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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Tuesday, March 21, 2000



Fairway diplomacy
in North Korea

A "pingpong" policy opened the doors to Red China. Can the sport of golf do the same for North Korea -- the world's most isolated Communist country?

Apparently, North Korea is going to give it a shot. Some 30 fortunate Korean-Americans from Hawaii only will be invited by the government to play in a 36-hole tournament June 12-13 in the capital city of Pyongyang.

Il Man Chung, president of the Korean Golf Association of Hawaii, received permission from the North Korean government early this month to hold a tournament at the country's only golf course.

The event will be held at the Pyongyang Taesung Golf Course, a 5,750-yard, par-72 layout that was designed by the Japanese, with funds raised by Korean businessmen in Japan, and presented in 1987 to the government as a 75th birthday gift for the late North Korean president, Kim Il Sung.

"This is the first time that a sponsor has received official permission from the North Korean government to host a golf tournament," Chung said.

THIS historic event will promote goodwill and understanding between North Korea and the United States.

North Korea has exchanged visits in soccer and basketball with South Korea. But not with American athletes.

It goes without saying that North Korea is approaching the golfing open-door policy cautiously. Only those of Korean ancestry who are American citizens will be invited.

Chung's golf association won't be the one doing the inviting. The North Korea government will determine what 30 golfers it will accept.

Besides the golfers being first-, second- or third-generation Korean-Americans, the government says that no one who still has living relatives in the country need apply.

Already, 51 persons have applied, according to Chung, who will accept additional applications for the North Korean government to consider. Those interested can telephone Chung or Mark Sim at 366-0663.

The Hawaii-only qualification is a coup for Chung's golf association, since it is the only group to receive the official invitation and be in contact with the North Korean government. There have been inquiries from Korean-Americans across the country, but only those from Hawaii will be invited, Chung said.

THE only exception will be LPGA professional, Pearl Sinn, who will be among the participants.

Why Pearl Sinn?

"Of all the professionals, she is the only one who is an American citizen," Chung said. "The others like Se Ri Pak and Mi Hyun Kim are not American citizens."

The price of the "Golf Invitation to North Korea" -- as the 11-day tour package is being called -- has not been finalized.

Once the North Korean government OKs the final list, the proposed itinerary has the golfers leaving Honolulu on June 7, with a one-day stopover in Seoul. They will fly to Beijing and then to Pyongyang on June 10 on Koryo Airlines, North Korea's carrier.

After a city tour of Pyongyang, two rounds of golf will be played June 12-13. In addition, there will be tours to North Korea's famous mountain resorts -- Mount Myohyang and Mount PaekDu -- and then a visit to the DMZ at Panmunjum, which should provide a rare perspective since it will be viewed from the North Korean side.

A fascinating trip and an opportunity to see a country that few Americans can get to see -- for now anyway.

And to think, the game of golf is playing a major role in making it all happen.



Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.
bkwon@starbulletin.com



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