The story of Kasumigaseki Country Club, the Olympic golf venue

·5 min read

It's older than Augusta National. It's one of the most revered courses in Japan, host to many of the nation's premier events. But for the majority of players at this week's Olympic golf event, Kasumigaseki Country Club is a mystery. Here's a look at this year's host venue. 

The history of Kasumigaseki

Kasumigaseki dates to 1929, and has long been the province of Japan’s elite. Designed by members who had been inspired by courses in the American Northeast, the club comprises two courses, East (site of the Olympic event) and West. Prior to a recent redesign, the course actually featured two greens per hole, each seeded with different grass to accommodate different seasons.

The Japanese government halted all golf during World War II, and seized part of the West Course for the military. After the U.S. requisitioned the club for seven years following World War II, the club reclaimed the original East Coast property in 1952 and opened a new West Course in 1954.

Japan’s love affair with golf began at Kasumigaseki in 1957, when what was then called The Canada Cup took place on the club’s East Course. Thirty two-man teams did battle on the course, where the Japanese team had a decided advantage thanks to the unpredictable greens.

“The grain of the grass grows hectically in every direction,” Herbert Warren Wind wrote in Sports Illustrated, “like the extra rough beard featured in shaving cream commercials.”

The Japanese duo of Torakichi Nakamura and Koichi Ono won a nine-shot victory over a field that included Americans Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret. Nakamura also won the individual title by seven shots, defeating Snead and a 21-year-old Gary Player. The victories helped kickstart golf’s popularity throughout Japan, a passion that continues to this day.

More recently, the club served as a launching pad for defending Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, the first male Japanese player to win one of golf’s majors. Matsuyama won the 2009 Japan Junior and 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur at Kasumigaseki, and he’s a hero in his homeland for his Masters win.

(Via Kasumigaseki Country Club)
(Via Kasumigaseki Country Club)

Behind the doors of Kasumigaseki

Given its rich history, it’s no surprise that Kasumigaseki was chosen to host the Olympic golf event. Even so, some of the club’s operations after it won the honor in 2013 drew notice, and concern. Most notably, the club did not have any female members — and, in defending that policy, used arguments similar to those of male-only clubs from Augusta to the Open Championship rota.

"Rather than wondering what to do because of outside pressure, this could be a chance to really think about the issue," Kasumigaseki board member and public relations committee chairman Shigeki Sugita said in early 2017. "Culture and ways of thinking don't change overnight. It will take time."

“Time” ended up being about two months; the club announced in March 2017 that it had changed its policy, and within a year it had admitted its first three female members.

The club remains an exclusive, members-only venue. As of 2017, the club had about 1,270 full members, and another 1,800 family and weekday members. At that time, an annual family membership was about $36,000, while a full membership was about $91,000.

If you’re fortunate enough to know someone who can get you on the course — and you can wait the months necessary to secure a tee time — you’d better dress correctly.

“Dressing to reflect the club’s values and heritage means taking care not only with colours, patterns, and designs but also in the way you wear your outfit,” the club notes.

Blazers are required for gentlemen upon arrival, except during the summer months. You can’t wear shorts to walk in the front door, though you can wear them on the course … as long as you also have knee-high socks. Tuck in your shirts, leave your metal spikes at home, and always remember this:

“In the heat of the summer players are asked to have the courtesy to change their shirt and trousers before entering the dining room, to prevent leaving a damp seat for the next guest.”

Rory McIlroy prepares for the Olympics at Kasumigaseki. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy prepares for the Olympics at Kasumigaseki. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The Olympics: A new challenge

In preparation for the Olympics, Kasumigaseki’s East Course underwent a complete renovation in 2016. The team of Tom and Logan Fazio added 500 yards to the course, rolling the fairways and deepening the bunkers.

“Great golf course. Great condition,” Ireland’s Shane Lowry said earlier this week. “It’s got a wide variety of holes, long, short. It’s pretty straightforward, the scoring is there in front of you. I think the scoring is going to be low.”

There’s little in the way of comparison to go on with Olympic golf, since the event has only been played once in the last 117 years — and that, in Rio in 2016. Still, players don’t expect a U.S. Open-style challenge; birdies are likely to fly in abundance.

“I think it will fit everyone’s eye,” Lowry said. “There’s quite a few bunkers. I think it will suit the longer hitters, surprisingly – like most golf courses we go and play these days. There’s quite a few bunkers at 300, 320 (yards’) carry that they can take out of play. But the only thing is if you don’t hit on the fairway it can be tricky.”

The men's tournament begins July 29, while the women's tournament will begin Aug. 4. 

The Kasumigaseki Country Club is ready for Olympic golf. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
The Kasumigaseki Country Club is ready for Olympic golf. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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