Where 75 miles south of Tokyo (one hour by bullet train, plus 15-minute minibus).
Why The Kawana’s first course, Oshima, opened in the 1920s. Then followed a visit from revered course architect CH Allison. Staying at the Kawana Hotel, he persuaded Anglophile owner Baron Kishichiro Okura to create the Fuji Course, named for the mountain seen from the 11th fairway. This course, laid out through mature parkland with changes of elevation and deep bunkers, opened in 1936. The opening tee shot is steeply downhill, begging the question, “What comes next?” The answer is a grueling three-hole climb. After the halfway house – a compulsory 15-minute stop – fairways cross a plateau towards the finishing stretch along spectacular cliffs. The 11th is the longest hole, while the 15th, which slopes down towards the shore, is the most dramatic. No carts on Fuji, but Oshima allows them. Some holes have robot carts to carry players up steep inclines, an eerie taste of the automation to come.
Price Fuji: weekdays ¥26,000 ($248), weekends ¥34,000 ($325), play fee includes caddie and range balls. Oshima: weekdays ¥12,300 ($118), includes cars with GPS and range balls; weekends ¥14,300 ($137). Club rental ¥6,480 ($62), Japanese brands.
Hours Fuji: stay-and-play tee times 8-10:30 AM. Oshima: visitors any time from 8 AM until sunset.
Facilities Fuji: 18 holes, 6,701 yards par 72; Oshima, 5,711 yards par 70. No outdoor practice area. Underground electronic driving range. Putting green.
Max handicap 24
Food and leisure The Kawana Hotel, built in the 1920s, has 100 rooms and was stayed in by honeymooners Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. Not all rooms are non-smoking, so reserve ahead. There are two grass tennis courts, swimming pools, and billiard and mahjong rooms. The restaurant serves sashimi and sushi.
Contact 1459 Kawana Ito-shi Shizuoka, 414-0044; tel 81 557 45 1111;
KASUMIGASEKI COUNTRY CLUB (KCC)
Where 25 miles north of Tokyo (35 minutes from Kan-Etsu/Ken-O expressway).
Why The most likely way to get into this private club, which will be the course for the 2020 Olympics when it’s finally held in 2021, is through an invitation from a member. To stage the event, the club was pressured into opening to women members in March 2017. The KCC was established in 1929 with the East Course and redesigned in 1930 by CH Allison. His secret design weapon was a cavernous bunker, represented at the par 3 10th on Kasumigaseki East. He also provided input for the West Course. In that era, courses routinely had twin greens, with different grass for winter and summer – a feature considered outdated now since bent grass can cope with climatic vagaries. Part of the brief for Tom Fazio and son Logan, the US team refashioning the East for the Olympics, is to eliminate the twin-green system. In other respects, they remain true to tradition, lengthening and opening up the fairways and enhancing the bunkers – without adding gimmicky water features to existing lakes and streams.
Price Weekdays ¥27,000 ($258), weekends/holidays ¥31,000 ($296).
hours 7:30 AM to sunset. Closed Monday.
Facilities East Course (Summer Olympics venue) 18 holes, 7,466 yards par 71; West Course 18 holes, 7,117 yards par 73. 250 yard range, five short-game practice greens and putting greens. Five pros offering tuition. Club rental not available.
Max handicap 20 (certificate not requested, but best to take a copy).
Food and leisure Understated luxury marks a low-rise clubhouse in a circle of pines, which serves quality Japanese food and has a bar/terrace where businesspeople can be seen making deals after their rounds.
Contact 3398 Kasahata, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama 350-1175; tel 81 492 31 2181; kasumigasekicc.or.jp
TOKYO GOLF CLUB
Where 20 miles north of Tokyo, 45 minutes from the start of the Kan-Etsu expressway.
Why Inspired by a visit to the US, the first Japanese-designed course was created by golf course architect Mitsuaki Otani, and opened near Tokyo as a six-holer in 1913. This was the start of a tumultuous history, which included three changes of venue and requisition, first by the Imperial Japanese Army and then by the US Army at the end of World War II. The club settled into its current location in 1956 and is now an oasis in a very urban world. As with many Japanese courses, the Allison factor can be clearly seen in the demanding bunkering and approach shots that require guile rather than strength to be successful. Later influences on the design include the UK’s Sunningdale and Wentworth, bringing a touch of Surrey heathland to the Japanese capital. As a prized venue for the Japanese Open, the layout was refurbished in 2010 by Gilbert Hanse, the architect of the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.
Price Weekdays ¥29,000 ($277), weekends ¥33,500 ($320), with a compulsory caddie.
Hours 7:00 AM – 6:30 PM. Closed Monday.
Max handicap 20
Facilities 18-hole course, 6,904 yards par 72, practice area, putting green. Club rental not available.
Food and leisure The club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1963 in style with the addition of an elegant yet rustic clubhouse designed by distinguished architect Anthony Raymond. Set among deciduous trees, it has a long terrace overlooking the course – a relaxing venue for 19th hole analysis.
Contact 1984 Kashiwabara Sayama, Saitama 350-1335; tel 81 4 2953 9111; tokyogolfclub.jp
LAKEWOOD GOLF CLUB
Where 47 miles southwest of Tokyo (72 minutes by train with 15 minutes by bus).
Why Having just celebrated its 50th birthday in 2019, Lakewood is one of the most popular golf day trips from Tokyo. Visitors love the course, the facilities, meals in the clubhouses and the dramatic setting between Mount Fuji and Mount Hakone. In spring on the West Course – the more challenging of the two – the opening tee shot onto a fairway lined with cherry blossoms is nothing short of dazzling. The course rewards intelligence over power, with changes in elevation and abundant water features; the most dramatic is the four-tier waterfall at the signature 4th. The East is marginally more spectacular. The 1st sets the tone with a lake to the left and bunkering on both sides of a relatively generous fairway, followed by a blind dogleg approach shot. The course asks tactical questions as it meanders through the forest, culminating in a nail-biting risk-reward decision over water to a three-tiered green at the par 5 18th.
Price Weekdays ¥25,150 ($240), Saturday ¥40,150 ($384), Sunday/holidays ¥37,150 ($355); green fees include caddie and cart.
Hours 7:00 AM to sunset.
Max handicap 36, certificate not required.
Facilities West Course: 18 holes, 6,554 yards par 72. East Course: 18 holes, 6,524 yards par 72. 19-stall covered driving range (7:00 – 10:45 AM), practice bunker, bent grass putting greens.
Food and leisure The main West clubhouse offers locker rooms, Japanese baths, showers and massage chairs. Breakfast, lunch and an international menu are offered as well at its restaurants. The East clubhouse serves seasonal food.
Contact 169 Kuroiwa, Oiso, Naka, Kanagawa 259-0105, tel 81 4 637 2115, lakewood.co.jp/en/