a big budget two-year renovation carried out by the Coore & Crenshaw design partnership. The course was, in effect, totally rebuilt and the old system of having two greens on every hole was superceded by installing single greens with sub-air cooling. It’s now due to host the Japan Open in 2018.

At number 12, the Tokyo Classic course from Nicklaus Design is a layout that took more than ten years to reach completion. Originally called “Chiba National” when work first began in 2006, the project faltered due to financial difficulties soon after it got underway and things only got going again under new ownership in 2014. Set within a former cedar tree farm, the fairways are routed around a gently rolling landscape, with two ponds incorporated into the design..


To view further details of the Top 30 for Japan click the link.

We’re always keen to find out what you think when we update our national rankings so let us know your opinion of our new chart for this Asian country. Is there a course that we’ve missed or do we include one that really shouldn’t be there? Whatever you think, please click the “Respond to this article” link at the top or at the bottom of this page if you’d like to give us your thoughts.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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