Tom Fazio on building an Olympic course

  • Lovely Golf Course

    Tom Fazio says that during the Olympics spectators should have great visibility of the golfers

  • Lovely Golf Course

    The recent project was Tom Fazio's first in Asia

  • Lovely Golf Course

    The course

  • Lovely Golf Course

    The course has been converted from a double green to single green layout

  • Lovely Golf Course

    Fazio says the recent work has added significant variety to the course

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

When Japan’s capital Tokyo was selected to host the 2020 Olympic Games, Kasumigaseki Country Club was quickly identified as a potential location to host the golf event. This gave a new meaning to the work Fazio Design was already overseeing at the club’s two courses. Tom Fazio tells GCA more about the project and the impact of the Olympic decision.

What were your main objectives at Kasumigaseki? 

When we first became involved, the club management gave us the goal of updating the course to maintain its prominence as the premier championship course in all of Japan, while at the same time we were very sensitive to the course’s storied history and the needs of the members on a day-to-day basis.

Many plans and concepts were generated to explore the opportunities on the East Course and ultimately the details of the design were created in the field during construction, with my son, Logan Fazio, leading the design effort throughout the entire renovation process. Being awarded the 2020 Olympics during the planning process was certainly an exciting development, but at the end of the day our efforts remained focused on creating the best golf experience possible for the members and positioning the East Course to be relevant, highly regarded and enjoyable for many years to come.

More specifically, the club wished to replace the current two-green system on the East Course with a single green per hole, as it had recently done with its West Course. The club 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, and green angles. 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 playing corridors.

Will golfers notice major alterations in how the course plays?  

Yes, I believe so. Within the existing corridors we took the opportunity to address a number of technical improvements as well as different design approaches. 

From a technical perspective, the overall stormwater drainage capacity of the golf course has been increased and a highly efficient and targeted irrigation system has been installed to promote excellent turfgrass playing conditions, while allowing the club to be more in control of and sensitive to overall water use. 

Some trees have been very selectively removed to reduce shade and improve turfgrass health, while other trees have been relocated to prominent locations as accent points or strategic elements.

From a design perspective, we were able to introduce significant variety and interest into the greens and green complexes by converting the two-green system to one green per hole. The new greens are generally medium-to-large in size, allowing for interesting contours and angles to the green approaches and surfaces. The course has been lengthened for the Olympics and other high-level competitions, but great care has been taken to ensure members have plenty of teeing and yardage options to meet their level of play and allow for an enjoyable round. 

Finally, while improving the course’s drainage capacity, we also recontoured within the golf holes, which created more exciting elevation changes and more natural, flowing contours throughout the course. This also adds a strategic element to the round of golf with more varied and less predictable lies and stances to hit shots.

What impact did the Olympic decision have? 

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 improvements at Kasumigaseki CC 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 Kasumigaseki CC on this exciting and important project, my first in Asia.

With the course now reopened for play, do you feel the project has reached all its original goals? 

Absolutely. Kasumigaseki CC was an excellent partner in this process and always worked with us to collectively make the best long-term decisions for the golf course and members. I think the course will only get better through time.