When top-rated US-based resource golf.com recently declared that Japan was one of the world’s most unsung destinations for the Royal and Ancient game it served to confirm what many already knew.
Japan, which is one of the most fertile countries on the planet for the sport, has over 2,200 courses — as many as the UK and Ireland combined. Throw into the mix sophisticated infrastructure, mind-blowing culture and amazing food and you have a recipe for an unforgettable golfing trip.
Even better for first-time visitors is the fact that some of the nation’s most accessible courses are located within easy striking distance of the country’s charismatic capital, Tokyo.
From the city, visitors can head north, south or west to experience everything from layouts that extend along glittering seascapes to picturesque courses winding through woodland valleys.
Such contrasts are inevitable in a city of Tokyo’s sheer size. Although it is hard to believe now, Tokyo, at that point named Edo, was a minor fishing village for much of its early history. It only came to national prominence when Tokugawa Ieyasu made it his base and later his capital when he became shogun in 1603.
By the 19th century it had become one of the biggest cities in the world, and has shown little sign of letting up since. Today the once humble settlement is the most populated metropolitan area in the world with upwards of 37million people.
It is not known exactly how many of these millions are golfers, but what is not in doubt is the wealth of options available for both visiting and resident players around the capital.
Golf has a long and illustrious history in Tokyo, with the Tokyo Golf Club established as far back as 1913. Several other clubs were established over the next 100 years with construction booms in the late 1960s and 1970s and — perhaps most febrile of all — the 1980s, bequeathing Tokyoites with a remarkable array of playing options.
During the height of the golf boom in the 1980s and 1990s, it was very difficult for visiting golfers to play many of the courses near Tokyo as most clubs were private and restricted only to members.
In fact, it is widely believed that the promotion of golf tourism in Japan was neglected due to a feeling among clubs that the domestic market would always guarantee sufficient revenue.
In recent years, though, this attitude has changed significantly as interest in golf fades among the Japanese. Because the course stock is now shrinking, there is an arms race taking place to renovate, compete and survive. Strict golf etiquette is being relaxed and many courses are trying to branch out to attract non-Japanese players — including tourists from other parts of the world.
Private clubs in need of revenue are much more amenable to visitors, opening-up elite tracks near Tokyo such as Abiko, Tokyo GC and Yokohama
to your average punter.
Indeed, golfing manna can now be found all around Tokyo. Just a couple of hours drive from the city, golfers can tee up at outstanding layouts such as the Fuji Course at Kawana, a stunning course with around six holes laid out along the rocky coastline.
In the other direction, stellar options include Daihakone Country Club and the Gotemba course at the Taiheiyo Club, both of which offer stunning golf as well as views of Mount Fuji.
Unsurprisingly, Tokyo’s hefty dimensions have fomented an incredible diversity of attractions in addition to the golf courses that crowd its fringes.
Glitzy Ginza, with its super-deluxe shops and exclusive ryotei (introduction-only restaurants), is a stone’s throw from the commercial centre of Shinbashi where armies of salarymen in identikit suits find post-work respite by downing gallons of sake and participating in raucous karaoke sessions.
Meanwhile, over in Shinjuku, the city’s most lively district for nightlife is offset by the beauty of the verdant Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a mere 15-minute walk away.
In Tokyo, there’s always something going on at street level. However, this city also rewards when viewed from an elevated perspective. At an impressive 2,080ft, the Tokyo Skytree in the Sumida area of the city is the tallest structure in Japan and the views over the metropolis and out towards Mount Fuji are as stupendous as might be expected —it’s well worth a visit to get a new perspective on the area.
Although gloriously random in many ways, one aspect in which the city achieves near perfect consistency is in its dining options. In 2010, Tokyo surpassed Paris as the city with the most Michelin-star-rated venues and upscale dining can encompass everything from lavish kaiseki (multi-course) dinners to simple — but often prohibitively expensive — Japanese favourites such as sashimi and yakitori.
Tokyo’s nightlife scene is just as vibrant. Bars and venues are everywhere and range from casual izakayas (drinking restaurants) and laid-back venues where music-obsessed proprietors take time out from mixing cocktails to select items from vast collections of vinyl to cutting edge design bars and super-clubs.
Obsessive, anarchic and completely one of a kind, Tokyo is a golfing destination that revels in such unlikely juxtapositions.