In early June, 2013, I took an extensive tour of Kasumigaseki Country Club with the club superintendent and an officer with the Japan Golf Association. Early reports identified the East course as the Olympics venue; more recently, it appears that a composite course may be utilized. Here are the five items that best captured my attention about the golf venue for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
1. Kasumigaseki East is Japan’s most renowned tournament course. It’s not ranked as high as Hirono, Kawana (Fuji) or Tokyo Golf Club, but it’s every bit as revered. Both the club’s East and West courses are frequent sites for important events, such as the Japan Open and the Asian Amateur, the winner of which qualifies for a Masters invitation. However, it was the East course that catapulted Japanese golf into world prominence when it played host to the 1957 Canada Cup (now the World Cup), the two-man team championship that pits country versus country. A young Gary Player competed for South Africa and Sam Snead matched the course record of 67 while on the U.S. side, but it was Japan that broke through for a stunning upset victory. The team of Torakichi “Pete” Nakamura and Koichi Ono took the title, with Nakamura capturing the low individual honors. The men became national heroes overnight, spurring the golf boom in Japan that has never really let up.
2. The East course continues to use the old-fashioned Japanese system of two greens at each hole, one with a warm season grass, the other with a cool season grass. One set of greens was recently remodeled to provide more contour and seriously true bent putting surfaces, though the discussion is ongoing as to whether they will convert to a one-green system in time for the Olympics. Curiously, the club’s West course has been on a one-green system since 2000, so there’s precedent for the move right on the grounds.
3. Flattish terrain throughout the 36 holes will make for easy walking for both players and spectators, but an overall length on the East course of 7,000 yards, many mature trees and 131 bunkers make for an exacting test. Most memorable is the par-3 10th, which demands a healthy carry over a lake-filled ravine to reach the green. An unusual sight is several giant Black pines practically in the water, propped up by wooden planks. The West is shorter and actually wider than the East with fewer bunkers.
4. Two of Japan’s top amateur golfers, Kinya Fujita and Shiro Akaboshi designed the East course, which opened in the fall of 1929. However, it was legendary British architect C.H. Alison, partner to H.S. Colt, who transformed Kasumigaseki East into a championship venue the very next year, primarily through the addition of bunkers so deep and artfully shaped, that such bunkers were henceforth known as “Alisons” on all Japanese courses. During the past five years, American architect Jim Fazio renovated several holes, including new bunker work at the par-4 13th. While strategically sound, the new bunkers do not blend in with the old and reception has been decidedly mixed among club members and course critics. The West appeared in 1932, created by Fujita and Seiichi Inoue. Writer turned architect Taizo Kawata renovated the West on several occasions in the past 15 years.
5. There are two items that keep Kasumigaseki East from the top rung of Asian courses. First is that too many of the par-4s look and play similarly and often run side-by-side, a la Firestone’s South course. That trait will likely never be altered. Second, too many trees have grown over and even into the bunkers, resulting in double hazards and a problem with both maintenance and playability. The Japanese love their trees, but some selective pruning would improve matters dramatically.
The recent chatter about Kasumigaseki’s Olympic layout revolves around using a composite course, with holes 10-18 of the West forming the Olympics course front nine and holes 10-15, and 7-9 of the East comprising the back nine. The composite course would stretch 7,308 yards, par 71 and would provide a stronger challenge and more variety than the East alone. Architect Tom Doak visited the club in May 2013 and suggested a back nine configuration for the Olympics of East holes 10,11,14,15,12,13,7,8,9. Which routing will win out? Check back here for further updates. 2020 is still a long ways away.