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Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Mt Kum Gang NK

When is a golf tournament not just a tournament? When it's in North Korea.

Mao Zedong's 'ping-pong diplomacy' thawed Chinese-US ties. Could Kim Jong-il's 'golf club diplomacy' do the same for North Korean-US relations?

By Bryan KayCorrespondent / October 4, 2011


Call it "golf club diplomacy." North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s latest charm offensive involves a golf tournament, open to one of his country’s rarest sights: outsiders.

Mr. Kim may well be taking a page from 1971. That's when Mao Zedong, then leader of Communist China, famously invited American table tennis players to his country for a series of matches against local stars of the game. The move, later labeled “ping-pong diplomacy,” led to a thaw in Chinese-US relations.

North Korea's latest attempt at detente – the use of golf to entice a new branch of tourists – represents a departure from decades in the shadows as a notorious recluse. Desperate for foreign currency amid a cut in aid and reportedly crippling food shortages, the unlikely quest for foreign visitors, say observers, will mean striking a balance between tapping the market of adventure tourists and ensuring the visitors gain as little access to locals as possible.

North Korea recently gave the green light for the tournament, dubbed the DPRK Amateur Golf Open, to take place in next May at the Pyongyang Golf Course, which is about 27 kilometers from the capital and next to a military range. Not incidentally, this is the very golf course where Kim Jong-il's is said to have scored a "five holes-in-one" in his first-ever game.




As for the kind of experience tourists can expect? Ian Garner, tournament director, paints a more surreal picture of the course environment.

“The golf course wasn't designed as well as courses on the amateur circuits in Europe and America,” he says. “It was about the experience ­– the experience of soldiers patrolling the course, the experience of playing in a country that is so closed to the rest of the world.”


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