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For a brief tour of Japanese courses, the Kawagoe Country Club is a good place to begin, for it epitomizes the boom. Kawagoe stands on a hill high above the savannas of the revivified silk industry about an hour and a half out of the city, and its 27-hole course, up and downhill with a spectacular over-water carry on its par-3 No. 4 hole, was designed 10 years ago by Pete Nakamura (he has done a dozen others since). Like most Japanese courses, it has two greens per hole—korai and bent, the latter for winter play. Though its greens are not severely trapped, Kawagoe has some fairway bunkers so deep that they resemble small volcanic cones. " Nakamura bunkers," grinned the resident pro.
In its fee structure and its increment of value Kawagoe can stand for almost every membership course built in the last decade and a half. It has 1,800 members, and original joiners paid only about $1,000. Its annual dues are $42, and weekday guests pay $18.75 in greens fees while the Sunday and holiday fee goes up to $28.50. Like most clubs, it is suffering a caddie shortage, and the traditional female club carriers (at rural courses they are farmers' wives, not Ginza beauties) are now supplemented by schoolboys. The market value of memberships has risen to about $14,000. Manager Takeshi Nagao says it will go up 20% when a nearby interchange on a new toll road, now under construction, is completed next spring. An average of 250 golfers a day play Kawagoe.
Across the mountain is the 14-year-old Fuji Heigen, a 27-hole course distinguished by its excellent view of Fuji—sometimes. Fuji boasts 1,900 regular members and 2,300 weekday members, and it is owned outright by a single person, Mrs. Tokuko Hirose, widow of the founder. Fuji Heigen provided an indomitable display of spirit—302 golfers already had teed off into fog and drizzle and dozens more were waiting. In F-H's opulent new clubhouse, Manager Akira Kusakari said, "Golf courses are beginning to form a necklace around the base of Fuji-san. There will be 31 by the end of the year. It still is not enough."
One of the brightest jewels in Fuji's necklace is a 3,600-foot-high course on the mountain's northwestern flank—Fuji Lakeside. It was raining there, too, but a few players were finishing sodden afternoon rounds. The mountain did not appear that night, but at 4:15 the next morning a crescent of fire began to show above the hills that lie due east of the club's 60-bedroom lodge. In 10 minutes it had cleared the last peak—the Rising Sun that had given Japan both its sobriquet and its flag, a circular blaze of flame in a robin's-egg sky. Down at the course, towering over all, stood Fuji, thrusting against the cloudless dawn, its upper slopes above timberline faintly reflecting the sun's red glow, a few ribbons of snow cast like flung scarves down its ravines.
By tee time (7:30 a.m.) the shy mountain, as the Japanese call it, had begun to clothe itself, first in a tiny wisp of cloud that appeared to rise behind the summit, then in a gradually enveloping, revolving halo that concealed the tip of the peak. By 9:30 the whole sky had closed down again, but in those few hours it was easy to understand why 1,300 golfers hang on to their $28,000 memberships (up from $1,100 when the club was founded 13 years ago), and why about 300 of them have built summer villas on the 100 tsubos of land (about 1/12 of an acre) that was included in each membership sale. Lakeside is one of the few golf courses in Japan that link land sales to memberships but, unlike the hundreds of U.S. golf-condominium projects, its building sites are not on the fairways.
Across the narrow waistline of Honshu Island, on the Sea of Japan, a new venture called the Kaga Country Club opened last April. Its course is still too new and raw to judge but its clubhouse is truly unique—the only one in Japan built in the form of a medieval Japanese castle. Kaga's 2,500 memberships have all been sold, with the last-stage buyers paying nearly $6,000 despite the fact that Kaga is six hours by train from Tokyo and 2� from Kyoto. But Kaga castle is not the most extraordinary product of the Nakamura boom. That distinction belongs to the Church of Perfect Liberty, or "PL," as it is known throughout Japan (learning to say "PL" instead of "PR" presumably is one of the first steps toward conversion). Some 20 miles south of Osaka, at Tondabayashi, PL has its world headquarters in a 2,500-acre extravaganza that not only includes a temple, an amusement park, a 2,100-student boarding school and a 600-foot "Peace Tower" but three golf courses—the 36-hole PL Country Club plus public layouts of 27 and 18 holes. PL has 380 girl caddies who not only carry golf bags and find lost balls but actually push elderly golfers up the hillier fairways.
The Church of Perfect Liberty is presided over by its patriarch, 73-year-old Tokuchika Miki, son of a Zen Buddhist priest who 50 years ago decided that the way of man was as important as the way of the gods. Not long after Nakamura's victory, Miki Jr. decided that the Way of Golf might very well serve as an expression of the Way of Man. The patriarch, dapper in a pinstriped white suit with white hair flowing back in a sort of Albert Einstein cut, receives visitors in a sumptuous office that demonstrates PL's first precept—"Life is Art." Seven original Picassos were hung on the office walls, and statuary ranging from antique to abstract was scattered about the room. PL may be Miki but it certainly isn't mouse. "Because we have several golf courses here and others elsewhere, some people ask if there is a relationship between our religion and golf," the patriarch said. "Some even call it 'the golf religion.' That is putting the matter upside down. Golf simply makes an important PL point—in playing golf a person must learn to control many emotions and make the best expression of himself. The emotion of grief after a bad shot, unless it is controlled, may cause another bad shot. We recommend that husbands and wives play golf together—it is a way for them to share happiness and jointly practice PL principles. Besides, golf is good for the aged as well as youth and it is truly international."
Back in Tokyo, Ambassador Robert Ingersoll talked about the state and future of Japanese golf. The ambassador has learned to share the determination of Japanese golfers. He said he had played the Hakone Country Club "when the fog was so thick you could hardly see the tee," and added, grinning, "The very first time I played here was in a typhoon. At home I wouldn't have played, but I was a brand-new ambassador and I wasn't going to chicken out."
Although he was careful to make clear that he was not speaking officially, Ingersoll said he could see no objection to carving golf courses out of the foothills of the mountains "or other land that is not being used." Arnold Palmer's Japanese organization is one of many course-builders that has gone to the mountains. One course, Manago, has just opened. Another, Shimotsuke, will be ready in about a year. At Shimotsuke, about 2� hours northeast of Tokyo in Tochigi prefecture, the Hoshigaura Kosan Co., which is building all Palmer courses, had 23 bulldozers at work despite heavy rain, carving the second nine out of Ozarkian hills. On what would be the 16th tee a big orange 'dozer literally was pushing 20-foot-high trees down a slope, while others shaped the fairway.
The most spectacular—some might say ridiculous—golf promotion in Japan is the creation of a playwright and speculator named Zenya Hamada, who somehow persuaded the Royal and Ancient to let him build a "New St. Andrews." Hamada enlisted Jack Nicklaus to design the course and after a thorough exploration of the terrain Nicklaus agreed that a sort of St. Andrews could be built there. It will not have the famous Loop that has made the seventh to 11th holes a nightmare for golfers for 100 years, but with the help of Architect Desmond Muirhead the Golden Bear has contrived a fair approximation of the rest of the course, taking into account that it is nowhere near the sea but instead is in the mountains of Tochigi.