Blog Country Golf North Korea

Out of Bounds in North Korea – Pyongyang Golf Course

Weird, surreal and exclusive, Pyongyang Golf Course sits between a rock and a tough place as a morally conflicting spot of enjoyable within an in any other case dark, oppressive nation of properly publicised human rights violations. Located throughout arguably probably the most secretive border on earth, the course is guarded by nicely over ten million lively, reserve and paramilitary personnel and requires categorical permission to visit; Augusta eat your coronary heart out. Technically a public course, you gained’t discover a soul here, it’s played solely by a handful of the regime’s elite and open to vacationers both crazy sufficient to discover themselves in North Korea and who need to play golf. Apparently, that’s uncommon.

But most famously to foreigners, Pyongyang Golf Course holds an fascinating place in North Korean legend. As the myth goes, it was right here Common Kim Jong-Il redefined golf as we know it, shattering the PGA Tour document of 59 in his first ever round with a rating of just 34 strokes. His feat is claimed to have been witnessed by a handful of state officials and the news shared to the individuals of North Korea. It even included five hole-in-ones. Was there any fact to this story? I’d discover out.

Golf etiquette would indicate this to be an costly spherical for Pricey Leader, each ace a round of beers for all in the clubhouse. Fortunately for him, eventually estimate, there were simply 45 golfers in all the nation.

At this time I’d be one of them, assuming we might find the course. Info was scant, and the guides hadn’t visited earlier than. But, I’d been promised Pyongyang Golf Course, that it was North Korea’s solely place to have successful, and as an avid golfer, I couldn’t move up such a singular expertise. I just needed to play it.

Organising it

So, how does one find himself enjoying golf in North Korea? Firstly, you have to get to North Korea. Secondly, you will need to take pleasure in golf. Many of you could find this part tougher. Organising the actual round is straightforward, you ask the question. It’s not a typical request and it’s often met by a ‘maybe, we can check.’ But just 4 days later, the request was accredited by the North Koren tourism authority and my itinerary now included an 18th of September tee-off on the world’s darkest course. Too straightforward.

Not coincidently, in the present day was additionally my last full day of this specific journey to North Korea. I hadn’t left the lodge unaccompanied in over half a month and every days itinerary had been an exhausting 8am-8pm enterprise. Typically extra. I’m just saying, this countryside golf escape couldn’t have come soon enough! Maybe I’d even get a sleep-in.

Fat probability! North Korean officers had other intentions, the idea of ‘free time’ in North Korean tourism is an oxymoron and the paranoia of foreigners left to blaze their very own trail is transparent right here. At present was no exception and golf just wasn’t sufficient. Nevertheless, I needed to smirk once I glanced over our last permitted itinerary:

08:45 – Jonsong Revolutionary Website
10:30 – Stroll from Arch of Triumph to Pyongyang Grand Theatre
11:30 – Supermarket
12:15 – Lunch
14:00 – Golf at Pyongyang Golf Course!
18:30 – Draft beer hall
19:30 – Yanggakdo Lodge for dinner

Yes. An authorised city walk (in the most effective part of town) between two landmarks previously visited, sanctioned night beers and nicely…a grocery store. It’s not typically you’ll go on a tour that showcases a nation’s toiletry and cereal choice, however there I was inspecting one of North Korea’s absolutely stocked ‘foodstuff’ marts, guides at my heel and stares from each course. Nothing was plastic, and there was no fat kid with ice cream. Apparently, I was only the second foreigner ever to go inside.

The backdrop continues to be Pyongyang when you can consider it. Trendy, right? Don’t be fooled, it’s additionally the one block of the nation that looks something like this. It’s no shock this shaped the backdrop to my sanctioned stroll.

Lunch in Pyongyang

As per the itinerary, we have been to eat lunch before enjoying golf. I used to be taken to an upmarket restaurant in Pyongyang I hadn’t but eaten at. I do not know of the identify. I do not know of the situation. They prefer it that method. There was a large group of middle-aged Pyongyang residents celebrating a birthday as I walked in, most shocking because the eating places have been often emptied previous to foreigner arrivals. At this time’s meal was a treat, as an ‘important guest’ I might order something I needed from the menu, marking the first time I was afforded this luxurious on my journey. Vegans needn’t apply.

So…bibimbap it was. You’ll be able to’t go flawed with Korean meals in Korea. Even in the North. Guides ate chilly Naengmyeon Noodles, a delicacy here that I assumed could possibly be better loved after a fast microwave.

pyongyang-restaurant-golf-dayIt’s robust to get a smile out of North Koreans for pictures. Listed here are the three guides and myself enjoying lunch in an unknown Pyongyang restaurant, my driver is second from the best.

In fact, a meal in North Korea isn’t full and not using a lucky dip assortment of cold meats and fried matter. Often stale. Eating right here was one of my last spins on the wheel of food poisoning, fortunately. The food, as ordinary, was replenished as we ate it (for foreigners at the least…) resulting in large wastage that I think is either recycled for additional meals or consumed by staff.

pyongyang-restaurant-golf-day-foodI know that appears like corn, however it definitely didn’t style like corn.

Getting to Pyongyang Golf Course

Hogging all six lanes of the unmaintained freeway, we rattled out of central Pyongyang into rural North Korea, weaving between street craters. The guides and I had the van to ourselves, a regionally built car from Pyeonghwa Motors, curiously the one company granted promoting permission within North Korea. I had spotted their billboards earlier in my journey, oddly concentrating on a common populace forbidden from personal automotive ownership. It appeared counterintuitive really until it’s motive turned clear — convincing residents of national self-reliance and the economic success of Great Korea.

Throughout our drive, laptop computer bouncing from knee to knee, I shared pictures with Ri and Kang, the guides, from my outdoors world adventures. Main landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Occasions Sq. have been immediately recognised from their research, glaciers from Iceland left them awestruck, albeit confused, and one specific information discovered right now that Australia, is in reality, an island. Success!

My transport, a Korea International Tourist Company (KITC) van. This is taken in the Yanggakdo Hotel carpark in Pyongyang. These are all cleared out by 9am.My transport, a Korea Worldwide Tourist Firm (KITC) van. This photograph was taken in the Yanggakdo Lodge carpark in Pyongyang. These are all cleared out by 9am.

Out right here in rural Pyongyang, the environment is greatest described as desolate, remoted and lonely. There’s a distinct cut-off between the hazy Soviet-inspired metropolis and properly, the outdoors. A lot alike North Korean social hierarchy. Nationalistic slogans, heart-warming odes of motivation from ‘Dear Leader’ command the civilian workforce from hilltops as big pink and white banners. There are no different automobiles, just locals migrating between village and crop by foot or cycle. One elderly woman, in specific, stood out, spotted dragging half a dozen sandbags by her weathered, rusted bicycle. She was hunched over, exhausted, seemingly defeated and talking to herself, a scene I haven’t since forgotten.

Ten minutes passed, which soon turned thirty. After a collection of u-turns the déjà vu might indicate only one factor —

— Yep. We have been lost. In North Korea. Pretty.

dprk-village-golf-day“Long live the great leader comrade Kim Jong-Un!” Rural signage resembling that is everywhere in the nation, providing motivation to the labour drive to work more durable.

In their defence, the guides hadn’t visited Pyongyang Golf Course before.

“What should we be looking for?” I used to be requested as we pulled the van over to where, in most nations with an infrastructure finances, would often be a curb.

I didn’t know what to say. I mean…we have been looking for a golf course. You recognize, an enormous landscaped piece of earth…mowed lawns, sectioned tee beds and pristine clean putting surfaces with (hopefully) a flag. Probably even a membership home.

However, herein lies the issue. They didn’t know. The globalised ‘gentlemen’s sport’ of chasing an conceited white ball with a stick, the easiest way to spoil an otherwise nice walk, the right afternoon excuse to flee the spouse, was solely unknown to them. In hindsight, this could have been instantly obvious once I was collected this morning at the Yanggakdo Lodge — Ri had arrived prepared for an 18 gap day on the turf sporting high heels. Bless her heart. I might have been a troublesome catch had I made a runner on the 15th, simply saying.

But in all seriousness, what a concept. Nationwide censorship at work.


Caving into defeat, we started asking locals for path. That is the final resort for KITC for 2 causes: To retain a degree of skilled integrity but more importantly, to limit foreigner publicity to average North Korean residents.

And nicely, it did end up bizarre. Pulling up beside civilians, our easy requests have been coldly ignored — we have been provided in return not so much as eye contact. The locals we asked have been subdued and dismissive, opting as an alternative just to continue strolling as if we weren’t there. Was it my presence? Was it the category disparity between themselves and the guides? Was it unlawful? I don’t know, however in true North Korean type, the guides assured me that ‘they just didn’t hear us’.

We did ultimately get on monitor, our driver executing an erratic manoeuvre into opposing lanes of the highway which you’d sooner anticipate from LA police chase footage, tumbling into a hidden farmyard entrance on the improper aspect of the street. Fortunately there was no visitors at the moment. Or ever. Who was I kidding?


Pictures weren’t permitted. Distinctive purple flags divided the landscape indicating the restrictive bounds of farm labour zones. Government order designates this work, the employee’s remuneration is offered underneath the nation’s ration distribution system. The street itself was merely a path designed for bicycles; sun-dried spices brightened the sides with colour. We have been the ice cream truck to the playground, only here the young youngsters might be spotted working the fields by hand as an alternative, wanting up solely to see us cross. There are not any trendy cultivation methods in North Korea; schooling is a privilege, not a proper, and perhaps considerations over age discrimination are taken a tad too literally.


Villages have been cordoned off by army blockade. It’s value remembering that not solely are North Korean residents unable to go away their country but for most, they’re unable to exit even the bounds of their province. These army blockades aren’t for foreigners.

Each checkpoint is manned by Korean Individuals’s Army soldiers, staunch and hard-line in their enforcement of authority. They’re outfitted in olive-green army apparel that’s, of course, one measurement too massive — their peak caps so tall they’re higher suited to a Broadway efficiency. Alike a zoo gorilla, I used to be sized up in the vans again seat, the muffled sound of Korean heard past the windows, an AK-47 tapped on the drivers aspect levering our documentation.

We handed throughout our papers, seemingly fulfilling all provincial entry and exit necessities and onwards we went to Pyongyang Golf Course.

dprk-village-lastpicture-golfdayBlurry, this was the exact moment I was caught taking snaps out the window and firmly informed not to once more. This photograph was my final until Pyongyang Golf Course.

Pyongyang Golf Course

There was no signage, nevertheless, it was obvious: we’d arrived. First impressions have been nice. I need to admit I anticipated the worst. Timber offered a canopy to the entrance path (paved!) and manicured hedges in part shaped a grand procession in the direction of the clubhouse reminiscent to any golfer. It all of the sudden received an entire lot much less…properly, poor — I feel that’s the word.

Fairway views have been luscious green, the roughs have been distinct, bunkers raked and placing surfaces appeared inviting and devoid of plug holes. Maintenance was regular and consistent, golf courses require day by day maintenance and water, tons of water, especially in this heat. It wasn’t a nasty effort for a rustic at present enduring one of its worst droughts in history.

pyongyang-golf-course-clubhouseThe Pyongyang Golf Course clubhouse, constructed in traditional Korean type. The course even owns motorised golf buggies imported from China, which I didn’t anticipate. The golfer pictured right here had just completed their round, whoever they’re, their automotive had North Korean plates.

Marched into the clubhouse, two female staff stood clear of the door welcoming my arrival. As all the time in North Korea, they’d been expecting me. They spoke no English, ushering me to the entrance desk where a variety of battered, soulless golf footwear await that alike most of the country, hadn’t seen an upgrade because the Chilly Conflict. One pair was an historic golf relic bearing the ‘kiltie’ – an hooked up frilled leather-based flap traditionally used to keep muck out of the laces. Immediately they serve more function attending a flowery gown get together than on the course. I attempted them on. They didn’t fit.

I used to be more dissatisfied than I should have been.

Practice putting green to the right of the clubhouse at the Pyongyang Golf Course - surprisingly well maintained.Apply placing green to the appropriate of the clubhouse. It was surprisingly nicely maintained.

General, the clubhouse was nice inside and practical, yet primary. An open plan lobby with shined stone tiles. Paintings of a North Korean holy website, Mt. Kumgang, have been hung on the walls. I’d visited simply two days prior and let me inform you…it was removed from a lifeless ringer. Dusty hand carved sunken armchairs crammed awkward elements of the room whereas closed off areas, inviting to the curious have been shuttered away in the gloom behind regally decored pastel curtains. There was even a restaurant bar area upstairs and billiards room. But most shockingly, portraits of Kim Il-Sung or his son have been nowhere to be found. I felt this to be mockingly unsettling.

Golf balls have been unbranded, so have been the tees and collared shirts have been on sale in just one colour, yellow — brilliant and completely happy in a rustic that’s something but. Robotic smiles, the faces of extreme service led me right into a course credit line, sending me bounding toward the first tee with a bucket of Heineken (imported from China), DPRK bottled water and awful canned coffee. Legally, I had to be chaperoned around even the golf course as we speak. There was just no respite!

To these golfers reading, right here’s a desk of the course statistics:


pyongyang-golf-course-course-overviewAn summary to the course at the cost desk inside the clubhouse.
pyongyang-golf-course-building-sign1Concrete lettering: “Magnifying the devotion of victory, let’s create a violent blow of fire wind on all fronts of the rigidity nation building!” Purple lettering: Lengthy reside the son of Songun (Army-first ideology) Chosun, Basic Kim Jong-Un!
pyongyang-golf-course-building-sign2“Thoroughly penetrate the programmatic tasks our respectful Marshal Kim Jong-Un presented this year at the New Years speech!”

Now, for the golf golf equipment. What have been to be at present’s North Korean weapons of selection? In response to cultural variations, this will properly simply be a bag of Kalashnikovs — golf here could possibly be totally different than I envisioned. Both means, I was nervous because I endure the dreaded left-hander handicap, only golfers studying it will understand the wrestle. I’d advised them prior, however was nonetheless satisfied of imminent pressured ambidexterity.

To my aid, the caddy wheeled out this previous, creaky, rusted hand buggy holding a beat up golf bag. Inside have been some previous, yet recognisable tools of the trade:


I kid you not, that’s a left-handed American Callaway 10° Great Massive Bertha II. In North-bloody-Korea. You can too spot a Japanese PRGR Titanium 15° Fairway Wooden, even a late 70’s 4-wood endorsed by American pro golfer Arnold Palmer. But, the icing on the cake was the bag itself, one of ‘Firestone Country Club’, an American personal golf course situated in Ohio, a regular cease on the PGA tour. How a bag of theirs ended up in Pyongyang is anybody’s guess.

Hey, capitalism isn’t so dangerous in any case.

To any golf aficionados studying: The set of irons have been branded ‘Marcus’, every membership with their very own, individual alphanumeric mannequin quantity. I’ve by no means heard of this model, and neither has Google — if anyone can shed any mild on this, depart a remark, I’m most curious.

pyongyang-golf-course-first-hole-signThe primary gap tee-bed signage.
pyongyang-golf-course-caddy-1st-holeThe caddy and I on the primary hole tee-bed about to hit off for the day.

Dealing with me up the first fairway was a sharp dogleg to the appropriate, to a left-hander with a bent to duck-hook it was my dream tee-off to start the day. Good. The Callaway felt snug, the cool breeze carving off Lake Taicheng onto my face as I lined up my drive with a mouthful of ice-cold Heineken. So, with the world at my ft and an keen gallery of North Korean minders, I took this confidence and flogged the times opening shot, shanking it straight into the North Korean pine forest to the whipcrack of snapped branches — an all-expense paid safari.

“Oh no…” The caddy remarked timidly, reaching for an additional ball.

And that my pals, is the story of how I introduced our beloved recreation of golf to two more residents of Pyongyang.

Out of bounds in North Korea, a shot hit badly sufficient to be punishable by labour camp, by some means the guides never shied away, as an alternative welcoming yet one more ruleset into their lives. Demonstrating the position of each membership, I crunched my Four-iron restoration shot straight in the direction of the inexperienced to a round of conventional golf claps.

“How do you score?” “Why do you play?” “Do you play alone?” “Where are you hitting?” “Is it difficult?” “Is golf popular in Australia?”

Hey, I’d visited North Korea to ask the questions, now I found myself in the recent seat bowled over by the guides’ genuine curiosity. With no elementary understanding of golf, it isn’t much of a spectator sport, I’d anticipated dragging every information by their collar, each tired of sore ft simply as two youngsters kicking and screaming to go away the supermarket.

I couldn’t have been extra improper.

Having a laugh with one of my guidesHaving amusing with Kang, strolling between tees.

“You should give it a try!” I exclaimed with a smile. “Are either of you left-handed?”

With seems to be of impressed uncertainty, Kang jumped on the opportunity solely to be shot down as a right-hander and nicely, Ri had as much clue of her most popular aspect as she did logging into a Gmail account.

Fortuitously (sadly?) for them immediately, I had slightly something I ready earlier, a deviant plan that saw the right-handed 7-iron and fairway wooden of one other set weasel into my bag, just in case.

And properly, with the facility of peer strain, the caddy and I have been now operating a North Korean golf clinic.

pyongyang-golf-course-guides-2nd-holeThis is Kang taking some follow swings beneath the steerage of our caddy.
pyongyang-golf-course-first-shot-guideRi being an awesome sport, taking her first ever golf shot. It seems she was left-handed in any case. Her shot went 300 yards, and she or he adopted it up with a hole-in-one on the seventh. What? Show me a liar, I problem you!

Kang took a specific liking to golf, firing off balls in fast succession to hasten his mastering of the basics. Into the water, into the pine forest, ground grubbers — he didn’t discriminate, reloading till empty before hurtling down the green in a sprint, defying golf etiquette to gather the few that went straight. He was enthusiastic, golf clearly resonated with him and his enchancment over the subsequent few holes was staggering.

“What other sports do you play, Kang?” I requested, curious to his means.

“Football, basketball and volleyball, but only when I’m not busy with tours.” he replied.

I understood what this meant. Not the weekend, not the nationwide holidays nor his days off, but once in a blue moon. North Korean tour guide is an endeared, respected career — cracking Overseas Language College in an exiled nation is an exclusive membership, expectations have been back-to-back excursions, seven days every week, even in the event you’d just spent sixteen days on the street. Right now was a special treat.

“On occasion, I’ve played basketball against tourists too. But, I haven’t met anyone that’s ever played golf before. I like the sports focusing on hand-eye coordination, the only problem is that I’m very competitive.” He added.

No kidding, I assumed.

I’d witnessed sport throughout North Korea, from Pyongyang’s privileged few dribbling imported orange basketballs across nicely maintained public courts, rural outsiders competing at volleyball in netless gravel yards, to those in excessive poverty making do with plastic bottles as makeshift soccer balls in the street. It’s all the time one of those wake-up calls that we weren’t so totally different — mutual enjoyment of sport knows no boundaries, and at present for me, gone have been the political and cultural contrasts and what was left was an Australian and a bunch of North Koreans on a sunny day indulging in some recreational golf.

Pyongyang Golf Course. One of my guides taking his first ever golf shot. He had never heard of golf before I introduced him today, and he took a real liking to it. A 4 hour round turned into 6 hours as he joined in to learn.Kang taking his first ever golf shot. It’s a troublesome sport to understand initially, just ask my buddies back house. Kang definitely stunned me together with his potential.

Holes 1 to 5 of Pyongyang Golf Course have been positioned on a peninsula extending into the landlocked Lake Taicheng, and every one had tree line water views. I found this intriguing as I’d been advised previous to arrival that images on these holes was prohibited and strictly enforced, that I’d have to attend till the 6th. An odd rule, I assumed, until I found the (arduous to consider) reasoning — Kim Jong-Un’s luxurious yacht. This secluded area within arms-length of Pyongyang metropolis is seemingly a holiday getaway for not solely Kim Jong-Un himself, however his late father in the past. Each enjoyed crusing their multi-million dollar boats on this relatively small, inland lake that has completely no access to the ocean. Sounds ludicrous proper? Too bizarre to be true? Just one other North Korean fable? Verify the screenshot under of Lake Taicheng from Google Maps and determine for your self.

kim-jong-un-yacht-lake-taichengKim Jong-Un’s luxury yacht in the landlocked lake Taicheng? Co-ordinates: 38°54’44.6″N 125°26’15.4″E (2016)

That’s unmistakeably a luxurious yacht, nearer resembling a luxury cruise liner should you ask me, just sitting there in the lake like a rubber duck enclosed in a small tub tub. Right here it’s relative to Pyongyang Golf Course, you possibly can see the course on the peninsula at the bottom, the boat is just off centre at the prime. To the far proper, you possibly can see what seems to be a small jetty that leads as much as a set of building complexes, take a look at Google Maps — might this be one of Kim Jong-Un’s rural palaces? The findings of mapping undertaking ‘North Korea Uncovered’ seem to agree.

kim-jong-un-yacht-lake-taicheng-pyongyang-golf-coursePyongyang Golf Course clubhouse to the bottom, luxury yacht not distant on the prime. Coordinates: 38°53’″N 125°26’09.3″E (2016)

Right here’s an example of the view from eye-level heading up one of the fairways. You’ll be able to see individuals down near the water working in a mud hole. I do not know what they have been as much as.


Settling into my subsequent drive on the 5th, the (initially shy!) caddy, at a quantity unsuited to her physical body, bellowed Korean down the green warning all greenkeepers into the pines. Sporting wide-brimmed solar hats and scarves, knelt with plastic luggage by their patches of hand-maintained rough, each stood and stared like deer in headlights solely to scurry off out of sight. I argued that they’d be safer straight down the middle.

Laughing, the caddy relaxed her strictly skilled demeanor, opening up to the guides. “She said you are the first foreigner she’s come across that’s wanted to play the entire course, 18 holes. She thinks you will be very tired,” Ri translated.

“Let her know not to worry, I’d never get tired of touring her fascinating country!” I replied, grinning. I took this opportunity to ask additional about her expertise right here, “Does she know how many players visit each day? Has she caddied for any foreigners?”

“The course is very popular, she says. There are over 40 players enjoying the course here each day.”

Wanting round, if it have been a film, there’d be atmospheric crickets. The course sat vacant. We have been the one occupants of the 6200-metre grassland complicated.

“Foreigners don’t often visit, she says, other than some regular Chinese players. She’s never caddied an Australian before, she thinks you are a fantastic golfer, the best she’s seen so far!” Ri added, guffawing.

Not one to dismiss a praise, I felt she’d overused her artistic license right here. I’d be extra inclined to consider Marshal Kim Jong-Un was sponsoring a portfolio of sick youngsters in Africa than that claim.


“Have any professional golfers visited Pyongyang Golf Course?” I requested. I’d lengthy questioned the answer. “Aside from me, of course!” I snuck in, jokingly.

Nodding, smiling, her eyes glowed before ringing off what seemed like an inventory of Korean names. Ri repeated many, confirming my suspicions and requested if I had heard of them.

I hadn’t.

“Are those North Korean golfers?” I asked, innocently.

“Yes,” she replied, nodding once extra.

There’s been no recorded North Korean skilled golf gamers in historical past.

Amazed, I had a extra direct question I felt would greatest uncover the entire story — “Have you ever heard of Tiger Woods?”

Met with a confused look of indifference adopted by bewilderment when the identify didn’t ring any bells, we continued to the seventh gap.

pyongyang-golf-course-7th-holeThe par 3 7th gap over a water lure.

The picturesque, par 3 water view of the 7th shaped the romantic backdrop to where I mustered the confidence to transcend the pleasantries, to pop the holy query on all of our lips —

— “Kim Jong-Il apparently hit an amazing round of golf here at Pyongyang Golf Course, only 34 shots, have you heard about this?” I requested the caddy.

As a golf caddy, understanding the impossibility of such a rating, I expected her to snort it off and dismiss the anecdote immediately. Nevertheless with out lacking a beat, she replied formally and it was translated — “She wasn’t here that day, but she says she is aware of the story, and so are her colleagues.”

Nicely, for a tale dividing many between both North Korean ‘fact’ or Chinese language whisper of pure Western fan-fiction, this was an intriguing response. Seemingly in agreement to its potential legitimacy, whether or not she was conscious of this feat only in consequence of prior tourists perpetuating the parable, or from it having a genuine origin within North Korean propaganda, I can’t confidently say.

Both means, it’s recognition here indeed breathed life into what I assumed previous to being a homeless lifeless horse.

However by any measure, the infamous fable had single-handedly propelled Pyongyang Golf Course onto the worldwide stage. Truthfully, it felt surreal to be enjoying at the supply, like an illusion, as if I expected something supernatural regardless of how irrational that sounds, for my expectations to be met. However no, upon hanging the ball it merely clinked off the membership head, divot kicking into the air, the ball sailing wayward into the bushes just because it did in Australia, or anyplace else.

Thanks for nothing, Kim.


pyongyang-golf-course-guide-phoneIt wasn’t all play and no work. Kang pictured checking in back at Pyongyang using his mobile phone.

The again 9 was more mechanical than the entrance, most holes have been less inspiring, they have been lengthy, straight and inset away from the lake in the heat. It was no Pebble Seashore, it wasn’t going to win any design awards, but Pyongyang Golf Course was nonetheless fairly a challenge. We spent these holes principally chatting, hacking at the fairway as an apart.

We discussed life in Pyongyang, the guides’ upbringing and schooling, hobbies, films and music, even as far as know-how, stopping solely at politics or any sensitive matters as these types of questions have been forbidden; greatest case it’d make them uncomfortable and worst case, it might land them in hassle.

Nonetheless, scratching the floor was an ideal perception into the Pyongyang elite. It’s arduous for me to elucidate to you. To speak to a gaggle of those that have collectively by no means watched Pulp Fiction. Loopy, I do know.

However, in all seriousness, it’s quite exceptional. On one hand, you’ve well-educated, privileged and relatable guides dwelling inside probably the most superior metropolis of North Korea. On the other, these similar individuals are lacking a whole part of ‘knowledge’ that we Westerners have otherwise, specifically recognition of international branding and popular culture. North Korea is technically the only nation in the world with out Coca-Cola and no one has ever tasted a Massive Mac. No one has ever heard of Google, or made an digital cost with a Visa or Mastercard. North Korean males are amongst probably the most prolific people who smoke on earth but Marlboro is out of attain. What are The Simpsons? The Beatles or Elvis Presley have been people who have by no means existed; I wish I might rediscover Tupac Shakur. And, properly: “My friends and I in Australia usually organise our events on Facebook.” You’d higher start by articulating the idea of Facebook, how we entry it on our Apple iPhones and then share photographs over uncensored 4G networks. It’s fairly straightforward to trip over throughout conversation.

Orchestral music, primarily female vocals, seemed to be the preferred music between the guides. Apparently, they’d watched Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo legally. Many sterile and flippantly themed worldwide films are used in Pyongyang’s Overseas Language University as learning tools and man might be purchased at DVD booths on the streets of Pyongyang, pirated at a State degree by Mokran Video Company. I’d come throughout guides that spoke German, Chinese language, Russian, French, Danish and even Vietnamese only for excursions. These college students had never earlier than met a local speaker outdoors tours and will often by no means be allowed to go to the languages native country.

pyongyang-golf-course-maintenanceOne of the numerous greenkeepers maintaining the course by hand.
pyongyang-golf-course-green-qualityBetter than placing on a furry rug, the green high quality isn’t great, yet higher than I anticipated, not far off rural public courses in Australia — just with a better price ticket!

Ri didn’t own a digital camera, so I let her commandeer mine for the final handful of holes. She took quite a bit of photographs, including many of the photographs you see here immediately (Thanks, Ri!).

A number of telephone calls have been made as we played the course, presumably back to Pyongyang. I don’t know why, I wasn’t going to ask either. Cell phones have been widespread in Pyongyang and different main cities. Mainly ‘bar’ telephones, however I’d additionally spotted flip-phones, even contact screens. Apparently they run legally on a heavily censored inner network named ‘Koryolink’ that has disabled each Internet entry, and international calls, unsurprisingly.

The sensation I obtained was that this type of censorship was widespread information to those in Pyongyang.

Throwing a spanner in the works, I asked the guides if they have been conscious of international current events. They have been all aware of the Ukraine Disaster, the Arab Spring and even the Ferguson unrest in america — world events are coated in their native newspaper, The Pyongyang Occasions (albeit in an fascinating method), a every day paper that may put even CNN’s agenda to shame.

Oh and apparently it’s true that by regulation, every residential house is required to have portraits of each Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il hanging from the wall.

“Look, pheasant!” The information interjected, changing the topic and misdirecting me away from yet one more group of guide labour choosing at the rough.

There was no pheasant.

Pyongyang Golf Course. One of my guides came prepared for a day walking 18 holes on grass wearing high heels. This was regretted quickly. Golf was a new discovery for all of my guides, we got lost trying to find the course it's so rarely visited.Ri having fun with her spherical earlier than sinking into the turf because of the high heels.

To the 18th. The remaining gap to the Chilly Warfare’s remaining frontier.

The day’s precedent had long been set and I completed with an anticlimactic bogey because of a Three-putt I’m nonetheless upset about. I’ve obtained to do one thing about these knee-knocker 4-footers. I maintain telling myself that.

Anyway, what a day. I’d misplaced extra balls than I’d made pars, the course itself hadn’t been notably spectacular, it was an expensive round, there’d been snakes, and it’d gone significantly extra time. However, it was a round of golf I’ll never forget. We’d had a blast. Good quaint enjoyable. In North Korea, where enjoyable wasn’t a phrase. Ri had found she was in reality, a left-hander and Kang had added another sporting love to his repertoire. The caddy had met an Australian. And I’d shown her that we too, have been just as dangerous at golf. There’d been laughter, banter, however most significantly a deeper interplay than I’d otherwise had through the stringent, well-dressed ‘façade’ of North Korea’s tackle Pokémon Snap, an organised, government sanctioned tour.

Monuments to Kim Il-Sung had been intriguing, his previous age facility fascinating, the Metro Museum weird and the Demilitarized Zone’s pretend wall perplexing, but to none of these I might comfortably attribute the word ‘fun’, till at present, with Pyongyang Golf Course.

pyongyang-golf-course-15th-holeDisplaying off my first and only birdie of the day on the par Four 15th.
pyongyang-golf-course-fairway-ballcatcherLifeless centre of the green the place your ball is more likely to finish up. I nickname it the moneymaker.

Twilight had set in, and the course sprinkler system had turned on to provide us a pleasant prod back to the clubhouse, simply as I’d fired my final strategy shot too — I’ll blame the bogey on that.

“Did you enjoy yourselves?” I asked the guides.

Ri nodded her head, “Yes, it was very relaxing. Thank you.”

She’d made comparable remark at this time after every cleanly hit iron stroke, motioning the flight of the ball together with her arm, the type of shot that sounds and feels nice off the palms and which matches sky excessive in the direction of the green and lands with an attractive thud. It’s a golfers kryptonite. Sure, it was enjoyable. She ‘got’ it. Either that or Ri merely loved stressless days at work and long walks on the seashore. Don’t spoil it for me.

Kang walked over, shook my hand firmly and thanked me, “It was great. I hope to play golf again soon,” he replied, expressing his gratitude for at present’s induction.

He meant it, too.

We checked out one another, knowingly, every mustering a half-smile more telling than any words might be —

— After in the present day, It was unlikely Kang would ever get the chance to step foot on a golf course once more.

pyongyang-golf-course-guide-swingAction shot, take a look at that type. Kang went from air swinging to transferring his weight and taking a divot inside lower than 18 holes.

Nightfall fast approaching, the invisibility cloak granted by the darkness was analogous to our uninterrupted, peaceable day frolicking woodlands with out control or scrutiny, we packed it in and shuttled back to ‘normality’, Pyongyang, North Korean central control, completely offsetting the freedoms I’d savoured at present.

Army checkpoints reappeared, frozen in time just as prior. Kim Il-Sung’s static, photogenic grin started to emerge, murals illuminated alone to a backdrop of ghostly Soviet high-rise silhouettes whereas eerie revolutionary music reduce by way of the spotless, curfewed streets near flag-draped websites of nationwide significance. My cease at the Draft Beer Corridor was reduce brief after ‘illegal’ photographs I’d taken inside, and the questions now asked of my guides redefined ‘politically correct’ closer to that found inside George Orwell’s timeless basic 1984 — surveillance in Pyongyang is equally culturally instilled.

Dinner was segregated alone, a desk for one in an empty restaurant — three waitresses, ten plates of food and a seat dealing with North Korean State Tv, Kim Jong-Il was shown inspecting agriculture productivity four years beyond his demise.

Fittingly, my day ended the place it started, Pyongyang’s very own ‘hotel Alcatraz’, the island-isolated Yanggakdo Worldwide, where I’d be imprisoned for one final night time.

The hair we’d let down on the golf course had now been pulled again into a neat, compact bun, so to talk — Pyongyang meant enterprise as ordinary.

Bunkers not innocently meant the golf lure crammed with sand.

However, it didn’t matter.

A day on Pyongyang Golf Course was a day I virtually forgot I was in North Korea.


If only for a second.


A dinner table laid out for one in an empty restaurant, three waitresses, ten plates of food and Kim Jong-Il.