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Mountain High Golf In Niseko Japan

Mountain High Golf In Niseko Japan

Paul Myers

July 19th, 2013

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Riverwood 10th

There’s an old adage that if you want to play golf in spectacular surroundings, go to the coast or the mountains.

It’s true. But due to golf’s Scottish links origins, seaside courses get all the attention. Think St Andrews andPebble Beach, any number of layouts in Hawaii or Spain, and the famous sandbelt in Melbourne, Australia. Golf and coastal climates and course conditions just seem to go together.

But the mountains are fighting back! And while Japan’s most northern island of Hokkaido may not be the most obvious golf tourism destination in Asia. But if Australian entrepreneur, Peter Murphy – who put skiing in Japan on the world stage in the late 1990s – has his way, golf tourists will just as readily travel to the Niseko region of Hokkaido to play golf as skiers make a beeline in winter for its powder snow.

Murphy’s faith in the region goes back to 1996 when he was blown away by the seemingly endless winter weather patterns that dump metres of dry snow on and around the dominant volcanic slopes of Mt Yotei.

Murphy’s company, SkiJapan.com, which now takes more than 7000 skiers to Niseko each northern winter from Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, has a sibling – YoteiGolf.com – that is marketing golf packages on some of the same slopes that witness the whoosh of skis in winter.

In doing so, Murphy believes Niseko can become Japan’s version of Whistler in Canada, Vail and Aspen in America and Queenstown, New Zealand.

“Not many people outside Japan realise what the region offers outside the ski season, but with the launch of Yotei Golf, golf travellers can now add Hokkaido to their future warm weather travel considerations,” he says.

“As well as golf, there ‘s white-water rafting, sea kayaking, cycling and mountain biking, onsen mineral spring baths and you can hike to the top of Mt Yotei if you’re fit enough.”

In late 2011, the Japan National Tourism Organisation participated in golf tourism’s major annual showcase, the International Golf Tourism Operators’ travel market, held in Belek, Turkey, where it announced its intention to promote golf tourism.

“Japan is in a very lucky situation. It has a wonderful golf destination, but it’s totally undiscovered,” IAGTO’s chief executive, Peter Walton, said after a visit there to help promote golf tourism. “It’s great value for money with some of the best golf you’ll play anywhere in the world, as well as offering a wonderful culture and environment, food and wine.”

For a region virtually unknown as a golf destination, there are 170 courses on Hokkaido – more than most major international cities. A dozen are within easy reach of Hirafu, which serves as accommodation central for the Niseko area in winter and summer. Numerous others are scattered around the island, including near the regional capital of Sapporo – all at reasonable walk-in prices.

Many layouts were developed during the 1980s Japanese economic and golf bubble that burst in the early 1990s, turning a bevy of private clubs into public-access courses, and dramatically lowering prices.

This reality belies a common western belief that golf is out of reach of most Japanese, who supposedly can only go toa driving range. In fact, apart from a handful of exclusive private clubs around Tokyo and Osaka, there are plenty of opportunities to play golf in a country with 2500 courses  – second only to the United States.

Hokkaido, a one-hour flight north from Tokyo, is a laid-back, friendly, mountainous and mostly rural island known for its fresh produce, especially potatoes. With just 5.5 million people, it is the least populated region of Japan.

Although the golf season is short – from May through October – playing 36 holes in a day is feasible in high summer, as visiting Korean golfers amply demonstrate. But if you want something more relaxing, golf in the morning followed by traditional Japanese lunch and a relaxing hot onsen bath is hard to beat.

Golf packages being marketed by YoteiGolf.com come into effect when the 2013 season opens in early May.

It’s a toss-up as to which is Niseko’s best golf course. Hanazono, Niseko Village course with its accompanying centrepiece Hilton Hotel, and Riverwood stand out.

All the while, Mt Yotei – an 1898-metre extinct volcano – is omnipresent. Such is the topography of the region that all physical landmarks surround the mountain that locals have traditionally called Ezo Fuji (Hokkaido’s Mt Fuji). With good reason: the resemblance is remarkable.

Yotei may suddenly appear at any moment on any golf course, or anywhere else for that matter. Its dominance extends beyond its mere physical presence. Technically, it is still an active stratovolcano, although there are thought to have been only two eruptions – the most recent in 1050 BC, with the first some 2500 years earlier!

Niseko Golf Courses

Hanazono

This is an immaculately groomed course featuring beech tree-lined fairways, wonderful scenery (including Mt Yotei) and four of the best par-3s on one course in Japan. The 17th hole, which plays 214 yards from a highly elevated back tee to a narrow green protected by a lake, epitomises Niseko golf: scenic, challenging-yet-enjoyable and truly memorable.

18 holes 7003 yards (6400 metres) par 72.

www.niseko-tokyu.co.jp

Niseko Village/Fukui

The layout situated beside a top-notch Hilton hotel at the base of a ski field is a challenge from the back tees, especially the 721-yard (659-metre) par 6 10th hole. Adjacent facilities – hotel, spa, onsen baths, four practice holes on a former layout, and inspiring mountain scenery – make this well worth a visit.

18 holes, 6845 yards (6256 metres) par 73.

A sister course, Fukui, designed by Arnold Palmer, is as dramatic as any in the region. With sharp elevation changes, deep rough and out-of-bounds on almost every hole it’s a tough uphill/downhill walk, so a cart is advisable.

18 holes 6805 yards (6220 metres) par 72.

www.niseko-village.com

Rusutsu Resort/Riverwood

Boasting Japan’s largest ski area, Rusutsu Resort has a well-established golf course on a complex comprising a large hotel and spa, amusement park and other facilities. Numerous holes, including the first, play alongside ski lifts. It compares favourably with most resort courses and is especially enjoyable if combined with the resort’s extensive facilities.

18 holes 6747 yards (6167 metres) par 72.

A second Rusutsu golf complex is situated 45 minutes from Niseko. Featuring twin wood and river courses, the aptly-named Riverwood. With superb scenery, the woold course in particular ranks as one of the best in the region. The Japanese-style clubhouse is a feature in itself and a teppanyaki-style barbecue on the terrace at the end of the round is one of the many pluses.

Wood course: 6817 yards (6231 metres) par 72.

River course: 6107 yards (5582 metres) par72.

http://en.rusutsu.co.jp

Toya Lake Hill

A scenic 45-minute drive from Hirafu, this 36-hole complex sits high above Lake Toya, in south-western Hokkaido.

Stay and Play Packages

Quad Share: AUD1080/USD1135 per person (81,050 yen)

Twin Share: AUD1515/USD1595 per person (113,700 yen)

Includes:

  • 7 nights accommodation in Alpen Ridge in a one bedroom apartment (twin share) or 2 bedroom apartment (quad share)
  • One-way transfer from Chitose Airport to Niseko with Meet & Greet
  • 7-day car rental with pick up Niseko, drop off at Chitose Airport
  • 5 days golf green fees
  • Service of SummerJapan.com resort staff

Prices are based on current exchange rates and are subject to change.

For more information, visit www.yoteigolf.com

 

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