With its plethora of top-class golf courses and popularity with international travelers at an all-time high, it is surprising to learn that Japan lags behind other countries as a golf tourism destination. That is all about to change, however, as we discovered at Japan’s first ever Golf Tourism Convention, held in Mie last October.
Hosted by the Global Golf Tourism Organisation (IAGTO) at the Shima Kanko Hotel in Ise (which famously hosted the 2016 G7 Summit), the event’s premise was simple. Gather 50 handpicked international golf tour operators and representatives from golf clubs from all across Japan, and sow the seeds of an industry that is already a billion-dollar business worldwide. In a speed-dating style flurry of matchmaking, tour operators met with golf course ‘suppliers’ to discover potential matches and lay the groundwork for a cautious rollout of Japan’s first national golf tourism strategy.
Mie itself represents a microcosm of everything the golf tourist would be hoping for. A slew of immaculate first-class courses, beautiful natural scenery, and a rich cultural and culinary heritage to explore between the fairways.
So why has it taken this long to join golf and tourism into one actionable strategy? Part of the answer lies in the culture of golf in Japan itself, which has long held an exclusive, members-only policy by many of its top clubs. Inflexible tee times also make many courses off-limits to casual tourists. The reluctance or lack of suitable staff to cater for international golfers is also often cited as a significant hurdle.
By controlling the flow of international golfers and establishing a proven blueprint for success, however, the industry can be encouraged to open up and begin the necessary evolution required to reach its potential as a top global golf destination. With the Tokyo Olympics just over a year away, where golf will make its second outing as an Olympic sport, the time is ripe to take action.
It has taken eight years to reach even this point, which is largely down to the vision and leadership of Mie governor Eikei Suzuki. By being proactive in promoting itself as a top golf destination, and establishing relationships with both the IAGTO and regional golf resorts and associations, Mie has positioned itself as the pioneer of a potentially lucrative industry.
Want to play golf in Japan?
The website golf-in-japan.com lists a number of courses in various prefectures. Most listings include the price range, address, contact information, rankings, pictures, and all other necessary information in English.
If you’re organizing your own golfing in Japan, there are three things to consider before booking:
1. Courses tend to be far from major transportation hubs as most are located in mountainous areas, so you will need to consider how you will get to and from a course.
2. Making tee times and inquiries can be difficult to do in English. This is expected to get easier as golf tourism takes off, but for now, you may need your hotel staff or a friend to help you set up your game.
3. Weekday rates at many courses tend to be cheaper, so if you can avoid weekends, you will usually pay 20 to 30 percent less for greens fees.