Golf Club Membership tied to Whiskey Barrel Ownership

The exterior of Ontake Distillery

At an altitude of about 400 meters, overlooking Sakurajima and Kinko Bay, stands a whiskey distillery. At its feet, a winding creek and the 18th green can be seen. The mastermind behind this Ontake Distillery and golf course is Nishi Shuzo Co., Ltd., famous for its shochu 'Houzan', based in Hioki City, Kagoshima Prefecture.

The story goes back to 2011. Nishi Shuzo purchased the Kagoshima Golf Resort (formerly Kagoshima Golf Club), located in the hilly area about 20 minutes by car from Kagoshima city. Initially, they outsourced the operation, but due to intense local price competition and continuous losses, the contractor withdrew within five to six years.

Around the same time, the company, which was looking for a construction site for its whiskey distillery, noticed that this land was blessed with clean water and clear air. That was the moment when the fermentation of business ideas began to bubble up.

The 18th green can be seen at the foot of the Ontake Distillery

The idea was to establish a distillery and barrel storage facility at the golf course, and to sell new pot (whiskey immediately after distillation) as it is in barrels. The key point is that it is not a finished product. The aging of whiskey progresses after it is stored in barrels, which lasts at least three years, and can take several decades. "It's an invitation to make whiskey together," says Yasuhiko Okado, the business manager at Nishi Shuzo. Owners of the casks can visit here many times, determine the maturity of the whiskey, chat with friends, and enjoy golf. The concept of the golf course was set as "the garden of the distillery". The distillery was constructed after clearing land use restrictions, and the first new pot made its appearance in the winter of 2019.

The pot stills of Nishi Shuzo has a narrow lyne arm that is pointing upwards.

There are various theories about the origin of whiskey, but the theories of Ireland or Scotland are the most plausible. Both places have a deep connection with golf, and near Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, where “The Open" was held in 2019, the world's oldest whiskey distillery, Old Bushmills Distillery (established in 1608), is still in full operation. It is also well-known that golfers in Scotland often sip Scotch to keep warm as they play their 18 holes.

In 2021, the golf course returned all the deposits of the existing members and closed after certain period, and it is currently undergoing course renovation work. The reopening is scheduled for the latter half of 2024. In the future, they plan to construct a reception building (clubhouse) with an owners' room, a reception building with a dining room, a whiskey shop, etc. These facilities, including the golf course, can only be used by the members of the "Ontake Distillery Owners' Club", which is basically only open to whiskey barrel buyers.

A dining area where you can enjoy whiskey while overlooking Sakurajima and the golf course

When you visit this land of Satsuma, which shaped Japan during the late Edo period, you will be breathless to feel Nishi Shuzo's enthusiasm for craftsmanship in every corner. At one point, when the distillery manager stated that productivity could be improved by either making more whiskey from less raw materials or producing it faster, president Yoichiro Nishi denied it, saying "That's not right", and instructed, "at Nishi Shuzo, we say 'productivity has improved' when we can make better whiskey than yesterday."

The marriage of golf and whiskey. This rare golf course for whiskey barrel owners is a sharp new proposal for how golf should be, and it is a concept unique to sake manufacturers. Surely, there are still unknown possibilities left in golf, and GDO also always wants to discover those possibilities. If you are interested in this golf membership of 'Japanese Whiskey', please contact Nishi Shuzo (+81(0)99-296-4627 /


Photo and Text: Ryota Imaoka

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