It’s said that greens-keepers in Hokkaido have the world’s best conditions to work from when it comes to curating exceptional golf courses. The contrast between the bitterly cold winters and the mild, sunny summers, not to mention the rain in between seasons, makes for ultra-fertile land, perfect for growing and grooming fairways, bunkers and greens. So it’s little wonder that golf is one of Hokkaido’s most popular summer pastimes.
Golf in Hokkaido is a little more relaxed than it is in Honshu. At most courses, guests have the option of playing 9 or 18 holes, lunch is not enforced at the turn like it is down south, and from my experience, green fees are more reasonable up here in Japan’s northernmost island.
Having spent almost every weekend last summer on the search for Hokkaido’s best and best value golf courses, I have pulled together a list containing just a few of my favourites.
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1. A-Brand Golf Club – Yoichi
The first and most obvious thing you notice when driving into the carpark at A-Brand Golf Club in Yoichi is the humongous European castle-inspired clubhouse. Spectacular, unique, down-right weird, however you describe it, this is a photo opportunity not to be missed and inside, it’s just as quirky as it is grand. I mean, it’s not every day you see a taxidermy polar bear standing tall at the top of a set of stairs! And the golf course is just as much fun.
Rolling hills with amazing ocean views set the scene for golf on a course which is challenging-but-not-too-challenging for even beginner golfers. A short drive from the popular Kiroro Resort, highlights here include the par-3 3rd, which requires a long accurate tee shot over a canyon below, and the par-5 9th which rises up toward the castle clubhouse.
2. Nidom Country Club – Tomakomai
The Tomakomai area in southern Hokkaido is home to many of the prefecture’s best championship standard courses and one of the best of the best is Nidom Country Club. Conveniently located only a short drive from Sapporo New Chitose Airport, Nidom features checkerboard fairways lined by silver birch trees throughout the course.
The opportunity to spot wildlife such as Hokkaido Ezo deer and red foxes makes this a wonderful place for 18 holes. That said, there are actually 45 holes at Nidom! Split across two courses, I played the ‘Classic’ Course which I found to be long and unforgiving, but extremely rewarding too. The weather in Tomakomai is such that golf in the late autumn and early spring is possible, a luxury unavailable in other areas which receive more snow.
Another in the Tomakomai belt is Brooks Country Club, an 18-hole course with two very distinct nines. The front-9 is quite typical of Hokkaido, narrow fairways, gentle rolling greens and fairways, challenging and beautiful.
While the back-9 is a unique, links-style layout set in swampy marshland with far fewer trees but just as many tactical hazards. No matter your ability level, it would be wise to pack just a few extra golf balls for this one!
4. Rusutsu 72 Golf – Rusutsu
Rusutsu is a well-known ski resort which receives metres of snowfall each winter attracting many domestic and international tourists.
Lesser known is the 72 holes of golf available across Rusutsu’s four courses during the summer months. The courses; Tower, Izumikawa, River and Wood; each offer a very different style of play and range in degree of difficulty. The Tower course is situated partly on the ski slopes and it’s not uncommon to have to angle your shot around a chairlift tower. Izumikawa is quite a short course for length, featuring a tight front 9 which opens up on the back. The River and Wood courses are tougher, meandering through dense forest and demanding accuracy off the tee.
5. Hanazono Golf – Niseko
Another golf course in a ski resort is Hanazono Golf in the Niseko area of Hokkaido. This is as foreigner-friendly as it gets when it comes to golfing in Hokkaido, with Japanese language skills not required and a fully functional website in English making it super easy to enquire and book. It’s a beautiful course too, set in forest at the base of the resort with views towards the ski runs of Niseko Annupuri and also of the iconic Mt Yotei.
There are some particularly beautiful par-3’s at Hanazono, such as the 2nd which requires accuracy off the tee to avoid water in front and the 17th which, from an elevated tee, calls on players to aim at the green between a water trap on the left and bunkers on the right. An onsen is available for players once the round is complete.
Get the timing right and tee off on a sunny day in autumn at Otaru Sasson and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more scenic golf course in Hokkaido. With vibrant oranges, reds and browns adorning the trees and many leaves falling as you play, it’s as pretty as a picture.
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