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Sanford Golf Design to Renovate 54-hole Complex in Japan


Sanford Golf Design of Jupiter, Fla., has reached an agreement with a Japanese holding company, JSG Capital, to renovate the three courses at Kosaido Country Club near Sapporo, Japan.

JSG Capital purchased Kosaido, a private club, through "corporate rehabilitation," a relatively new bankruptcy law in Japan. The facility includes 18 holes designed by the Australian great Peter Thomson, which opened in 1995.

The Old Course and New Course were built in the early- and mid-1980s, respectively, and designed by Japanese architects, whom Sanford has been unable to identify. Because of the purchase circumstances, he has little original design documentation to guide him. "We're just trying to piece it together," he said.

Sanford said all three courses have suffered from deferred upkeep in recent years. The layouts feature rolling terrain and an abundance of hardwood trees, a setting that reminds him of northwestern Michigan. Sapporo, on the north island of Hokkaido, is best known as host of the 1972 Winter Olympics.

The three-year project, slated to get underway this spring, will affect all 54 holes to varying degrees. "Even though they're old and tired, the courses are generally well laid out and have nice relief to them," said Sanford.

During Phase 1 this year, Sanford will focus on the Thomson Course. That layout essentially will gain a "facelift," according to Sanford, which will entail the repositioning of tees, adding continuous cart paths, minimal cosmetic work and beautification.

"It's a very good golf course," said Sanford. "We won't touch the bunkers, as they are all small pot bunkers and have retained their shape quite well. Being an older course, there are some drainage issues that have to be addressed. Other than that, it's pretty much utilitarian stuff to get the course back to where they can maximize the usage of it."

Phase 2 will comprise restoration of the roughly 25-year-old New Course. Its routing and basic characteristics will remain unchanged. "It's a good layout with lots of width," said Sanford. "It just needs minimal changes to the greens, tee repositioning, renovation of all the bunkers, and the strategic relocation of some bunkers."

The Old Course will require the most dramatic alterations in Phase 3, which is scheduled for summer 2014. Built during the early 1980s, the Old Course has two greens on each hole - a standard design element in Japan at the time. (A bentgrass green was used during colder months; a zoysia green in the summer.) The extent of the work on the Old Course is still being assessed, though Sanford said it likely will include the consolidation and reshaping of greens, altering fairways, updated bunkering and new tees.

Sanford is no stranger to Japan. He collaborated with Lee Trevino on the design of the Regent Miyazaki Country Club in the country's southern tip, which opened for play in 1992. Sanford had just begun another project there that year, but it came to an abrupt halt in the wake of the Japanese stock-market crash. Twenty years later, he sees signs of a rebounding golf industry in Japan.

"I'm no economist, and this is strictly anecdotal, but what I see is renewed confidence and activity where the Japanese people are starting to prosper again," said Sanford. "There appears to be opportunities for buyers to purchase struggling golf properties at a reduced price, upgrade the facilities and rejuvenate the golf market."

Sanford also foresees a shift from Japan's traditional private club model to more accessible daily fee and resort facilities. "People still love to play golf there," he said. "Unfortunately, over the last 15, 18 years, a lot of people haven't been able to afford to. Now that it looks like these courses (under new ownership) are going to start opening their doors, and not be so closed to the public, hopefully the fee structure becomes realistic and you see a new generation of golfers in Japan."

For more information about Sanford Golf Design, visit www.sanfordgolfdesign.com.