3 July 2007

Golf in Niseko, Asia's Answer to Whistler

When you think of Hokkaido it usually first brings up images of pristine powder snow topped mountains and vast flat wide open expanses, but when the snowfields turn to green meadows, golf takes center stage and the people here trade in their boards for sticks.

Situated at 43degrees N latitude Niseko is as mild in summer as southern Portland Oregon in the U.S., "Eugene" to be exact! And when you look eastward towards Europe on the same parallel, guess what? Nice and Monaco!!... It's even south of the Bordeaux wine region in France!! This makes for average summer temperatures of a comfortable, dry 21.7 degrees C. even in August when the rest of Japan is cooking! Niseko is, with out a doubt, a four season resort poised to become an international destination and potentially the first Whistler quality resort in Asia!

With that in mind, there are few better places in the world to build a golf course, and in the late '80s and early '90s, build they did. The bubble economy brought with it huge amounts of investment in golf and resort infrastructure that remains there today. Hokkaido currently boasts 172 courses that offer at least 18 holes, and many courses with 36+! That's more than 30% of all the courses in the home of golf, Scotland, and the same number courses that existed in mainland China until early 2005...in one prefecture!!

Although Niseko's golf courses evoke the feel and quality of a resort golf destination, they lack the pretentiousness that so often accompanies such exclusivity. The fresh air and clear views of Mt. Yotei (basically a perfectly formed mini Mt. Fuji!) from almost every course, coupled with a relaxed pace of play, really helps you let your guard down and enjoy the natural splendor of the surroundings. All the courses are bordered by silver Birch trees and chest deep "Sasa" (a bushy member of the bamboo family) that offer picturesque scenery, but love to eat golf balls! The courses are lush, green and playable even in as little as one week after the snow melts in early May! This is due to the use of predominantly bent Kentucky bluegrass in the area that doesn't go dormant in winter.

You have every accommodation option a holiday maker might desire from bright new condos such as the Landmark see: www.niseko-landmark.com ( multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, washer and driers, perfect for families and longer stays), to small pensions and bed & breakfasts with lots of warm local hospitality all readily available. There are plenty of distractions for non-golfers and family members of all ages including: Rafting, river kayaking, mountain biking, tennis, soccer, hand gliding, indoor rock climbing, hiking, camping, fishing, horse back riding, "26" Hot springs "Onsens", "4" different places that make handmade ice cream "straight from the cow", and let you eat your creation when you're done! If you're looking for a bit of local flare check out the Kutchan Jazz Festival July 30th - 31st...the list goes on!!

With so much great golf and so many things to do and experience just an hours flight from Tokyo, a golf and family alpine vacation that rivals that of Whistler or St Moritz (sister city with Niseko-Hirafu) is easier and much more affordable than you might think! Plus keep in mind Hokkaido enjoys no rainy season in late June to July like the rest of Japan with lower humidity during peak summer months, so it's a "green" light to "tee-it-up" all summer long!

For further information click here and see all 172 Hokkaido courses and look for "Preferred Courses" to be added shortly. Also check out the new www.nisekogolf.com site for packaged golf vacation options.

Some Preferred courses near the Niseko-Hirafu area:

Niseko Tokyu Golf Course
Clubhouse: (0136) 23-0109
*Holes/Par: 18/72 Course Rate 73.0 (Yardage: Regular tee: 6,174 Tips: 7,003)
*Self Play only. Soft Spikes only
The best golf in the valley! A good variety of challenging and fair holes giving it a well balanced feel. Opened in 1988, this course is situated next to the Hanazono ski resort, and offers spectacular views of nearby Mt Yotei. Four tee grounds and strategically placed water hazards add to the challenge. Also there are new carts to help wiz you around!

Niseko Higashiyama Prince Golf Course
Clubhouse: (0136j44-1111
Holes/Par: 36/143 Course Rate N/A
*Self play only. Soft Spikes only
A pristine course in keeping with the Prince groups high standard of courses seen worldwide. Two courses just minutes from the village of Hirafu that feature bent greens and immaculately groomed fairways. Enjoy views of the ski hill, on one side, and Mt. Yotei on the other with glimpses of rolling potato fields through Silver Birch forests. The Prince course is a 6,845 yard Par 73 course and the Higashiyama course is shorter at 5,768 yards and is a Par 71.(Currently closed)

Niseko Golf Course
Clubhouse: (0136) 58-3131
Holes/Par: 18/72 Course Rate 72.2
*Soft Spikes only
Designed by Arnold Palmer and just a 15-minute drive from Hirafu, this course is the undisputed locals favorite and has no extra charge for two-somes and even singles are allowed to tee it up for a mere 2000yen extra charge! 6805 yards from the tips, Niseko Golf Course is a great course to soak up the surrounding scenery. The famous par three 5th signature hole demands an accurate shot over a pond with Mt Yotei as a back drop.

Niseko Golf and Resort
Clubhouse: (0136) 56-2121
Holes/Par: 18/72 Course Rate 72.2
*Regular Spikes okay
Just twenty minutes by car from Hirafu, this course is encircled by the local mountains. Quite simple in design, it offers few surprises making it perfect for beginners and people looking to get out on a course at a reasonable price. Although it hasn't achieved the standard found on the other courses in the area, you will still be able to enjoy great views to nearby snow capped peaks and lots of green grass. Niseko Golf and Resort is another special Niseko golf location that helps round out the areas offerings.

And more...

Bennett Galloway, 3 July 2007

Previous Columns
  • Game On!
  • Japan Golf Tours
  • Gearing Up for Winter Golf
  • Respecting Your Game
  • Adrift in a Sea of Golf Balls
  • The Secret to Scoring Well "Shhh.....Don't Tell Anyone"!
  • Hakone, the Gem of Kanagawa and a Resort Golfers Paradise
  • Golf in Japan: A primer to golfing in Tokyo
  • Time to thaw out that golf swing
  • Golf made easy

  • About Bennett
    Bennett is a long time resident of Japan and the Director of Golf for Gotemba Golf Club and Belle View Nagao G.C., in Shizuoka near Mt. Fuji. Member of the Golf Writers Association of America and a teaching professional, providing lessons for all ages and abilities, in English or Japanese. He also specializes in in-bound golf tours to Japan with Golf Shizuoka and Golf Hakone.

    Contact Bennett »