The Japanese Society of Golf Course Architects has concluded its 20th anniversary celebrations. And amid the festivities, members noted that Japan’s long-dormant golf industry is showing signs of growth.
The success of Tokyo's Olympic bid is already having a positive impact. Japan wants medal winners in 2020 and activities to nurture young golfers are visible at clubs across the country. Host club Kasumigaseki has yet to plan any tournament upgrades, but speculation that its historic East Course could be renovated is invigorating architectural debate among the golf media, JSGCA members, and elite clubs.
In the society’s twenty year history 400 new golf courses opened in Japan, but many of these were commissioned during the economic bubble. In the last ten years course closures outnumbered openings by fifteen to one. Today 2,350 courses serve nine million Japanese golfers.
“As Europe and America have recently experienced, golf’s popularity is intertwined with the health of national and regional economies,” said JSGCA chairman Taizo Kawata. “After a slow decline participation is again growing in Japan. Tokyo 2020 has focused our industry on nurturing a generation that will benefit from the halo effect of the Games.
“For now JSGCA members are working to improve Japan’s existing golf product. Often this means helping clubs move beyond two-green architecture. Hundreds of courses retain this system, but few have architectural value.
“It’s natural that club members grow attached to their course, but as architects we must help them take a long-term view. In most cases single greens provide a better golfing experience.”
Japan’s economic outlook has improved, but sources in the country say it remains too early to tell if and when this will translate into new golf courses. Gently undulating golf terrain is hard to find in a country where urbanised environment meets abruptly with rugged mountains.
But JSGCA members say they have good reason for optimism. High profile renovations and restorations are inevitable, and remote corners of the country could yet host world class golf. The next twenty years will not yield 400 new courses, but Japanese golf has an exciting road ahead.