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[Digest] Japan Spring Tour 2015 Remembered

Escorting Go Golfing tours for more than 10 years it’s fair to say that my passport has more stamps than most. Japan was still on my bucket list, so I jumped at the chance to host Go Golfing’s tour to Japan. And the experience was delightful.

DAY 1

After a comfortable flight on a Boeing-787-Dreamliner we arrived in Kobe for the start of our 15 day tour. Go Golfing arranged private transfers to the centrally located and luxurious Oriental Hotel. This hotel has reception on the 17th floor overlooking the waterfront. The staff were welcoming and this hotels has all the mod-cons, even a warming seat on the loo.

DAY 2

Japan is only one hour behind the east coast of Australia, so jet-lag was not an issue. Following breakfast our first get-together was a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony performed by a seventh generation tea master who’s ancestry dated back over 300 years. Tea ceremonies are reserved for special occasions, and what could be more special than the start of our Go Golfing spring tour.

Etsuki our local Japanese guide took us on a walking tour through the city centre of Kobe with the historic Ikuta Shrine a highlight. A relaxing brunch followed where we got to know each other and as we do on all Go Golfing group tours we laid out some ground rules in the interest of everyone’s enjoyment.

Our guided tour of Kobe continued to the waterfront which was decimated by an earthquake in 1995 causing $100 billion in damage. We were in awe of how they have rebuilt this sea port which is now the 4th busiest in Japan. China town, the 19th century Yamate Hachibankan museum and finishing at a Sake brewery completed the tour.

This evening we dine on their famous Kobe Beef. Here the beef cattle are pampered, massaged and have a daily ration of beer. No complaints here, the meat was tender and flavoursome.

DAY 3

Our first round of golf at the highly acclaimed ABC course. Now this is a course with pristine fairways, manicured greens and capable and endearing caddies. A sumptuous lunch in the clubhouse was included. This was an awesome start to the golf.

Four non-golfers were treated to a day of Japanese culture – the architectural splendour of a traditional castle, a stroll through a secret garden, and a tour of the Enryakuji Zen Temple where scenes of “The Last Samurai” were filmed.

DAY 4

We travelled at over 300km per hour on a first class bullet train to Hiroshima. On 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on the city centre. Our visit to the Peace Memorial Museum was sombre, while their spirit to rebuild a city that was flattened was so uplifting.

Lunch was a traditional speciality “okonomiyaki” a hybrid pizza-omelette. It included a cooking lesson before our do-it-yourself preparation of this local cuisine – great fun!

We continued by coach and ferry to Miyajima Island and a narration of the sacred “Shrine of the Sea” one of Japan’s most memorable images. While Japan hasn’t constructed pyramids or great walls, it is most evident that its people are the country’s greatest asset. Polite and considerate, we were a little embarrassed with the lengths they go to please. As a seasoned traveller, the lavish attention was a refreshing reminder of just how good service can be.

DAY 5

A golfing highlight at the private Rokko Kokusai Golf Club – where this year’s Japan Open will be played. Again the course and caddies were immaculate. Remote controlled golf carts chaperoned us around the course. Yes, that’s right, no pedals or steering, just a button to start and stop. The fairways were lined with cherry blossoms in full bloom. A stop at half way for lunch had us in good spirits to tackle the back 9.

On a good day for scoring Paul Roffey (Belmont, NSW) and Derek Van Der Kley (The Grand, QLD) are leading the men’s division, while in the ladies, Jill Meuthen (Pymble, NSW) is one point ahead of Calsie Ransford  (Barwon Heads,VIC). We will be tuning in to watch the pro’s tackle this course in the Japan Open.

Non- golfers toured Nara and Osaka with blooming cherry blossoms the highlight. Religion is an important part of Japanese culture and insights into Buddhism and Shinto were shared.

After golf we all returned to Osaka to view Hideyoshi’s Castle and downtown to Dotombori district where eateries and neon signs dominate. The cherry blossoms are making everything postcard perfect.

DAY 6

Today we toured Kyoto, the most significant historical and cultural city of Japan with 17 world heritage sites. It is home to over 1700 Buddhist Temples and 300 Shinto shrines. The Kiyomizu “pure water” temple was a remarkable collection of historic structures. The 400 year old Nijo castle and the Golden Pavilion completely clad with gold leaf is amazing.

After a traditional Japanese lunch it was a high speed train to Kanazawa for 3 nights at the very plush Nikko Hotel.

DAY 7

Akira our enthusiastic and interesting guide was keen to show us around his home city of Kanazawa. Golfers travelled to Noto Country Club for our third round of golf. Wide tree-lined fairways gave us a false sense of security, while the subtle undulations on the greens were testing. Another golf lunch fit for a king.

Non-golfers were suitably entertained with a visit to the Samurai district of Kanazawa.The 300 year old Omicho Market sold everything, even things you have never heard of.

DAY 8

After another lavish breakfast we travelled to the Shirakawago World Heritage Village in the central Japanese mountains. Large houses with steep-pitched thatched roofs have been preserved. Given their altitude, the streets were covered in snow.

We then toured a Geisha district where the talents of the women extend beyond musical instruments and dancing. I’ll leave that to your imagination. Next stop was the Kenrokuen Garden,  the finest garden in Japan and we can attest to that. Our cameras hardly stopped clicking as we marvelled at the many fauna and flora features of the garden.

Day 9

A bullet train had us arriving at Odawara for an overnight stay at the luxurious Odawara Hilton. Before checking in we had a cruise on Lake Ashi followed by a cable car to the top of Owakudani. The weather gods were not smiling on us and our views of the crater and Mt Fuji were not great.

Our spirits were quickly restored on checking in to the Hilton. Palatial – hot spas, bowling alley and indoor driving range were just some of the features. A traditional Japanese dinner tonight with sake tasting and geisha entertainment – loads of fun.

Day 10

After trawling the breakfast buffet it was off to Dai Hakone, host venue for Japan’s most revered tournaments. Scoring today was vastly improved with Paul Gill (Carnarvon,NSW) and Sary Van Der Kley (The Grand,QLD) our best.

Non-golfers visited the 500 year old Odawara Castle with a fine collection of armoury and weapons before visiting Hakone National Park, showcasing Japan’s finest collection of sculpture and a pavilion dedicated to the works of Picasso. Oh and of course a spot of shopping.

We all travelled together to Tokyo and checked into ANA Intercontinental – these hotels just seem to get grander and grander. Tonight’s highlight was dinner at a Ninja restaurant. After completing our Ninja training a 10 course banquet followed with spellbinding Ninja magic.

Day 11

It was a long but scenic drive to golf today at the private Musashi Country Club. The weather was a little misty and there was little run so the course played longer than usual. Again, cherry blossom lined fairways held us in awe of the course presentation. Wendy Scott (Ipswich, Qld) and Ian Faulkner (Nelson Bay, NSW) were the best today.

Rikugien, the ‘6 poems garden’ is widely regarded as Tokyo’s finest Japanese landscape garden and has a collection of Bonsai, with trees over 800-years old.  Here, we enjoyed lessons in Bonsai cutting – no auditions for the next Karate Kid movie. Then followed by a visit to Kotokuin Temple to see the Great Buddha standing over 13 metres.

A good meal with new friends at a local restaurant rounded out another great day.

Day 12

Today we travelled to the other side of Tokyo Bay for our final round at Camellia Hills Country Club. Arriving at the course, the heavens opened, it was SNOW. Snow in April is a phenomena that hasn’t happened in 90 years. Unfortunately the course was closed.

We visited the Master of Origami, Kazuo Kobayashi, who created a small memento for each of us and we could not resist purchasing the delicate paper. Grand Master Kunio gave us a lesson in Bonsai and then our own 10 year tree to practice the craft.

In lieu of golf the group were treated to dinner at La Rochelle, a French restaurant owned by chef Hiroyuki Sakai, the original “IRON CHEF” from the TV series. The specially prepared 7-course meal with all drinks included well and truly made up for the snowed-out golf round.

Day 13

Our last two days in Tokyo were spent sightseeing, including an interesting training session of one of Japan’s favourite sports – Sumo wrestling. It’s surprising how supple and fit these giants are.

No tour to Tokyo would be complete without a visit the Edo Tokyo Museum founded in 1993 as a facility to preserve and display the historical heritage of Tokyo. The Museum takes visitors on a journey from the roots of the old settlement of Edo, through the closed-country Tokugawa/Edo period, through the modernising Meiji era to present day Tokyo, a global Metropolis. The best museum I have ever visited.

Continuing the Sumo theme, we lunched on a traditional Sumo Wrestlers’ meal of ‘Chanko’, a very tasty, protein-packed stew, followed by birthday cake for Murray Scott.

We continued to the historic Asakusa district,  Sensoji Temple, Nakamise Street Market and Kaminari Gate, before riding in traditional rickshaws dashing thru the backstreets of old Tokyo. We finished the day with a cooking lesson in the art of sashimi. We dined on our creations, accompanied by peach wine and tea.

Day 14

Our last day included a visit to Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market where Tuna Auctions are famous. We strolled through the jam packed stalls to discover over 450 fish and seafood products.

The Meiji Shrine is one of Japan’s most important Shinto Shrines, completed in 1920, as the spiritual resting place of the Emperor Meiji, who presided over Japan’s first trysts with the modern West in the late 19th Century. It is also a popular venue for weddings – photo bombing is not encouraged!

We travelled up Tokyo Tower for a panoramic view of the cityscape before a shopping tour of Harajuku which had something for everyone.  Its main street, a veritable avenue, wide and lined by trees, is often referred to as Tokyo’s Champs Elysees, and just a minute away lies the intense and totally off-beat Takeshita Street, one of Tokyo’s most eclectic thoroughfares, and a ‘must-see’ spot for visitors with bargains galore.

There’s was time to freshen up at the hotel before pre-dinner drinks at the exclusive top floor bar at Roppongi Hills Club. The private room at the world-renowned Ryotei Restaurant Botan was a great venue for our farewell and presentation dinner. Stunning kimono dress attendants greeted us and continually pampered us throughout the evening as we dined on a magnificently presented 8 course dinner with beers and fine wines.

Tour Results

Ladies – 1st Calsie Ransford (Barwon Heads, Vic); 2nd Jill Meuthen (Pymble, NSW).

Men – 1st Paul Roffey (Belmont, NSW) and Derek Van Der Kley (The Grand,QLD)

Team Green won the Team Comp – Derek, Calsie and Paul Gill played consistent golf and were rewarded with first place.

Sayounara from Japan – Terry McCarthy

To register your interest in Go Golfing’s 2016 Japan Spring Tour send an email to travel@gogolfing.net.au – you will be sure to receive the tour brochure hot off the press.

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Golf Tipping Competition With $65,000 in Prizes Guaranteed to Be Won

Go Golfing in partnership with Ladbrokes has launched a golf tipping competition that has $65,000 in prizes guaranteed to be won. Top prize is a $40,000 VIP tour to the 2016 British Open and golf at Open rota courses.

Ladbrokes CEO, Dean Shannon, is excited to give golfers the chance to back their tipping skill. “Standing on the tee, it is among golf’s traditions to play your partners for a round of drinks, a lotto ticket or much higher stakes. Ladbrokes golf tipping is another exciting way for golfers to back themselves. The British Open tour with Ladbrokes VIP hospitality will be an amazing experience. Better still – it’s FREE to play.”

There are 5 tournaments in the golf tipping competition, the 4 Majors and the Players Championship. Tippers select 5 players per event and score points based on the finishing position of their selected players. Each tippers 2 best scoring tournaments will determine their final position on the leaderboard.

First prize is a $40,000 VIP tour for 2 to the 2016 British Open to be hosted at Royal Troon in Scotland. The winner will enjoy VIP hospitality at The Open and tour Scotland, playing 3 courses on The Open rota.

The best tipster for each tournament will win a trip for 2 to the Ladbrokes World Masters on Queensland’s Gold Coast from 25-31 October. The prize for 2 is valued at more than $4,000 and includes tournament entry, 6 nights luxury accommodation, return airfares, golf and airport transfers.

Get your tips in before the US Masters starts early Friday morning Australian time. Play for FREE at http://www.ladbrokestipping.com.au/golf/

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Top Gong for GoGolfing Travel

Gold Coast based Go Golfing Travel has won the coveted title of Oceania’s Best Golf Tour Operator at the inaugural World Golf Awards announced at a gala dinner in Algarve, Portugal on 15 November.

At the gala awards dinner, World Golf Awards managing director, Chris Frost affirmed that the World Golf Awards exist to recognise, acknowledge and celebrate excellence in golf tourism. “The world-wide voting process included industry experts and senior executives from within the golf, travel and tourism industries.”

Go Golfing is Australia’s biggest organiser of events, tours and holidays for club golfers. Established in 1996, Go Golfing has an impressive portfolio of major golf tournaments including the TaylorMade World Masters on the Gold Coast, Wrest Point International Masters in Hobart and Centara World Masters in Thailand. These events for golfers aged 35+ attract up to 800 golfers for a week long celebration of golf and entertainment events.

Go Golfing has an expansive schedule of hosted tours to the world’s most alluring golf and sightseeing destinations. US Masters, Canada, Hawaii, South Africa, Spain & Portugal, Scotland and Ireland, China, Vietnam, Thailand are among Go Golfing’s most popular international destinations.

Go Golfing’s founder Peter McCarthy dedicated the award to his dedicated team of event and travel professionals. “For nearly 20 years now Go Golfing has delivered superior service and great value golf and tourism experiences to our clients and this award is a celebration of the commitment my team makes to ensure every event, tour and holiday we host is the very best.”

“With the addition of a fully licensed travel agency to the business five years ago we are now a one-stop-shop for the travelling golfer with the ability to book flights, travel insurance and anything else clients wanted to add to their holiday. We are the only golf travel company that has negotiated free carriage of golf clubs with Virgin Australia. We value our clients and respect the trust they place in us to arrange a hassle free golf holiday.”

In addition to best golf tour operator in regions throughout the world, other categories for the World Golf Awards included best golf destination, best golf course and best resort..

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2015 Wrest Point International Masters Conclusion

The week prior to the Barnbougle Challenge saw more than 300 golfers from all over Australia and international visitors from as far afield as Scotland contest the Wrest Point International Masters in Hobart.

Entrants came from 116 clubs, while 24 from Bargara near Bundaberg in Queensland was the most from any one club.

Open to club golfers aged 35 plus, competition is played in age and handicap divisions. Playing 2 rounds at both Royal Hobart and Tasmania golf clubs, all golfers play stableford while ‘A’ graders are also eligible to compete for the best gross.

Seventy five year old Jean Thomas from Redcliffe in Queensland proved age was no barrier, carding a 72 hole total of 388, the best of all the ladies and a runaway winner of the ladies 66+ gross championship. Madeleine Barnett from Concord, scored 141points stableford points, the highest total of all the ladies.

Neil Faulks from Tasmania Golf Club had rounds of 77, 74, 78 and 79 to record the best stoke score of all the men and a narrow winner in the men’s 35-55 division.

Awarded Oceania’s Best Golf Tour Operator at the 2014 World Golf Awards, tournament organisers Go Golfing undertake a 6 month review of all player handicaps to ensure a fair playing field. Coupled with daily adjustments and significant handicap reductions for players scoring consistently well, many divisions were keenly contested. The average stableford division winner scored 135 points, well short of the 144 points if you played to your handicap every day.

Voted Australia’s best ‘week of golf’ for the past six years, the 15th annual Wrest Point Masters featured top class entertainment and nightly social events. Phil Cass, winner of the Gold ‘Mo Award’ for best live entertainer in Australia, performed his comedy magic show at the welcome dinner.

The St Hallett winemaker dinner featured a decadent 4 course menu with matched wines and stunning views of the Derwent River. The nightly 19th Hole happy hours featured golf presentations and lucky draws. Tours to historic Richmond, wineries, MONA, Port Arthur and Bruny Island were popular among participants.

Festivities culminated with a glamorous gala dinner where more than $35,000 in golf prizes and lucky draws were presented before a 5 piece band, playing popular tunes, had the dance floor packed.

First timer Doug Renshaw from Perth was in high praise of the whole event experience. “The courses were awesome. Royal Hobart is immaculately conditioned and the views from Tasmania Golf Club are stunning. Go Golfing arranged our flights to Tasmania including free carriage of our golf clubs with Virgin and their hospitality and organization was first class.”

“The quality of the player packs, dinners, entertainment and generous prize table made this event sensational value. I played with great characters from places I’ve never heard of and have made plans to catch up at next year’s event. I can’t wait!”

According to tournament director Mark Hawley, January is a great time to visit Tasmania. “With long sunny days and temps in the high 20’s, the weather is perfect for golf and touring around. It’s nice to be here in Tasmania when the rest of Australia is battling heat waves and storms.”

The 16th annual Wrest Point International Masters runs 10-15 January 2016.

Click here to view tournament results and photos.

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