Japan Golf trip
This is a journey through my trip, my experiences and my overwhelming desire to spread the word of golf in Japan. What an amazing place.
The journey starts at Manchester Airport with a flight to Hong Kong. I always travel with the mindset of an excited tourist, (not a golf tour operator), on holiday, looking for a great experience. Travelling with my business head on can sometimes detract from the experience.
Hong Kong, first venture to this area and there was a 9 hour layover, so straight on the airport train in to the centre for a good look around and feel of this bustling metropolis.
What a sprawl, so much packed in to such little space. Where to go, what to do, let’s get on a ferry and go and explore.
After a good walk around in the steamy atmosphere I thought with such little time to see the place there is only one thing to do and that’s to get on the Open Top tourist bus. That was a great idea. All through the different districts, seeing the hustle and bustle of people everywhere keeping the Hong Kong economy buoyant.
It is certainly somewhere I would like to spend more time, to get to feel the place from the ground, an absolutely buzzing place.
So back to the airport for the second leg to Japan, about a 3 hour flight.
Arrived at the Comfort Inn at Nagoya Airport. Had a quick catch up in the bar with the Delegates that were there already along with the IAGTO team of Peter, David and Callum. Made to feel welcome straight away, great start to my time in Japan.
After a great sleep, long haul flights have that effect on me, it was up and off to our first venue. On leaving the hotel I got my first taste of Japan efficiency. Golf bags on one trailer, clothes bags on another. From that moment I never lifted my golf bag again! Everyday it was waiting on a golf buggy, excellent service.
Everyone at Nagashima CC were extremely welcoming and it was a great start to a feel of what golf was like in Japan. The holes we played were very good and would certainly be a course to have on an itinerary in this area of Japan.
Our caddy was extremely helpful and very surprisingly we were encouraged NOT to tip the caddy’s. It is seen as disrespectful. That’s not at every course by the way so it would definitely be worthwhile to ask at each golf club. The caddy’s are called Caddy San, and that seems to be standard at all courses. We see Japan as a country full of technology, there is certainly a lot of it, some in surprising places as you will see later. However the Caddy Sans basic attempts at helping you with golf course management was quite refreshing.
The buggies were brilliant, the Caddy San walked to the side of it, and manoeuvred the buggy via remote control, pretty amazing, all very sedate, all very Japanese.
How you conduct yourself at a Japanese golf club is different to what we are used to. You arrive at the club and check in. You are then presented with a locker key and a number. This number is what you will use for the rest of the day to order food, purchase drinks etc etc, you then settle up as you leave the club.
This great video, produced by Bennett Galloway, shows exactly what to do on entry to the golf club.
After the golf we visited the Nabana no sato flower park. If your in to flowers and Japanese gardens then this will be really up your street. Japan is famous for its blossom trees and it is apparently a sight to behold. I was there at the wrong time of year for that in September. April/May, similar to our blossom is the time to go for the spectacle.
Japan is a great destination for couples, either travelling by themselves or in groups. I would imagine this may well be something, or indeed Japanese Gardens per se, that could be added to an itinerary.
Nagashima Resort was a very nice complex, rooms were spacious, immaculately clean. This a a big resort, it includes Japan’s largest theme park, we didn’t have time to do this but it did look fun!
We were treated to a wonderful function in the evening, it was of the highest quality. The photos don’t really do it justice. It was at this function that it became eminently clear that this was a massive event for the Japanese and and the golf industry in Mie Prefecture.
Sadly we were warned that a lot of rain was forecast for the next day, it turned out to be true unfortunately. Tsu country club, our next visit, in my opinion was a very special place, despite the rain. The hospitality was of the highest order, commendable. The golf course, stunning, the landscaping, the architecture of the course was pretty special (special enough to go out again for the back 9 in pouring rain!!). It had to be done!
Whilst at Tsu Country Club I had the first opportunity to experience the bathing process of the Japanese, an eye opener for sure, but when in Rome! (This is something to get across to all new visitors to Japan, it is so culturally different to the UK, it isn’t going to change its ways for us (and nor should it do), just go and embrace everything, the food, the religion, the hospitality).
Trying not to be too graphic the Onsens, the baths, are pretty much everywhere, the golf courses, the hotels, public places. It’s a way of life in Japan.
So What’s the process?
Well I will explain the process from a golf club perspective.
Firstly golf in the main is played at set times, (though it is changing). So you may have tee times from 07:30-10:30am and that’s it!
You play your front 9 then come in for lunch, and lunch is as big as you want it to be! (There is no circumventing this process, it is how it is done).
Following lunch you go back out for your second 9. You are provided with a time when you go in for lunch and YOU WILL tee off at precisely that time.
On your return to the clubhouse you then go to the bathing area, the Onsen.
There is an area or numerous areas to bathe in what is ‘pure water’ and you mustn’t contaminate it.
Therefore you cleanse yourself first by showering. In a nutshell you sit on a ‘bucket’ fully de-robed, in front of a shower head and different lotions and you have a really good cleanse!
Once completed you can then enter the bathing areas. You take a small towel with you but this towel as stated, must not touch the water, so you sit in the bath with the towel on your head!
Yes a bit strange to begin with though after a week you got pretty used to it and it was always a great way to wind down after a round of golf or if in a hotel after a meal. Great for a golfers back!
In the gents changing area there is everything you need, razors are provided, cleansing lotions, oils, eu de toilet, hairdryers. Everything imaginable to provide you with a great cleansing and grooming experience.
This is all a far cry from how we play golf! We don’t have time to do all this in the UK, we dash to the golf club, straight to the first tee, hope we have a swing, play 18 holes, quick bite to eat and a drink and home! Completely different. Not saying one is right or wrong, but there is certainly a different emphasis on time and enjoyment in Japan.
As you can imagine there are no photos of the Onsens!!
Again the function provided at Tsu Country Club was outstanding. An amazing array of fish and the exquisite Kobe beef.
And I was lucky enough to win that day, it’s always a good course when you play well.
From Tsu Country Club we moved to Tsu City for the evening.
The ‘business’ hotel that evening was adequate, as part of my trip we were exposed to different levels of hotels. I needed to see and experience these hotels as they may need to be used to fit in to a budget. Nothing wrong with them, just ‘different’. The rooms are small, to swing the proverbial cat would certainly be difficult.
Well the heavy rain that was forecast was a precurser to a typhoon hitting the area, well we are in Japan after all!. Was it scary, no not at all. The hotel we were in was the Typhoon evacuation centre for the area. All nice and safe.
Due to having to get to the safety of the hotel earlier than planned I wasn’t able to play 9 holes at OGM Ise Otori, it did look quite impressive I have to say.
Instead our journey to The Ama Hut started early due to the typhoon. This is an experience that should be included in any itinerary, something completely different, something very unique that quite possibly you will not see anywhere else in the world. (Maybe less sea snails next time!!!)
The experiences keep arriving, Japan has so much to give. The next stop was the Mikimoto Pearl Island. Quite an amazing journey through the cultivated Pearl industry. Have a read about it here http://www.mikimoto-pearl-museum.co.jp/eng//
Toba Seaside Hotel was a real taste of Japan, an ideal choice for a stay. You really do feel like you are having a Japanese experience, despite the typhoon that was heading it’s way towards us. It was my first experience of sleeping on a futon, extremely comfy.
After a typhoon I didn’t expect to be playing golf the next day, the course was in incredible condition despite all the rain. The golf tournament format the next day was perfect, Texas scramble, everyone together and if not in full communication at least conversing in some shape or form. Really enjoyable.
The next hotel on the journey that we stayed in was the Shima Kanko hotel, just very nice indeed, everything about it oozed class. The greeting from the team, the organisation of the events, a quality establishment.https://www.miyakohotels.ne.jp/shima/english/index.html/
It’s not all sight seeing and golf on these trips, the most important bit is meeting the suppliers, 29 meetings with Japanese suppliers with potentially limited English and definitely no reciprocal Japanese was a tad daunting.
Everything turned out very well, so much information (reason I was there!) and came away with a lot more knowledge about the options and opportunities.
The evening reception. Firstly, privileged to have the meal cooked by the chef who cooked the G7 Summit meal. This was haute cuisine, this was Michelin 2+ star minimum food. This was an understanding of Japanese food at the highest end.
Secondly, privileged to be on the winner’s podium and to be presented with such a wonderful gift. A Mikimoto piece of jewellery in the shape of a golf bag.
Wednesday 3rd October 2018
Transition day with some sightseeing thrown in.
The Shrine, Ise Grand Shrine, a must do. Going to Japan just to play golf from the UK is not going to happen. Going there to have a life experience is. You cannot get away from the feeling that this is such a special place for the Japanese, inspiring.
The bullet, another must do, an experience, it’s a train!!! But a pretty special one. I would certainly include bullet trains in any itinerary.
Thursday 4th October 2018
The 9 holes in the afternoon at Susono was thoroughly enjoyable, enjoyed the course, no reason not to have it included for a trip.
The next stop though was Kawana hotel. I can only describe as Old Japan, it had a feel of being regal, full of history.
As ever the reception was very good and the ability to mingle and meet different people was excellent.
Friday 5th october 2018
From a pure golfing perspective this was the day a lot of people were looking forward to, a special course with lots of history. It did not disappoint, some of the holes on the front 9 are absolutely stunning. The damp and dank weather didn’t help to show off the course, but you knew you were playing on something very special.
Moving on from Kawana the group split in to different areas for the Post Fam trip.
The New Akao hotel on the evening again was a nice hotel which would easily be incorporated into an itinerary.
Saturday October 6th
The optional excursion day.
By the end of Friday I was thinking it may have been good to be going home now. I am so pleased I chose to stay for the additional day.
The sightseeing was great, really felt with the drive you were in the heart of Japan. The winery was an excellent excursion.
The lunch was very good in Shuzenji Onsen. Shuzenji Onsen was a very good Japanese experience, two shrines, lots of hot springs and walks. Again you felt you were in the heart of Japan. The area is renowned for the quality of it’s wasabi, to the point we had it in everything….. wasabi ice cream any one?
The hotel was very good, matched and bettered most we had stayed in and we had stayed in some very nice ones.
The meal on the evening was the best all trip, you will understand for me to say that it must have been very special, it was. The usual fair but the love and care taken in its presentation was breathtaking.
Sunday October 7th 2018
Final day, trip back to Nagoya Airport on the bullet.
One final memory to grab. Mount Fuji had kept itself scarce since Wednesday, hidden by clouds. It gave us a quick glimpse on the way to the train station but was quickly devoured by the clouds again.
I was fortunate to have a full view from the bullet train, fantastic, topped a wonderful educational visit.
The Japanese Golf Market is ripe for exploration. Is it perfect for visit from Western areas, no, but for me that is part of the attraction and something to pre empt visitors re their expectations.
Golf wise I have no issues, golf courses of a high standard it would seem are plentiful. For me it is getting the rest of it right, the excursions, the sights. This is key for me as I want people coming away from Japan saying wow that blew my mind, I wasn’t totally ready for that. I wasn’t, I do my research beforehand and try to gain the information required. Nothing I don’t think can prepare you for the total difference in culture.
The hard work starts now, sifting through the contacts, building relationships putting itineraries together.
I could not achieve this without the opportunity provided by IAGTO.
Yours in golf.