Japan’s first golf course, Mt. Rokko, Kobe, c. 1920.

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“Golf was first introduced into Japan, land of cherry-blossoms and kimono, by Arthur H. Groom, an Englishman, in May, 1903.

“The first golf course in Japan was constructed on the flat top of Mt. Rokko (3,000 feet above sea-level) near Kobe and was officially opened by Ichizo Hattori, Governor of Hyogo Prefecture, the links being of Groom’s own planning.

“To-day Mt. Rokko is noted as a summer and winter resort with good hotel accommodation and good approaches by way of driveway, cable line and airway.

“But at the time the links were constructed [in 1903] there were no villas or hotels. The place was wild and full of foxes, monkeys and other animals when Groom and his friends started the first golf tournament there.

“The Kobe Golf Club on Mt. Rokko has for members the wealthy people of Kobe and Osaka, foreigners constituting about half the number. Visitors introduced by a member are permitted to play.”

Present-Day Japan: English Supplement of the Osaka Asahi and the Tokyo Asahi, The Asahi Publishing Company, 1927

Rokko-san golf course, Kobe, c. 1920. Originally opened with nine-holes in May 1903, the very first golf course in Japan, the Mt. Rokko golf course would quickly expand to a full par 61 eighteen-holes in 1904. The course lives on today as the Kobe Golf Club. As the course was literally carved out of a mountain, it can be quite demanding. Strict rules are still enforced to maintain the course’s pristine condition such as a prohibition of golf carts and a limit of ten clubs per player.

“Golf appears to be fully established at Kobe for the Kobe Golf Club, which held its first meeting on Friday, has no fewer than 95 members. The links are at Rokkosan; nine holes are ready for use and there is even talking of having ‘chambers’ for the accommodation of members. The Pavilion is to be finished by the 20th of this month.”

– Japan Daily Mail, April 11, 1903

See also:
Golfing in Japan (A short history).
Fujiya Sengoku Golf Course, Hakone, c. 1960.

“The history of modern Japan begins with the Meiji Restoration that ended centuries of isolation, opened Japan’s ports to foreign trade and unleashed a sudden flood of foreigners upon these remote and hitherto forbidden shores. Amongst them was a young Englishman by the name of Arthur Hesketh Groom, who in 1868 disembarked in Kobe to take up residence and seek his fortune.

“Although Groom and his contemporaries were restricted with regard to residence and work to Kobe’s Foreign Concession, his love of the outdoors and his fascination with the untamed nature of Mt. Rokko rising 3,054 ft. (931m) almost vertically above the city led him in 1895 to build a cottage near the summit of his beloved mountain. Groom’s retreat was the first of many to follow, and to this day he is acclaimed as having pioneered the development of Mt. Rokko as a resort area and tourist attraction.

“Groom’s involvement with Rokko-san didn’t end with his weekend getaways. In 1898 he and a group of like-minded mountaineers, no doubt reminiscing nostalgically about their ancestral home with whisky glass in hand (and perhaps motivated by the establishment of the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club a few years earlier), set about to build a few links on leased land not far from his cottage. After three years of clearing rocks and underbrush without the benefit of modern equipment, by the fall of 1901 they had completed their first four holes.

“Word soon spread, and the growing number of golfers prompted the addition of five holes and the official establishment of the Kobe Golf Club on February 27, 1903, with Groom serving as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer and T.C. Thornicraft the Club’s inaugural President. (The latter has the distinction of also being elected the first president of the Kobe Club, another of Kobe’s historical clubs founded by Westerners in the years following the city’s opening to foreign trade.) Another nine holes were added in 1904, resulting in an 18-hole, 3,576 yard, bogey 78 course.

“The Original Roll of Members bearing the signatures of 135 members is preserved in the original at the JGA Golf Museum in Hirono, Hyogo Prefecture. With the exception of a sprinkling of Japanese, Germans, Frenchmen and Americans, the founding members were overwhelmingly British nationals who for the most part also belonged to Kobe’s other ‘foreign clubs’, the Kobe Club and the Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club.”

Kobe Golf Club official history

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