Naruo Golf Club
Kawanishi, Hyogo, Japan

Ninth hole, 385 yards; If anything, advances in technology are making Naruo more interesting. Golfers are tempted to take more aggressive lines off tees and to flirt with difficult hole locations, even if they short-side themselves. Take this hole that bends around the shoulder of a hill. Modern equipment practically begs the golfer to have a slash up and over the hillside. Facing a risky taunt and pulling it off is quite satisfying for any golfer and the more visually intimidating, the greater the pride. Ahead, the downhill short iron approach might have the golfer licking his chops but the slightest pull will find him ruefully over the narrow green in a back bunker.

From the back markers, the single digit club golfer is likely to play at the distant fairway bunker with a draw.

 

Should he play from one set forward, the option becomes to aim over the lone pine tree on the hillside with a driver.

 

Finding the fairway and hitting from short grass is important as the green is ringed by six bunkers and …

 

… as seen from high left of the green, the putting surface is much wider than it is deep. The left side of the green is a scant eleven paces deep.

Tenth hole, 475 yards; Some holes are long, hard and boring (tune into the PGA for weekly examples) and some holes are long, hard and thrilling (look for Golden Age par 5’s that are now par 4s). This one falls into the latter category and notably, George Peper et al. selected it as one of the world’s top 500 holes. Similar to the eleventh at Ballybunion and the fourteenth at Olympia Fields, the mammoth hole is laid out in plain view of the golfer so lack of awareness isn’t the culprit for a mounting score. Rather, it’s the cruelty of having to cross so much exciting land in but two shots that taxes even the smoothest swing.

This gorgeous view from the 10th tee becomes daunting when the golfer realizes he is only given two strokes to cover the distance.

 

The 200+ yard approach across a bygone river valley is as thrilling and heroic as the downhill tee shot.

Twelfth hole, 165 yards; Alison’s original design partner, Harry Colt, famously placed great emphasis on one shot holes. Colt never traveled to Japan but if he had, he would have marveled at the top to bottom excellence of the one shotters at both Naruo and Hirono. Of the eight, none are remotely indifferent and half can be deemed world-class (Naruo 12, 15 and Hirono 5, 7).

The left greenside bunker is the deepest on the course and balls with a bit too much draw can hit on the putting surface and tumble fifteen feet to an unlikely recovery.

Fourteenth hole, 485 yards; Given the bruising four hole finish, the pressure is exacerbated for the good golfer to take advantage of this hole’s modest length. A calm before the storm, the golfer stands on the tee and sees clear-sailing down a bunkerlesss, sloping fairway. However, the drama greatly increases 100 yards from the green, where a ravine slashes diagonally between the fairway and green.

The presentation of the green, particularly the tight grass that feeds down the precipitous drop-off, is first rate. It would be infinitely easier, duller and less scary if the greenside bank was rough and retained balls on its slope.

Fifteenth hole, 190 yards; The Cranes had positioned this tee close to the fourteenth green and their hole appears to have been fairly prosaic and uphill. Alison suggested – and they agreed – to move the tee to the other side of the entrance drive creating a much longer hole played over a ravine. Alison’s brainstorm rivals the tenth as the most famous hole on the course and is certainly a case study of a great architect producing a great hole. The none-too-deep (24 yards), circular green is virtually an island surrounded by a sea of sand. It’s easy to see how the better ball striker eventually wears out the golfer who has to scramble for his pars at Naruo; getting up and down from these bunkers is one mean feat.

Eight bunkers engulf the green, positioned a good half club above the teeing ground. The club’s winding entrance road is between the tee and green, down in the ravine.

Sixteenth hole, 405 yards; The well-traveled golfer might be reminded of the Inverness Golf Club in Ohio where the back nine features a series of parallel two shotters and a lone three shotter that utilize the land in such diverse ways as to make the golfer forget that the holes are parallel. At Nauro, the fourteenth, eighteenth, seventeenth, sixteenth and thirteenth holes play in parallel tree-lined corridors but like Inverness, the land and resultant challenges are wildly different.

The approach shot to the 16th drops majestically some fifty feet across broken ground. As per usual, the green complex dictates a preferable half of the fairway for the approach. It is telling that Alison had the fairway extended 15 yards to the right, as a means of using short grass to help get the golfer out of position.

Seventeenth hole, 400 yards; Diversity is the hallmark of any great course and Naruo possesses it in spades. Just look at the last few approach shots: carry over a ravine to the bunkerless fourteenth green,  uphill tee ball at the one shot fifteenth surrounded by sand, downhill approach to the long, angled sixteenth, and now an uphill second to a small, circular green atop a hill. Fourteen, sixteen, and seventeen parallel one another – but you would never know it!

A drive over the right half of the fairway bunker does nicely. What dreamy landscape for golf and when Alison recommended cutting bunkers into such natural landforms, they were guaranteed to be deep.

Eighteenth hole, 455 yards; The course, like Oakmont, concludes with a downhill tee ball to a fairway where the going is more level. A cross bunker 110 yards short of the green and one of the course’s best contoured putting surfaces cap off the round in a demanding fashion. An expansive long view from the tee of the distant hills sometimes shrouded in clouds is always one to savor.

After the round the golfer is bound to reflect on all the pleasurable shots he faced. Off the tee or into the greens, many shots readily appeal and are of the sort that the golfer is keen for another try. There are no weak links and losing a ball is a rarity. Play is always with a caddie, who transports your clubs on a motorized trolley. Pausing for lunch is de rigor.

Originally, the club began life some 30 miles away in Naruo-hama (Naruo-beach) as a three holer with sand greens but quickly became 6 then 9 and finally 18. A financial depression necessitated the sale of some of the land and the Crane brothers (who were club members) scouted around and secured this wonderfully rolling site in 1929. Joe, Harry and Bertie clearly had a keen eye for what constitutes good golf and  their design opened October 12, 1930. Fortuitously, Alison was in the area during his famous journey and the Cranes selflessly solicited his advice to help them refine the holes and take Naruo to an altogether higher level.

Alison’s notes were concise and centered around moving tees, expanding playing corridors, adding bunkers and adjusting greens. Ultimately, it’s the greens, the final targets whose quality does as much to define an inland course as any other attribute. Alison excelled at that and his plans were executed by the same talented hands that shaped the course. Tom MacWood’s admiration for C.H. Alison is well-founded and here is how he surmised Alison’s green construction:

Greenside mounds would often encroach upon the putting surfaces. This was Alison’s preferred method of creating undulations in his greens, extending and merging either natural undulations or mounds onto the green surfaces. And like many designers his greens were oriented to one side or the other through the placement of greenside hazards or pronounced contours, rewarding those who chose the best angle of attack (occasionally the center was the preferred approach). Another common device was the tilting of his greens sideways — an approach from the wrong angle or one poorly struck would fall away.

Alison’s bunkers and mounds, as seen from behind the 13th green.

There is abundant strategy here and advantages can be gained on every shot so that the thinking golfer is bound to fall under Naruo’s considerable spell. The members are extremely fortunate to have such a thought-provoking design to enjoy on a regular basis.

The End