Hirono Golf Club
Japan’s most distinguished golf club, Hirono was created by opportunistic golfers from Kobe who approached leading British designer Charles H. Alison while he was working on the Tokyo Golf Club and Kawana’s Fuji Course. They had acquired part of a vast estate owned by an ex-Feudal Warlord and asked that Alison consider its suitability for golf. Well dispersed with lakes, ponds and dams as well as terrific natural ravines, gullies and undulating woodland, the property delighted Alison who took the job as designer and declared their course would be the best in Japan and one of the finest in existence.
As was his practice, Alison then retreated into his hotel room with notes and contour maps of the property and after seven days emerged with a design that, sixteen months later, would open to instant acclaim. His strategic layout was routed across a stunning variety of landforms and complimented by greens that were tilted and bunkered to reward bold driving with better angles. He also designed four incredible par threes which, despite changes, remain among the most celebrated sets of short holes in the world. A standout feature of the early course was the bunkering, Alison created fearsome hazards that were deliberately deep and often part of sprawling complexes. Insistent that the bunkers feel natural he designed them to be untidy in appearance with the sand splashed up on uneven faces. Regrettably many have since been cleaned up and their faces grassed over.
The highlight of Hirono is approach play, while some of the drives no longer present the challenge they once did, approach shots into 2, 4, 10, 11, 14, 16, 18 and each of the par threes are all still demanding. The course starts with a generously wide par five and a string a fine two-shot holes before reaching the 5th, an all-world short hole across a gorgeous fiord to a wonderfully bunkered plateau green. ‘The Devil’s Divot’ 7th hole is another outstanding par three played diagonally across a deep sandy ditch. Sadly the removal of a central bunker and the tidying of Alison’s messy sand scrapes have made the long carry slightly less intimidating. Elsewhere the 10th, 11th and clever sidehill 14th are all very good as is the par five 15th, its fairway cut by ditches that create distinct landing areas for each shot. The closing stretch is a tough assignment, a high plateau green on the 16th is followed by a long par three and the difficult 18th, which demands an accurate and strong drive across what was once a spectacularly bunkered diagonal gully.