Architect Benjamin Warren of Artisan Golf Design is set to start a significant redesign of the Classic Golf Club in Fukuoka, Japan. Classic Management Group, the club’s owner, has approved Warren’s master plan for the course and construction is set to begin next January. In particular, the project will see the course go from the traditional Japanese layout of two greens per hole, one for summer and one for winter conditions, to single greens grassed with modern species that can offer year-round playability.
The Classic’s twenty-seven-hole layout traverses a low mountain range flanked by the Fukuoka-Kitakyushu metropolitan area on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu. Three nine-hole loops – the King, Queen and Prince courses – were laid out in 1990 by Shoichi Suzuki and Yuzo Tanimizu on the restored landscape of the former Kaijima coal mine. The redesign project will start with the King and Queen courses, an eighteen-hole configuration that has hosted numerous elite professional and amateur events, most recently the 2020 Japan Women’s Open.
Japan has nearly 2,000 golf courses and around half are believed to have two side-by-side putting greens on each hole. When this convention emerged in the 1950s, it was driven by agronomic needs. The leading golf architects of the era were being asked to design two sets of greens with different grasses on each hole: a zoysia green for summer and a bentgrass green for winter. Thanks to the emergence of modern turfgrass cultivars that can handle Japan’s climatic swings, the two green convention is gradually being abandoned.
“Transforming our flagship golf course from two-green to one-green architecture will be a significant undertaking,” said Daisuke Tanimizu, fourth generation owner of Classic Management Group’s portfolio of golf courses.
“Redesigning from two greens on each hole will lead to a substantial reconfiguration of the Classic,” said Warren. “Including practice putting greens, the club is currently maintaining a total of fifty-six greens, every day, for its twenty-seven holes. Material and manpower costs are high. Reducing the maintained area of the greens will be a sustainability win.
“But it is the opportunity to transform the playing experience which is most exciting. The redesign to one green architecture will enable us to re-route golf holes and create new angles of play. A full re-bunkering will add a new layer of strategy to the Classic.”
Toshiyuki Tanimizu, President of Classic Management Group, credits the inspiration for the project to a journey to Scotland: “Back in 2017, a study tour of North Berwick and Muirfield with Benjamin opened my eyes to the origins of golf course architecture. His appreciation for golf in Japan and his Scottish heritage make him the natural choice to lead the Classic into its second act.”
“Our new greens will take inspiration from some of our favourite golf courses in the US and the UK,” said Warren. “DNA from North Berwick, National Golf Links of America, Crystal Downs, Sand Hills and the Old course at St Andrews will be evident in our work.
“We will build elegant internal contours which are suitable for fast green speeds. Tournament directors will have the ability to set pins adjacent to short grass runoff areas, thus allowing the course to transition seamlessly from fun member play to a setup which can challenge Japan’s elite professional golfers.”