Because a colleague’s father owns a golf course in Osaka, I find myself at the Keihan Golf Club, a links course along the Yodo River. A historic facility that allows local players to practice on a narrow, windy and flat 18-hole course; a topography rarely encountered in the land of the rising sun.
Accompanied by a Japanese golfer friend, I was surprised when he told me that we had arrived! From the passenger seat, I can only see an industrial area with sheet-metal made buildings on either side of the small road we were on. Then a sign tells us to take a short winding road that climbs on what looks like a dike. Once at the top, the landscape opens up onto the estate and the city. The car park just opposite separates the 18-hole course in two. To our right, the first 9 holes and to the left the rest.
Unfortunately, the photo does not do justice to the landscape that unfolds before our eyes. This golf course nestled on the sides of the river contrasts calm with the noises that come from the surrounding city.
While we are on the dike admiring the landscape, our host, Kaoru Nishimura joins us to accompany us in an experience that will exceed all our expectations.
Historical tour of the complex
Before chaining the hooks and slices on the course, it’s time to learn a little about the history of the club. We jump into his minivan to reach a building that served as a clubhouse before the pandemic.
Our host, Kaoru Nishimura, wanted to share the history of the club and its journey for our greatest pleasure.
The visit to the club house begins with the top floor. In a room, intended for receptions before the pandemic, the owner of the premises has set up a professional training area. Weight benches and an exercise bike are used at least 30 minutes a day as well as the practice net, and surely one of the many clubs that surround the room. No wonder Kaoru-san is so full of energy at 77 years old!
We ask in the old restaurant for a coffee. And the story continues. In bulk and with the translations of my Japanese friend, I understand that the club is part of one of the 5 waterfront courses in Osaka. But nothing to do with the 40 in Tokyo. We learn that 38 employees work full time on the course, that it all started in 1967. The Keihan Golf Club is the 65th golf course built on the archipelago (today more than 2000 courses). He tells us that he played the Japan Open in 1980. A year before I was born! Even after more than 2 decades of playing, I’m still amazed that golf is a lifelong sport. Then he ends up telling us that he organizes himself to pass on the reins as his father had done before him.
It’s time to get going.
A golf bag is waiting for me downstairs. Everything is there; clubs, tees, balls and a starter gift.
In the bag, all stiff. The driver and wood 3 R7, a series of 4 pitch Srixon Z765 with brand new red and white Golf Pride grips, 2 Cleveland wedges and a Scotty Cameron Newport. I’m a little jealous. It’s even better than what I have at home!
The Keihan Golf Club course
No time to warm up. A voice over a loudspeaker announces our names for the start of hole 1. It’s time to discover this compact 18-hole, par 64.
From the first green, I am challenged by its quality. Both soft and rolling, their condition is irreproachable.
For a green fee at this price (9000 yen or 63 euros for 18 holes), it is considered an accessible course in Japan. and the quality is impeccable. The average price ranges between 80 and 100 euros. Golf in Japan is quite expensive, but it is not uncommon to see driving range nets for everyday practice. Moreover, many Japanese only practice golf on these facilities.
The course is compact and contains a lot of par 3’s and 4’s. But even if I’m not on my best days, surely because of this light rain which comes to cool us down when it’s 24 degrees, I am stunned by the attention to detail and quality maintenance of the course. Bunkers are raked by players. There are no wild weeds covering the lips of the bunkers. Bins and ashtrays are emptied regularly.
Shelters along the route surely provide protection from heavy rainfall during the rainy season. Playing at the beginning of June, I’m delighted to narrowly avoid it!
The first 9 holes follow each other quickly. They are short but technical and it will be necessary to analyze the elements before choosing the right club. On some holes, there is room to take out the driver, even if the 3 wood is more than enough.
The Japanese tradition.
We arrive at the end of the first 9 holes and tradition dictates that we stop for something to eat. A subterfuge which makes it possible to fit more flights at hole 10, while streamlining traffic on the ground. We have half an hour. A tent erected between the 9th and 10th hole, welcomes us with open arms, or rather along the body or hands joined! On the menu, a Japanese curry, Takoyakis (octopus fritters) and a beer.
The last 9 holes, even if they require even more precision, are more classic. The sequence of par 3 on the 15, 16, 17 does not denote the rest of the course. But the 18th hole, a par 4, seems to sound like deliverance until you realize that the tree planted in the middle of the fairway will either be in the field of vision on the second shot if the drive is short, or then with a long enough drive, will only be an obstacle passed.
For me it will be a miraculous bounce off the right of the fairway bunker. A chip and a putt for par. Enough to make you want to go back next week.
The Keihan Golf club brings together all the elements for a perfect day, whether in terms of course maintenance or services. Add to that the history of this family heritage and the experience only becomes better. In short, an obligatory detour during your next visit to Osaka.
Cover photo: Masahiro Nakamura