Niseko, Hokkaido, a re­gion renowned for ski­ing, has now be­come a great golf des­ti­na­tion in its own right.

Louie Chan sam­ples the sum­mer de­light in Niseko, Hokkaido, a re­gion renowned for ski­ing, has be­come a great golf des­ti­na­tion in its own right.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Louie Chan

Golf­ing in Ja­pan is about the high­est qual­ity: beau­ti­fully main­tained cour­ses, out­stand­ing food, gen­er­ally great weather, per­haps the world’s high­est stan­dards of ser­vice. But some may ques­tion if it’s re­ally worth the ef­fort and cost. Well, the sum­mer thaw in Hokkaido re­veals a slew of stand­out cour­ses that have been hi­ber­nat­ing un­der a blan­ket of snow and, un­like those else­where in the coun­try, await those keen to ex­pe­ri­ence the game with­out the draw­backs of the usual slow play and high prices.

The Aus­tralian en­tre­pre­neur Peter Mur­phy started Sk­iJa­pan in 1996, hav­ing wit­nessed the stun­ning amount of dry snow de­posited around the iconic Mount Yotei, aka “The Mount Fuji of the North”. Hav­ing con­quered the ski mar­ket, the ef­fer­ves­cent Mur­phy has now de­ter­mined that golf in the area is as un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated as ski­ing was two decades ago and has es­tab­lished Yotei Golf, a ded­i­cated travel com­pany based in the shadow of its name­sake. Lev­er­ag­ing the su­perb ac­com­mo­da­tion, leisure busi­nesses and bars and restau­rants con­structed for the win­ter vis­i­tors, and hav­ing built re­la­tion­ships with a grow­ing num­ber of first-class cour­ses in the area, Yotei Golf now of­fers com­plete stay and play pack­ages for any golfer wish­ing to visit the re­gion.

Once largely pri­vate, the boom and bust of the late 1980s to early 1990s led to many of the cour­ses in Hokkaido open­ing to the pub­lic and prices plum­meted. While pain­ful for the de­vel­op­ers, it has made the re­gion a golfer’s par­adise. Hav­ing such a breadth of fa­cil­i­ties avail­able in the most sparsely pop­u­lated area in the coun­try means tee times are read­ily avail­able and at bar­gain prices.

Golf cour­ses here open from May through Oc­to­ber. The weather is per­fect for golf at that time, and un­like else­where in Ja­pan, 36 holes in a day is eas­ily pos­si­ble - al­though a leisurely 18 fol­lowed by a visit to the on­sen (hot baths) is a de­light­ful al­ter­na­tive.

The Hana­zono Golf

This 7,003-yard cham­pi­onship course in Hana­zono is a stun­ner, and is the most soughtafter course in the Niseko area. Ex­cel­lent fa­cil­i­ties, su­perb con­di­tion­ing and mem­o­rable holes, with Mount Yotei form­ing a breath­tak­ing back­drop on many of them.

The wind plays an im­por­tant part here and the four par-5s can make a mock­ery of the stroke in­dex if the breeze is com­ing from an un­de­sired di­rec­tion. The 16th, in par­tic­u­lar, is a spec­tac­u­lar beast when played into the breeze. The par-3s here are also mem­o­rable fea­tures - all four are chal­leng­ing - es­pe­cially the 17th, which from the el­e­vated tees looks longer than its 177 yards. The green is nar­row, and a lake pro­tects the front. With the wind comes straight to­wards the player (as it was the day we played) a par here is a great re­sult.

Wa­ter comes into play on many of the holes, and, with no two con­sec­u­tive holes play­ing in the same di­rec­tion, you couldn’t stop keep ask­ing your­self ques­tions on the tee.

The Rusutsu Re­sort – River­wood Cour­ses

There are two Rusutsu golf fa­cil­i­ties and be care­ful not to mix the two! The Jumbo Oza­kidesigned course by the re­sort fun­fair and ski lifts can be safely by­passed, and in­stead mak­ing your way to the su­perb River­wood fa­cil­ity, just over half an hour from Niseko. It fea­tures two Cur­tis Strange de­signs - not-so imag­i­na­tively called River and Wood - and a su­perb chalet-style club­house. The club­house is renowned lo­cally for its “Genghis Khan Bar­beque”, which takes place on a huge wooden deck and is cooked on a hot­plate in the mid­dle of your ta­ble. Icecold beer, which is poured from the taps on the deck it­self, makes for a great fin­ish to a highly

en­joy­able 36-hole day here.

The River Course com­pen­sates for its short­ness by be­ing ill tem­pered if not treated with re­spect. Nar­row fair­ways with steep run-offs on ei­ther side would be pain­ful enough. That the run-offs of­ten lead to out-of-bounds makes this a tricky track to mas­ter. As the name sug­gests, wa­ter plays a part on many holes and it’s best to keep the big stick in the bag and plot your way around here. This is es­pe­cially true on the par-5s, which are all short enough to reach in two, but all fea­ture nar­row land­ing ar­eas.

Over­shad­owed by the el­e­gant Wood Course, nev­er­the­less, this is a very fun course in­deed, with the 208-yard par-3 17th and the bril­liant risk-re­ward 18th - mea­sur­ing less than 280 yards pro­vid­ing a nerve-tin­gling fin­ish to any close match.

The Wood Course here is un­doubt­edly one of the best in the re­gion. A more for­giv­ing lay­out than the River, this is nev­er­the­less no pushover. The pic­turesque 2nd is an early wake-up call: rated hand­i­cap in­dex one, this is a tree-lined mon­ster at 454 yards; ac­cept a bo­gey and move on. As with ev­ery course in this area, the scenery is breath­tak­ing and makes it dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate on keep­ing the ball in play. As ever, the wind is a fac­tor, made more chal­leng­ing due to the sheer num­ber of trees that shield its pres­ence from the tees. Over­all, a de­light­ful com­bi­na­tion of beauty and bother, you will want to come back to play again and again.

Mount Yotei form­ing a breath­tak­ing back­drop on many of the holes at Hana­zono Golf

Mount Yotei, aka “The Mount Fuji of the North”

The 14th hole of Rusutsu River Course

Wa­ter comes into play

on many of the holes

The wind plays an im­por­tant part at Hana­zono Golf

Top: The pic­turesque 2nd of Rusutsu Wood Course is an early wake-up call; Above: The club­house of Rusutsu River­wood is renowned lo­cally for its “Genghis Khan Bar­beque”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Hong Kong

© PressReader. All rights reserved.