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North Korea invites foreigners to Pyongyang golf tournament

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea has invited foreign golfers to a tournament in Pyongyang, another tentative step in the reclusive country’s reopening after Chinese and Russian officials attended a military parade last month.

The country has been under a rigid self-imposed COVID-19 blockade since early 2020 but there are increasing signs Pyongyang may be becoming more flexible on border controls, experts say.

“The Pyongyang Golf Course hosts an amateur golfers competition in spring and autumn every year,” read a post from August 2 on Pyongyang’s official DPR Korea Tour website.

“Foreign amateurs can also take part in this competition held in spring and autumn in our country and develop friendship with Korean amateur golfers.”

A contestant takes a shot during an autumn golf contest at the Pyongyang Golf Course in Nampho City. North Korea. PHOTO: AFP

The post also included an email address and phone number for its “golf travel company” – under Pyongyang’s official tourism administration – but did not say when the tournament would take place.

In a separate post, Pyongyang said its agency, the Ryomyong Golf Travel Company, had developed attractions including “an underwater golf course, archery ground and boating ground”.

The posts were shared after Beijing confirmed in July that North Korea had registered for this year’s Asian Games, to be held in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in September.

North Korea had registered for an overseas sporting event earlier this year but failed to send athletes.

Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute told AFP recent signs indicate “that Chinese tourism to North Korea will gradually resume in the future”.

The North’s state media has said Kim Jong Il – current leader Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor – scored an incredible 11 holes-in-one the first time he ever played golf.

Pyongyang’s golf course was reportedly built in the early 1980s and was officially opened in 1987 to celebrate the 75th birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

It was financed by pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans in Japan. 

Today, the course “covers an area of 196 hectares and has… 18 holes in total. More than 200 people can play there,” the DPR Korea Tour website says.

An Chan-il, a defector turned researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, said Pyongyang has “established a department of golf” at a key sports university in Pyongyang.

“North Korea has designated golf as an important means of earning foreign currency,” An told AFP.

However, according to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, there are signs that the North has also started using the course for its banned missile tests.

Pyongyang’s March 9 launches of multiple short-range ballistic missiles were likely fired from Thaesong lake at the golf course to make it difficult for Seoul to “pinpoint the launch origin”, according to a military expert cited by the paper.

In 2005, during a period of better ties, the golf course hosted a Korean Ladies’ Professional Golf Association event.

The winner, South Korea’s Song Bo-bae, told media at the time: “The greens were much slower than the ones in South Korea, which made it quite challenging.”

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