5 November 2005

Hakone, the Gem of Kanagawa and a Resort Golfers Paradise

Once seeing the Hakone National Park and resort area you might think that JM.Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, must have visited and found inspiration here. With its steaming volcanoes, lush green forests and sailing ships cruising over glistening clear waters, it's as close as you'll ever find to "Never Land"! Oh, and did I mention eight beautiful golf courses, first class resort hotels and more natural hot springs than you can shake your putter at!

This area has something for everyone, but especially the golfer. The location couldn't be more dramatic with a relatively flat valley and mountains that shoot up steeply, surrounding you, creating a beautiful hidden plateau 1,492m (4,720ft) above sea level. Add in a shinning fresh natural spring filled lake for a water source and even the grass feels happy.

Hakone made a perfect natural canvas for golf course architects and designers to practice their craft, and practice they did! All the best up and coming Japanese designers of the era played a part. Notables being M.Otani a British educated CH. Alison protégée, Shiro Akaboshi and H.Asaka who all played key parts in helping the budding Japanese golf industry become what we now enjoy today.

The first course built in the valley was the Fujiya Hotels Sengoku Golf Club constructed in 1917 making it the third oldest course in Japan after Kobe (1902) and the Yokohama golf club (1906). The site lent its self so well to the golf courses design that they only needed to move slight amounts of soil, making minimal changes to the landscape.

The Hakone valley is, for the most part, up-scale and golf here will cost you a little more than neighboring areas, but that's no recent anomaly! The area has a long history as being the best location in Japan for entertaining and relaxing guests. Japanese prime misters have been bringing foreign dignitaries here, for a round, for decades and Japanese royalty are also known to frequent the area, so you never know who you might get paired with!

If you have the means why not taste the pleasures the area has to offer and enjoy playing a round! It may or may not become a weekly event, but you are sure to take away some lasting memories and see truly the best Japan has to offer the resort golfer.

When to go:
Most of the year conditions are good. Being an elevated valley with a lake it is prone to fog especially during May and June. Due to the altitude some of the courses are closed from mid December to early March and others go on a day-by-day basis during winter months due to freezing and snow. You can be sure of one thing that as cold as you might get, there will always be a natural hot spring bath and a hot Sake waiting for you after your round!

Getting There:
The two major routes to Hakone are from Odawara or Gotemba. For train service Odawara is your best bet. By car the Gotemba side (Tomei Expressway) might be less congested than from Odawawra. Take the Tomei to the Gotemba exit. Once you've pulled off the expressway follow the signs to Hakone and you will be on route 138. Time to Hakone approx. 20 minutes from exit.

* See the Golf in Japan site for maps to individual clubs, or check the Hakone town site listed below for further access information in English.

Green Fees:
Lots!! The Dai Hakone Country Club (Prince Hotel Group) is the most expensive at a visitor rate of 40,900 yen for a Saturday tee time between August 1st to 31st. Hakone En Golf Club (Also a Prince Hotel "strangely enough") has the cheapest advertised rate of 10,500 yen between December 1st to March 31st for a weekday round. You can expect to pay on average 18,000 yen to 20,000 yen for a weekday round during the July to September (Peak) season and slightly less on either end. Weekends for the same period are 23,000 yen to 27,000 yen with Odawara Yumoto Country Club being the cheapest at 21,380 yen for a Saturday round.

Other attractions in the area:
Apart from golf the area has a lot to entertain non-golfers and families as well. There are many camping areas, hiking trails, rope-ways to view points with steaming volcanic rocks, 15 hot springs you can use for a daily fee, small Inns to full service resort properties, some with spa options. There's even a small snowboard park open during the winter months!

Lake Ashinoko has boat (Full sized Sailing Ship desiged) tours that are constantly leaving; fishing (Mostly Rainbow Trout), 11 museums, glass shops, 3-D movie theatre and more little tourist traps than need be mentioned! More than enough to keep everyone happy and hopefully creating a gap so you can slip away for that priceless round!

*Most non-golf related information can be found in English at the Hakone town offices Tourist information site at www.hakone.or.jp/town

Hakone Courses:

Odawara Yumoto C.C.
Clubhouse: 0460-5-5743
Web: www.odawarayumotocc.jp
*Self play okay
Built on a hillside this well established 6542 yard par 71 course features a two green configuration with both bent grass and Japanese Korai. Spacious and long fairways lined with majestic mature trees and mountain views. Lots of fresh air and silence. The large luxurious clubhouse has everything to ensure you and your guests relax after your round.

Fujiya Hotel Sengoku G.C.
Clubhouse: 0460-4-8511
Web: www.fujiyahotel.co.jp/sengokugolf
*Self play okay
A club with a long and rich history. Designed in 1917 by T.E. Colchester a Scottish veteran. This 6651 yard par 72 course holds no surprises. Very flat and has received some changes over the years in an attempt to increase its playing challenge. It has a two green configuration (Both Bent Grass), and a 42 stall, 300yard driving range, currently under renovated until November. Part of the Fujiya Hotel group, so expect a gourmet lunch priced between 1600yen and 1900yen.

Dai Hakone C.C.
Clubhouse: 4460-4-3111
Web: www.princehotels.co.jp/golf/daihakone
*Caddy only. Soft Spikes only
The premier club in the valley and priced to suit. Host to a LPGA tournament every year, won in 2005 by popular Japanese superstar Ai Miyazato. This par 73 plays an incredible 7221 yards from the tips and has a combination of mature forested and open country holes. Impeccably groomed with water coming into play on 6 holes it offers a combination of easy and challenging holes. Signature 17th features extensive bunkering.

Hakone C.C.
Clubhouse: 0460-4-8571
Web: www.6.ocn.ne.jp/~haconecc/
*Caddy only. Soft spikes preferred
Established in 1955 and designed by Shiro Akaboshi this 7055 yard par 72 course features a bent grass one green (mostly raised) configuration. Rated 73.0 from the tips and 70.1 from the regular men's tees. A sixteen stall 270 yard driving range and approach area will help you warm-up. No hidden surprises here, some water but mostly wide open. You may find it hard to lose balls!

Hakone Kohan G.C.
Clubhouse: 0460-4-4477
Web: www.hakonekohan.com
*Caddy play with limited Self play access.
One of the best kept courses in the valley having opened in 1964 and quite reasonably priced compared to its neighbors. The clubhouse was completely rebuilt ten years ago making it the most lavish and up to date in Hakone. This 6488 yard par 72 also has one of the more challenging layouts in the area with three greens protected by water and a total of six holes were water can come into play. Beautiful fairways and a ten stall 250yard driving range often visited by wild pheasants that roam the area.

Hakone Yunohana G.C.
Clubhouse: 0460-3-5111
Web: www.princehotels.co.jp/golf/yunohana
*Self play okay
Course features a two green configuration and large accommodating fairways with a fancy onsen hotel. Designed by M.Otani and H. Akasaka and opened in 1952 it boasts the best ocean views of all the Hakone properties. This par 71, 6318 yard course is a little short, but the prevailing winds from the ocean make it play longer. Remote controlled electric carts whisk you around automatically so you can enjoy that extra beer at lunch worry free!

Hakone-En G.C.
Clubhouse: 0460-3-6555
Web: www.princehotels.co.jp/golf/hakone-en
*Self play okay
This short wide open par 71, 5936 yard course borders lake Ashinoko with glimpses of Mt. Fuji in the distance. Perfect for the resort golfer who wants worry free golf and lots of fresh air. Its not as flat as some of the other courses and also has a forty stall 250 yard driving range that overlooks the lake. Play and stay packages available.

Hakone Kurakake G.C.
Clubhouse: 0460-3-7555
Web: www.princehotels.co.jp/golf/kurakake
*Self play okay. No riding carts all players walk
High on a hill 1,492m (4,720ft) overlooking lake Ashinoko with Mt. Fuji as a back drop this is truly scenic golfing. It plays 6096 yards from the men's tees and is a par 71. Opened in 1963 the landscape is hilly and the course is quite wide open and not difficult. Wind and fog can change the playing characteristics of the course drastically and you should be prepared for all kinds of weather especially in Spring and late Autumn months.

Bennett Galloway, 5 November 2005

Previous Columns
  • 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 »