North Korean Open: Tiger Woods vs Kim Jong Un

Tiger Woods is preparing to take on the Masters but if he wants a serious challenge he should take on Kim Jong Un at the North Korea Open.
Avatar:
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
60
Tiger Woods is preparing to take on the Masters but if he wants a serious challenge he should take on Kim Jong Un at the North Korea Open.

404

Pack up your Pringle jumpers, stuff the plus-fours in the suitcase, gather up your clubs and head for the airport.

Take a flight to China and if that isn't exotic enough you’ll be then on a nine-hour train journey to Pyongyang in the ultra-secretive country that is North Korea.

Once there you can take part in the North Korean Open Golf competition.

It may not be your normal piss-up in Portugal with the lads from the local golf club but if you are amateur golfer with a handicap under-18 then you are eligible for entry for the tournament that took place between 26th and 30th April this year.

The 18-hole Par-72 course at Pyongyang Golf complex is North Korea’s only golf course, located in 120 hectares on the banks of Taicheng Lake.

However if you are thinking of going don’t for one minute think you’ll break the course record as it is claimed that when – the country’s leader - Kim Jong Il opened the course in 1991, he shot a world record 38-under par (including 11 hole in ones) on his first ever round of golf.

This may or may not be taken with a pinch of salt as he has also claimed to have bowled a perfect 300 on his first time ten pin bowling and he once even held a press conference to let everyone know he had completed Call of Duty 4 on the most difficult setting.

The man behind the golf tournament is Dylan Harris of Lupine Travel. After inter- railing around Eastern Europe in his early twenties Harris developed a taste for places off the beaten track.

Kim Jong Il opened the course in 1991, he shot a world record 38-under par (including 11 hole in ones) on his first ever round of golf.

After developing a music business that brought talents as diverse as Peter Doherty, the Arctic Monkeys and Arthur “The God of Hell Fire” Brown to his hometown of Wigan he began to concentrate his efforts on a travel business; a travel business with a difference taking in tours to North Korea, Chernobyl, Turkmenistan and on board the Trans-Mongolian railway.

This is his latest adventure and as he says North Korea is a truly bizarre place unlike any other.

“The people are friendly enough and most of them seem completely unperturbed by the site of foreigners - unlike China, next door, where you are accosted everywhere you go, people staring and asking for photographs,” says the thirty-one-year-old.

“I'd expected a few more stares in North Korea due to the tiny amount of outsiders who make it into the country but it's not the case at all.

“At times it feels Truman Show-esque, that everything has been set up just for you and you can't decide what's real and what isn't.”

On his first visit to the country he bought a Kim Il Sung pin badge - over the border in China – thinking it would endear himself to the guides straight away and help make the trip a bit easier only to find it had the opposite affect as foreigners aren't allowed to wear them.

What followed were inquisitions about where he had bought the 'cheap imitation'. This led to suspicious-looking doors in hotel rooms, double sided mirrors and men in black appearing further down the hotel corridor.

However it didn’t put Harris off and he has visited the country on numerous occasions since.

The course is in the only 18-hole course in the country and is in the middle of a military base

Last summer he was contacted by a golfer from Scotland who asked if he could go to North Korea to play golf. With tours in the country kept to a strict itinerary Harris thought it wouldn’t be possible but the golfer was quite insistent though as he'd played at hundreds of courses around the world. Eventually Harris asked the authorities and unbelievably, they got back to him and not only agreed to let the individual play but also agreed to a request for a tournament.

The course is in the only 18-hole course in the country and is in the middle of a military base. It's a big complex though with beautiful surroundings and rolling hills and a large lake and a membership of around 20 locals members so as you can guess; it's not one of the countries popular sports. It is very popular though with foreigners such as consular staff and businessmen. And the demand for details has far outstripped his initial thoughts.

“I thought I'd have the odd applicants coming through but I had more than 200 enquiries in less than five days,” says Harris.

While a trip to North Korea could be seen as a trip to the heart of darkness, Harris has seen a different side to the country.

“Everyone always comes back surprised with how good the infrastructure is,” says Harris.

it is perceived that there is severe poverty outside of the cities in North Korea but Harris confirms that the people appear happy and well-fed, there is not any sign of poverty whatsoever

“The hotels are of a high quality. The one we use has bars, restaurants, a club, casino, swimming pool, sauna and more.

“The food you are served is great, with barbequed meat being the speciality.

“There are big huge highways that are completely empty so you find yourself the only vehicle on the roads between cities as very few people own cars. There is a big public transport system though with people using buses, trains and the underground network.”

The tours are – however – all accompanied by a government guide at all times so customers don't have the opportunity to wander off on their own. This in turn makes the journey in by train one of the most interesting aspects of the time in the country. Taking around nine hours and you are able to get a full view of the country and view normal village life as the train passes slowly by – a contrast to what you see in the huge city of Pyongyang where most of the tours take place.

With North Korea being the bête noire of many western countries it is perceived that there is severe poverty outside of the cities in North Korea but Harris confirms that the people appear happy and well-fed, there is not any sign of poverty whatsoever. “When you compare this to the utter abject poverty seen in villages and shanties all around nearby countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos etc, you have to wonder about the mainstream media’s intentions at the totally disproportional coverage they give to North Korea.”

The three-night-tour includes a visit to the DMZ, the border with the South where razor wire and mines separate a truce village in the middle as North Korean and American soldiers stand inches apart across the line, eyeballing each other.

Add into that a chance to view the sites of Pyongyang, including the underground system which is the deepest in the world, a visit to Mount Myohang and one of the most beautiful areas on the Korean peninsula. The area is also home to the International Friendship Exhibition. A bizarre museum that is huge and takes hours to get around.

The three-night-tour includes a visit to the DMZ, the border with the South where razor wire and mines separate a truce village

As Harris explains: “It is a museum of all the gifts that have been given to Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung during the time they have led North Korea.

“The highlight being an entire train that was gifted to Kim Il Sung by Stalin in the early 1950s!”

People from all around the country come to see this museum to marvel at how 'popular' their Dear Leader is and Harris was once asked by one of the guides if our prime minister had a similar museum with gifts given to him.

“I told him, that in fact, no he didn't.”

“The guide pointed out that was because their leader is more loved than any other in the world.

“That is why no other leader has a similar museum.

“I couldn't really argue with that although I did point out a distinct lack of gifts in the museum post-1989.”

After the success of the inaugural tournament, the second North Korea Golf Open is scheduled for May 19-21 2012 and Harris has had thoughts of expanding it to other destinations.

“I briefly thought about extending the idea to Turkmenistan where I also offer tours to but then I was informed there are no golf courses at all over there!

“I guess I could start to pioneer different sports in new frontiers...snooker in Somalia? Darts in Iran?”

Click here for more information on the North Korea Golf Open or here to visit Lupine Travel

Click here for more Golf stories

Click here for more Football and Sport stories

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook