Development firm JSC Capital has bought the three courses of the Kosaido Country Club near Sapporo under a new Japanese bankruptcy law, and has hired American architect John Sanford to lead a major renovation of the courses.
Kosaido has an eighteen hole course created by Peter Thomson’s design firm in the 1990s, plus two more built in the 1980s by Japanese architects that Sanford has been unable to identify. Because of the purchase circumstances, he has little original design documentation to guide him. “We're just trying to piece it together,” he said.
Sanford said all three courses have suffered from deferred upkeep in recent years. The layouts feature rolling terrain and an abundance of hardwood trees. Sapporo, on the north island of Hokkaido, is best known as host of the 1972 Winter Olympics.
The three year project, slated to get underway this spring, will affect all 54 holes to varying degrees. “Even though they're old and tired, the courses are generally well laid out and have nice relief to them,” said Sanford.
During phase one this year, Sanford will focus on the Thomson course. The layout will receive a facelift, he says, including tee repositioning, adding continuous cart paths, minimal cosmetic work and beautification.
“It's a very good golf course,” said Sanford. “We won't touch the bunkers, as they are all small pots and have retained their shape quite well. There are some drainage issues that have to be addressed. Other than that, it's pretty much utilitarian stuff to get the course back to where they can maximise usage.”
Phase two will comprise restoration of the roughly 25-year-old New course. Its routing and basic characteristics will remain unchanged. “It's a good layout with lots of width,” said Sanford. “It just needs minimal changes to the greens, tee repositioning, renovation of all the bunkers and the strategic relocation of some bunkers.”
The Old course will require the most dramatic alterations in phase three, scheduled for summer 2014. Built during the early 1980s, the Old course has the then-standard Japanese two green system – a bentgrass green for use during colder months and one grassed with zoysia for the summer. The extent of the work on the Old Course is still being assessed, although Sanford said it likely will include the consolidation and reshaping of greens, altering fairways, updated bunkering and new tees.
Sanford is no stranger to Japan. He collaborated with Lee Trevino on the design of the Regent Miyazaki Country Club in the country's far south, which opened for play in 1992. Sanford had just begun another project there that year, but it came to an abrupt halt in the wake of the Japanese stock market crash. Twenty years later, he sees signs of a rebounding golf industry in Japan.
“I'm no economist, and this is strictly anecdotal, but what I see is renewed confidence and activity where the Japanese people are starting to prosper again,” said Sanford. “There appears to be opportunities for buyers to purchase struggling golf properties at a reduced price, upgrade the facilities and rejuvenate the golf market.”
Sanford also foresees a shift from Japan's traditional private club model to more accessible daily fee and resort facilities. “People still love to play golf there,” he said. “Unfortunately, over the last years, a lot of people haven't been able to afford to. Now that it looks like these courses are going to start opening their doors, and not be so closed to the public. Hopefully the fee structure becomes realistic and we see a new generation of golfers in Japan.”