by ausgolf Editor Selwyn Berg*
Often likened to California’s Pebble Beach, Kawana is a golf resort set on cliff tops high above the Pacific Ocean. The Kawana Hotel was built by a Japanese “Baron” who returned to the Izu Peninsula and built an art deco style luxury retreat. Today the sprawling Kawana Hotel (Prince Group) can accommodate 200 guests in lavish surroundings complete with traditional hot springs (Onsen) and both Western and Japanese style dining. There are two 18-hole courses – Fuji and Oshima.
British designer C.H. Alison, a partner of the great Harry Colt stayed at Kawana after working on Hirono and Tokyo Golf Clubs and when he saw the spectacular setting he convinced the owner to build a world class golf course. The result was the Fuji course, ranked by Golf Magazine 2019 at #56. For Aussie comparisons, New South Wales sits at #46 on the list and Cape Wickham a harshly judged #60. Old Head Kinsale has disappeared. Ran Morrissett (now Golf's editor) had this to say: Japan's answer to Pebble Beach is this 1936 design that boasts staggering views of snow-capped Mt. Fuji and cliff-top panoramas of the Pacific Ocean. Alison's superb bunkering and strategies mix with undulating terrain that make it worth the three-hour trip from Tokyo. Recent tree clearing along the perimeter has enhanced an appreciation of the site’s phenomenal coastal setting. (Up 12)
Alison’s brilliant design had to cope with massive undulation, dense jungle and a variety of landforms. His bunkering is strategic and superb – none more so than the fearful “Alison Bunker” in front of the elevated 18th green. The routing manages to exploit the best that the site offered, and Alison has incorporated many of Colt’s classic heathland concepts into this course which is really a mix of parkland, heathland, dune and clifftop. And then there's the iconic Mt Fuji - visible on a clear day from high points on the course.
The signature hole is undoubtedly the 15th, a 480 yard par 5 that runs along the clifftops to your left besides the Ocean and dares you to carry jungle from the elevated tee to shorten the hole and reach the green in two. Bunkers guard the safer shot to the right.
Both fairways and greens are typical Japanese ‘Korai’ grass. Fairway shots are a delight as the ball sits up and begs to be smashed, but the ‘grain’ on the greens can make putting awkward. However, so well prepared were the putting surfaces on our visit that I was convinced I was putting on Bent grass. Our caddy certainly knew her stuff and indicated the correct line every time. An interesting and slightly unusual setup where all players walk, and the group’s caddy uses an electric buggy to transport all sets of clubs down the fairways.
After golf Onsen, gastronomic dinner and the grandeur of the Hotel are sure to make Kawana an unforgettable experience.
*The writer travelled as the guest of Tourism Shizuoka Japan and Kawana Hotel
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