When Tokyo won the right to stage the 2020 Games, the situation was rather different to Rio, given the Japanese capital’s impressive range of golf courses. There, organisers quickly determined to use the East course at the Kasumigaseki club, designed originally in the 1920s by English architect Hugh Alison, and long regarded as one of Japan’s elite courses. But the course needed a thorough renovation to prepare it for the Games, and, notably, to eliminate the two greens per hole system that was common in Japanese golf as a way to deal with the country’s extremely varied climate – but is now regarded as outdated, due to the availability of better strains of warm season grasses. The firm of Tom Fazio was selected to handle the Kasumigaseki work, and, though the Games is still more than four years away, work is almost done. Kasumigaseki CC is one of Japan’s most highly respected golf clubs, with the championship East course having been designed by English architect Hugh Alison on his legendary trip to Japan in the 1920s.
Tom Fazio says: “Kasumigaseki approached us several years ago, before being awarded the Olympics,about the possibility of partnering with the club to oversee improvements to the East Course. The club’s desire was to ensure the long-term legacy of the East Course as a championship course and excellent test of golf. My son, Logan Fazio, is president of the company now and is in charge of new project review and analysis and overall design oversight in the field. I don’t move forward with new projects unless he is on board. Logan made several exploratory visits to KCC to meet with the club representatives and conduct a detailed review of the East Course in light of the club’s goals for the renovation. Based on that Logan decided we would take on the challenge and I fully supported his decision. Being awarded the Olympics shortly after that only served to reinforce the club’s agenda with regard to the East Course and we proceeded quickly with the improvement plans.
“The club wished to replace the current two-green system with a single green per hole, as it had recently done with its West course, and also asked us to prepare a comprehensive review of the design and strategic elements of the course with regard to tee locations and yardages, bunker and hazard placement, green angles, and the like. In addition, while incorporating those design elements, the club also took the opportunity to improve the course drainage characteristics, install a new irrigation system and plant new turfgrass throughout. It has truly been a wide-ranging renovation, while at the same time we have been mindful of the excellent original routing of the course and the renovated holes still occupy the same or very similar play corridors.
“We were initially unsure how the construction would be executed given that we don’t know the local contractors involved. To add a layer of certainty to the process, Logan put together a team of specialists (project management, shapers) to augment and complement the efforts of the skilled local contractors tasked with implementing the design work. We couldn’t be happier with the quality of the construction. It is as good as or better than any golf course we have been part of, and the professionalism and work ethic of everyone on the project is second to none. We couldn’t ask for more.
Many of the course improvements would have been made regardless of whether the Olympics would be played there. We have worked with the International Golf Federation, the Japan Golf Association and other entities to review the logistics and setup of such an event as part of our planning process. The course is compact and very walkable, so patrons attending the Olympics should have great visibility of the golfers and will be able to easily see all of the course. I have no doubts at all that the soon-to-be-completed improvements at KCC will serve the members well for generations to come and the East course will very capably serve as an excellent test of golf for the world’s best players in 2020. It has been a true honour to partner with KCC on this exciting and important project, my first in Asia.”
This article first appeared in issue 45 of Golf Course Architecture.