“The view alone is worth the price of admission”

The Pebble Beach of Japan

Picture perfect golf

Text by Fred Varcoe

“We think of Pebble Beach as our competitor,” says Hiromichi Murai, general manager at the Kawana Hotel in Izu. That’s California’s Pebble Beach on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Not many courses would have the audacity to compare themselves to one of golf’s legendary venues but, then again, what other resort courses in Japan have been visited by Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, John Wayne, Boris Yeltsin and Gary Player?

The 80-year-old Fuji Course at Kawana has no rival in Japan — except, maybe, the shorter Oshima Course next door. The Fuji Course has been ranked No. 67 in Golf Magazine’s top 100 courses in the world for 2015. For many years, it has played host to a men’s professional tournament and now is the regular venue for the prestigious Fujisankei Ladies Classic every April. Even on TV, which often falls short in conveying the dynamics of many golf courses, the Fuji Course looks magnificent, enhanced by its spectacular ocean-side setting.

But setting alone is not enough to make a course great. British architect C.H. Alison needed to give the location a challenging course layout. The result was a combination of astonishing beauty with some great golf holes.

The first tee has you positioned high up on the hill looking down an avenue of trees leading to the first green — and the Pacific Ocean. The view alone is worth the price of admission. The second hole’s fairway runs alongside the sea, and even the most rule-bound golfers will be tempted to take pictures with their cell phones. Number three requires a steep climb, and the first of back-to-back par five holes, with number four taking you back down the hill. The course’s basic policy is to discourage the use of golf carts, so everybody has a caddy and is expected to walk. And, as you’ll find on the third hole, the climb can be pretty tough.

The Fuji course has acquiesced to allowing chauffeured carts to be rented at ¥21,000 per round with up to four players. Lunch after nine holes is an option; there is a snack hut midway. Chances are you won’t notice your fatigue or hunger, though, as there are just too many distractions.

The ocean is never far away, and when you arrive at the iconic 15th hole, a par five, it will be too close for some. You’ll be high up on a cliff, with Mt. Fuji over your right shoulder and the sea to your left, as you drive the ball over the rocks and watch it sail towards the fairway. It’s picture perfect.

But such perfection doesn’t come cheap. The Fuji Course is exclusive to guests of the beautiful, historic Kawana Hotel. Play fees run from ¥26,000 on weekdays to ¥34,500 on Saturdays and ¥32,500 on Sundays and holidays, plus accommodations and food and beverage charges. •