NARUO (1920), Japan
I visited Naruo in May 2016 during my first trip to Japan. The course is about an hour from Kyoto and I decided renting a car was most convenient for me, knowing that signage was going to be difficult, so I would have to rely on my GPS. That went well until 1 ½ mile from the course where there was roadworks and I was briefly lost. No option but to ask one of the workers on site for direction and obviously the language was a barrier. Luckily the GPS also had the Japanese name of Naruo so he knew it and pointed by hand the directions around the roadworks.
I was lucky with the weather as it had been rained substantially the day before and we didn’t get any rain and even got a little sunshine during the last couple of holes.
Arriving at the clubhouse, it doesn’t appear of much. But I immediately got a sense of tradition, personality and privacy. I had read beforehand about Japanese etiquette and arrived exactly on time and of course in suit jacket. My host and the club head secretary was waiting for me.
I signed in a got my locker key. Its one of those clubs, where everything is logged to your locker room number and the bill is settled when leaving.
I quickly changed to golf attire and agreed with my host to meet at the driving range. I signed for driving range token, which seemed very formal and correct. During the warmup I met my other playing partners and we immediately started sharing golf knowledge and interest. They were all very golf enthusiastic and we had lots of things to share, which was great and interesting.
Before tee off you have a coffee or tea, which is a small house next to the 1st & 10th tee. Nice way to relax a little before the game and get ready. My host asked me if I wanted to play from back tees as the course is relatively short. As I would find out during my round, it was a good choice to stick with the normal men tees.
1st hole is beautiful opening par 4. Narrow fairway and I pulled a little to the right which resulted in a blocked shot the green. I had to hit a low draw under the trees to reach the front of the green and managed to get up and down from there for an opening par. Great start I thought…
2nd hole was a well protected par 3 guarded by bunkers, which is where I ended up on the tee shot. Managed to get on the green, but had my first 3 putt. One thing about Naruo is the unique greens “korai” grass greens which you can find more information about on their website http://www.naruogc.or.jp/en/course/
They are quite special and took me some time to get used to. I had 3×3 putts on my round, which is unusual for me. They are not particularly fast (around 9 on stimp), but tricky to read and grass seems quite long & stiff. I definitely adds to the challenge.
Managed to make par on the 3rd hole after a very good drive. It is a nice par 4 where you start to get an idea of some undulation in the course.
I missed my drive way right and had to lay up 80 yards short of green with a significant height difference which is difficult to see on the picture. Didn’t get up well and walked off with a double bogey.
One of the longer par 4 on the course and I hit a nice drive down the middle which left me with 120yards to the pin. Didn’t hit the green but managed to get up and down for a good par after the poor double on the previous hole.
Naruo is a walking course where you have caddies. They have this interesting cart system which is shown above. It has a track throughout the course and is controlled by the caddie, who ends up running to and from the cart picking up clubs for the all players in group. They are considering going to buggies instead, but it worked out well and the caddie had a little calculator to convert yards to meters for me.
Hole #7 – Par 5 511 yards
Hole 7 is one of only 2 par 5’s on the course. Relatively long and just out of reach for me in 2 shots with 255yards left after my drive. Lay up to 100 yards and to a green that I would soon realize being narrow and very small. Unfortunately my 3rd shot came up a couple of yards short and plugged at the top of the very steep front bunker guarding the green. Managed to get on the green, but 2 putts later a bogey 6.
Relatively short dogleg to the right, where I hit a solid drive to within 90 yards. Downhill second shot which I hit long and left myself a downhill tricky chip. Chip and 2 putts – 5 on the scorecard. After the first 9 holes I actually felt I played reasonably well, but didn’t score at all. Out in 46 shots and 3 double boogies which shouldn’t really be the case with my hcp – lunch was well needed.
Its normal that you go for lunch after 9 holes and we had beautiful food in the clubhouse and a good break which would prove beneficial for my game.
After a good lunch you start with a pretty long par 4, but extremely wide fairway. Above picture show the slope and I felt that the back 9 was considerably more undulated and with more blind shots than the front 9. Playing with the members was a huge advantage to get directions off the tee. I managed to get a good drive into the fairway and a long second shot on the green. 2 putts later and a par to kick off the back 9.
Nice little par 3, with a relatively small green well protected by bunkers. Hit a good shot onto the green and made par.
The second and last par 5 on the course. Short, but still a tricky fairway that runs from right to left. A good drive in the fairway with 205 yards to the green. On the fairway I felt this was an opportunity to go for it and try to get a birdie. Hit a beautiful 4 wood fade onto the back of the green, was resulted in a satisfying walk to the green and focusing on not 3 putting.
Managed to role my first putt close to the hole and walk off with my only birdie on the round.
Very scenic par 3 and tricky. The green is surrounded by bunkers which makes it difficult to hit the green. It hit a 5 iron into the middle of the green and it ran into the back bunker. A really good shot, but the Korai grass and greens at Naruo is not very receptive so you need to hit good shots with longer clubs to make them stay on the green. Bogey for me.
As you can see an uphill second shot – almost blind due to the height difference. I managed to get my par after a nice drive and second shot onto the green.
Long and straight finishing hole with a bunker down the right hand side. Hit a good approach shot, but again with a longer club that couldn’t hold the green. Didn’t get up and down, so a 5 on the card.
Shot 40 on the back nine, which I was pleased with even though I had 2 double bogeys and 2×3 putts. The course was in great condition and according to my co-players it is playable almost all year. The greens were very true and smooth.
We finished up in the clubhouse with a coffee, where the head secretary joined us. She had looked through their register of guests and apparently I was the first Danish person to play the course. Obviously made the whole thing even more special.
Naruo was a fantastic experience in many ways. First of all it was my first time in Japan and the culture both off and on the course is different and positively in my opinion. The whole golfing experience was great, even though it was almost a full day it didn’t feel like it because it was enjoyable. My playing partners were all nice, talkative and welcoming to a foreigner like me. I learned a lot from the experience and it is definitely one that ranks high on my list of golfing experiences. The greens really challenged my game and made impact on my score, but it only made it more interesting.