Japanese Golf Resorts Look to Foreigners to Sustain Growth

“Koreans are fanatical when it comes to golf,” said Panch Ratnavale, the director of Niseko Village, a ski and golf resort 30 minutes northwest of Rusutsu by car. “They can do 36 holes every day. Their priorities are different. If you want to talk about maniacs, I’ve never seen anyone more passionate than Koreans.”

Niseko Village, which is owned by YTL Hotels of Malaysia, has two golf courses, one of them designed by Arnold Palmer. Between the two, YTL is building a 50-room Ritz-Carlton Reserve on the slopes of its Niseko Village ski hill.

The Ritz will bring total beds at Niseko Village, which also has other accommodations including ski-in, ski-out chalets, to about 1,500. While YTL runs beach resorts and hotels in Europe, East Asia and Australia, Niseko is its only golf resort, and it intends to use the Ritz to target the growing Asian golf trade.

On the other side of Mount Niseko-Annupuri, one of Japan’s most popular ski destinations, the operator of the 18-hole Hanazono Golf has renovated its clubhouse, adding a Mediterranean-style restaurant. The operator, Nihon Harmony Resorts, hopes to lure golfers from overseas, including those staying at the affiliated Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, an eight-story, 600-bed hotel and condo complex that’s scheduled for completion this winter. The Park Hyatt is at the foot of the Hanazono Niseko ski hill, near Hanazono Golf.

“Niseko is well known as a winter resort, but we’re trying to push its summer appeal as well,” said the general manager, Yasuo Kato.

Course operators in Hokkaido are not alone in looking overseas: In recent years, industry groups and government agencies have begun organizing seminars on golf tourism.

“Golf tourism is still in its infancy in Japan, despite the huge influx of tourists,” Mr. Varcoe said. “The time will come when golf courses in Japan will need to tap into this market and then you might see a big change in attitude.”

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