The exclusive Hirono club, near Kobe in southern Japan, long regarded as the country’s greatest course and one of the worldʼs best, has hired British architect Martin Ebert to restore the golf course to the original design of Hugh Alison. Alison originally created Hirono during his famous three month visit to Japan in 1930, during which he was responsible for a string of golf courses that remain the countryʼs elite.
“I was introduced to the club through a couple of Japanese guys who referee each year at the Open,” Ebert told GCA. “Later, I went over to Japan to do a Rules seminar for the JGA, and met up with some people from the club, who were aware of the work we had done at Portrush, Turnberry and so on. They had set up a restoration committee and were very keen to restore the course to something closer to Alisonʼs original design. Since then we have been back to Japan three times, culminating in a visit a few weeks ago during which we signed a contract for the project.”
Hirono has gone through a number of changes since 1930. The course was lost during World War Two and restored afterwards, and the greens, originally seeded to bentgrass, were converted to native korai at some point, before being returned to bent in the 1980s. Hirono has never followed many other Japanese courses in having two greens – one warm, one cool season grass – on each hole.
“We have tracked down aerial images from 1948, 1963 and 1976,” said Ebert. “The 1948 aerial is from a very high altitude and it is difficult to make much out, but the 1963 one is very illustrative – it shows fairways much wider than today and greens much bigger. The club also holds Alisonʼs original hole and green plans; we have scaled these to superimpose them on the current aerial and also put the outlines from the 1963 image on there too.”
Ebert said that he and his team had just sent a revised masterplan to the club incorporating the rebuilding of all tees, bunkers and greens.