Golf in Okinawa is nothing new, but the emergence of Japan’s Ai Miyazato as a golfing superstar in 2004 brought the two together in dramatic fashion. She won 11 tournaments in her first two years on the JLPGA Tour and went on to considerable international success.
Okinawa gets good early publicity every year as the Ladies Tour invariably kicks off there. The Daikin Orchid Ladies Tournament is held in March, while the JGTO men’s tour doesn’t arrive until November with the Heiwa PGM Championship.
But Okinawa is about pleasure and if you’re a golfer, you’re not likely to be disappointed – unless you’re on your own. While resort courses in the West will always be happy to pair you up with other golfers, it doesn’t always happen in Japan. Course that allow single golfers are very rare indeed. So check before you go. You don’t want to carry your clubs halfway around the world – or even halfway across Japan – only to be told you can’t play.
Assuming you get the green light, you’re not likely to be disappointed. There’s a lot of sea out there and some of the best golf courses are right next to it, or at least overlook it. On some courses, the sea is part of the course. Try the 16th hole at Emerald Coast Golf Links on Miyakojima with its tee shot across the bay or the clifftop holes at Ocean Links also on Miyakojima. There are enticing and spectacular oceanside course throughout the prefecture, but sun, sea and golf don’t come cheap, with weekend rounds costing up to 30,000 yen. The Kanucha Resort even offers a three-hole outing for those on a budget or with limited time (but you still need a minimum of two players).
Most of Okinawa’s best beaches are decorated with hotels (or U.S. military bases) and are privately owned, so the owners will control who can access them and what you can do there. But in swimming season, they will also have lifeguards and plenty of activities from water-skiing to jet packs, parasailing, jet skis, diving, snorkelling, etc.
Beyond the beach, there’s still plenty to do from trekking to kayaking in a mangrove swamp to whale-watching to spas to shopping and, of course, eating.
You’re surrounded by fish yet Okinawa’s most well-known food is the slightly bitter vegetable goya, from which you can make goya chanpuru (goya, egg and meat stir-fried). Even more curious, particularly to fans of Monty Python, is the popularity of Spam. And yes, you can eat fish there, but the American influence means there’s also plenty of meat on the menu and steak restaurants such as Sam’s Sailor Inn in Naha are popular with both tourists and locals alike.
You’ll find Sam’s Sailor Inn on Kokusai Dori (“International Street) in downtown Naha. It’s a busy street due to the proliferation of shops, restaurants and bars, but Naha will just be a stopping off point before you head to a resort destination. If you’re into culture, there’s plenty to explore in Okinawa, from Shuri Castle to the Ryukyu Village to the Okinawa Karate Kaikan, which capitalizes on karate’s Okinawan origins.