5 Feb 2011

North Korea now open to golfers with cash

9:37 am on 5 February 2011

In its quest for hard currency, North Korea is inviting golf enthusiasts from around the world to tee up at a tournament there.

For about $A1,000 foreign players can enter the North Korean Amateur Golf Open to be held at a course near the capital, Pyongyang, where Kim Jong-il reputedly shot a world record score.

Legend in the hermit kingdom has it that when he opened the golfing complex 20 years ago, the dictator shot 38 under par, including a miraculous 11 holes in one.

Now the Dear Leader is allowing foreign players to have a swipe at his record.

Simon Cockerell helps run Koryo tours, which is based in Beijing. The ABC reports he arranges visits to North Korea for intrepid foreigners, and has played a round at the golf club.

"It's not a bad course. It has a few problems in that the grass isn't cut properly and last time I played there a couple of the holes didn't have flags in them," he said.

"But in general, it's not a bad course at all. It is laid out nicely; there is a lake next to it. There's some hills and trees and water features and so on.

"I mean if there was investment in it then it could turn out to be a very, very nice course.

But Mr Cockerell thinks reports of Mr Jong-il's prowess with the putter at the course could be slightly exaggerated.

"I think you might find there is no real origin for that ... the people who run the golf course tell me he has never been anywhere near it."

No-one has swung a club there since South Korea suspended cross-border tours three years ago after a North Korean soldier shot dead a Seoul housewife who had unwittingly strayed into a restricted zone.

The ABC reports the fee to enter the tournament also includes meals, accommodation and a three-day tour of the country.

It is a sign that Pyongyang is desperate for some hard cash. So skint is the regime that last year it offered to settle part of its debt to the Czech Republic with a shipment of ginseng.