Kawana (Fuji)

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The resort’s feature venue, the Fuji course, offers a magnificent stretch of golf overlooking Sagami Bay, its holes calling to mind the dramatic clifftop holes at Pebble Beach. Worth crossing an ocean to play? Yes. Wind-twisted pines cling to the high points of the course, which offer sightlines of 12,388-foot Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan and one of the most beautiful snow-frosted volcanic cones on earth.

Fuji was one of four original layouts built in Japan from 1932 to 1936 by Charles H. Alison, who also remodeled several others. Alison, an Englishman who formed a lifelong partnership with legendary designer Harry S. Colt shortly after World War I, handled most of the firm’s design work in North America and the Far East. Their design principles and strategic nuances were similar. Like Colt, Alison used a drawing board to sketch routings and was not afraid to build a course on a difficult site. With its topsy-turvy terrain and lava-rock subsoil, Kawana certainly qualifies in this category.

Known for his critically placed, often cavernous bunkers, Alison said this of his pitfalls: “Hazards should be visible. In general, they should not penalize to the extent of more than one stroke, provided that the stroke out of them is properly played. They should not be so severe as to discourage bold play. In placing hazards it is vital to keep the course navigable for the duffer. It is perfectly possible to do this, and yet to render it interesting and testing for the first-class player.”

Alison was wise enough to break his own rules on occasion. At Kawana, several of the fairway bunkers are not visible from the tee. These yawning, steep-faced sand pits are very punitive. While generally more strategic than penal in his thinking, Alison packed a wallop into his 6,691-yard, par-72 masterpiece. An exceptionally hilly course—the fairways appear wave-tossed—the Fuji affords very few level stances. The scorecard yardage is deceptive. Four of the holes play straight uphill. The downhill holes, while exhilarating, cannot be overpowered because of their deep bunkers, perched greens and pine-clad corridors. The Pacific air is heavy and must be accounted for in club selection. When the wind blows, this 70-year-old gem is unyielding; but as at Pebble, it’s hard to get upset by a few miscues, so spectacular is the setting.

 

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