You too can have your own country getaway

by Miles Hopkins

What’s so great about the great outdoors? Does Japan have one? I’m sure I’ve seen it because every time I fly into Narita from the UK, which inci­dentally is almost all great outdoors, I stare down onto greenery that is apparently non-existent in Tokyo. The thing is, when I open my curtains each morning to find myself looking onto the Shuto expressway and the monolithic Roppongi Hills or Tokyo Midtown, the great outdoors couldn’t seem to be further away.

It’s all too easy to be sucked into the ‘work for the weekend’ mentality: commuting from apartment to work and home again, via a bar or two. Friday finally comes round and then it’s home via a bar or five. The long-awaited weekend of relaxing can too played for ages, or that my golf balls seemed to have a half-life of about three shots. Every hole was an ad­venture with steep drops to out of bounds or forests, blind dog-legs and water hazards or bunkers just where you don’t need them. Standing on the elevated tee on the par three fifth trying not to be distracted by the large easily become another  two days trapped in Tokyo’s concrete jun­gle. There is always a dinner, birthday, wel­come, or sayonara party to attend, which can some­times be a bit claustrophobic when trying to break the vice-like grip of the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Making a break for it seems like mission impossible.

Then, a year ago, something bizarre happened. I turned 30. It was as if a fog had lifted… and I rediscovered golf. I’d been to the driving ranges on top of buildings, even ones where the balls come through the floor automati­cally. I’d even stayed up late to watch Europe win the Ryder Cup in 2005. Great fun, but it had never been Hit catalyst.

It was an invite from a friend of mine to head up on a Saturday to ‘his club’ in Ibaraki. ‘His club’ turned out to be a recently discovered ‘gem’ that was Windsor Park Golf and Country Club. A quick review of the website, (it opens in English as opposed to almost all other Japa­nese golf websites that are 100 percent Japanese) indi­cated this was somewhere that definitely needed further investigation for a non-Japanese speaker like me.

If the freshness of the countryside air was anything to go by, then this was going to be a great trip. Upon arrival, I was met by Jim Fletcher, the General Manager of Windsor Park, a 20-year veteran of the golf industry in Japan, and the only thing more Irish in Japan than a perfect pint of Guinness. I think he could tell that I was impressed, not only with the location and accom­panying hotel but the incredible view inviting lake on my right hand side and looking at mountains rising up behind the green, I struggled to imagine how this could get any better. Then the ‘Fair­way Bar’ drove around the corner. It wasn’t a mirage.

I was hooked and signed up to become a member
even before I’d hit a single golf ball.

Safely refuelled with a few ice-cold beers to help me forget about all my lost balls we finished the round better than we’d started and retired to the clubhouse to dissect each shot in minute detail before the obligatory onsen provided by the 9th and 18th greens that encircle a particularly menac­ing lake right in front of the clubhouse. That was it, I was hooked and signed up to become a member even before I’d hit a single golf ball.

Out on the course, it didn’t matter that I’d not to remove the aches and pains of a solid ‘hike’ around a properly undulating course. Certainly much more of a workout than you’d get on a course in the UK, especially if you are pulling your own clubs with you rather than using the remote control carts which really are pretty cool (they also don’t spill your beer!).

This was just over a year ago and I think I’ve now been at least 25 times since then. The ease of getting up to the club on the Fresh Hitachi from Ueno to Tomobe in just over one hour and then the air conditioned shuttle bus to the club all heighten the experience and make it just so con­venient and easy from Tokyo. I mustn’t forget to point out that even on the darkest of golf days, (and there are a few of them when I play), the prospect of the famous ‘Windsor Burger’ certainly does drive you, helping you forget your poor shots or recent bun­ker nightmare on the 13th (yes, I took five shots) and stick with it to the 19th hole.

You’re always sure of a great reception upon arrival and Jim (with his meteorological hat on) tells me that Windsor has its own unique weather system. I have to agree: when it’s raining in Tokyo it’s nearly always clear and sunny on the course so there must be some truth in it. The club is also a great place to meet new people or catch up with friends from Tokyo. Boasting 25 per­cent non-Japanese members, this makes Windsor the most diverse golf club in Japan with other clubs only managing one to two percent.

Only last weekend, the course was bathed in sun­shine right up to 4pm, pausing briefly for a torrential downpour out of nowhere that lasted all of 15 min­utes. Once the lightning had abated and it was safe to go back out, we realized to our surprise that we were now playing ‘Millionaire Golf. This was the first time I’d experienced being the only people on the entire course and as the sun started to set in the distance I really did start to feel like we owned the club.

Having your own place in the country really is within your reach and I only wish I’d found it sooner. However, I’m determined to make up for lost time.

Anybody fancy a round?

External Link:
Windsor Park Golf and Country Club