[FOUNTAIN]New milestone in Korean golf

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[FOUNTAIN]New milestone in Korean golf

Golf courses on the southeast coastline of Scotland are called "links." The word itself means little hills made from sand and grass along the shore. Shepherd boys started playing a little game of hitting small round rocks into rabbit holes 600 years ago.

If one wants to talk about the origins of golf in Korea, Wonsan in South Hamgyeong province is our equivalent of the Scotland coast. At the end of the 19th century, British advisers in charge of tariff matters at Wonsan harbor built a six-hole golf course.

The first course for the general public, a nine-hole course, was established in Seoul in 1919 at the location where Hyochang Park is now situated. The course was run by a hotel located nearby, and was frequented mainly by Japanese golfers; Koreans had not yet taken up the game.

The first Korean golfer was Yoon Ho-byung in the 1920s; he later went on to become finance minister in the early 1960s. The Hyochang golf course moved to Cheongnyangni in 1924 and was renamed. Although the course was 18 holes, it was a pitch-and-putt course of only 3,942 yards.

The first golf course in Korea that complied with international standards was the Gunjari golf course, which opened in 1929 with 18 holes totaling 6,160 yards. Originally the location was a breeding farm for horses of the royal household, but the third son of King Gojong, Lee Eun, enjoyed playing golf and donated the land, which the Japanese had allowed the former royal family to keep, for conversion into a golf course.

During World War II, the site was reconverted into farmland, but after Korea became independent, President Syngman Rhee ordered a golf course built exclusively for foreigners, and the Gunjari site again sprouted fairways and greens. It was here that the first golf club in Korea, the Seoul Country Club, was formed in 1953. The first amateur golf tournament, in 1954, and the first professional tournament, in 1958, were held there. In 1972, the site was converted to the Children's Grand Park.

So Korean golf history is relatively short. The win by Choi Kyong-ju in an American PGA tournament is a new milestone in Korea's history. In the mental sport of golf, confidence is the most important factor in doing well. Mr. Choi said he had a 10-year plan for the PGA when he left Korea, and he struck gold after only three years. His dark face, stern look and slow movements make him look full of confidence, infecting even nongolfers with his go-getter attitude.

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo

by Oh Byung-sang

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