[SPORTS VIEW]It's time to make golf affordable here

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[SPORTS VIEW]It's time to make golf affordable here

I first picked up a golf club when I was attending college in the United States, at Washington University in St. Louis. August, a close friend, began teaching me the game on a sunny day in May. We went down to a nine-hole public course. After my friend's five-minute crash course on the golf swing, I tried my first shot.

Whiff. Nothing happened. All I managed to do was unsettle the ball from the top of the tee and make it roll five centimeters. But over the next year I practiced hard. As I got better I noticed that our roles had changed. my game was better than his but August would not accept this, though. Suddenly he had an excuse for every bad shot he made: the wind, the lack of the wind, the clouds, the singing of the birds, the sun, his contact lenses.

I paid $19 (22,800 won) for my first greens fee and later about $35 to $45 for green fees at other public courses while playing in the States. Prices were managebale and one reason I could often practice my game. If the greens fees had been higher, I could not have made the progress that I did in one year.

It took a good 32 years for Korean men to do something similar, though it was a return to form more than an initial achievement. On Monday, a Korean golf duo participating in the world golf championships in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, finished third, following Japan and the United States. The only other time a Korean pair had cracked the top five came in 1971, when Kim Seung-hak and Han Jung-sang took fifth. At the two-man championship event, Korea was represented by Choi Kyung-joo, who won two PGA titles this year, and Huh Suk-ho, who picked up a Japan tour title. The two, playing alternate shots, finished the final round with a six-under par 66, completing the event at 30-under. Both received $115,000 in prize money.

The total winnings that Korean players were able to rake in this year by playing tournaments in the United States and Japan jumped to 12.4 billion won ($10.3 million) up about 70 percent over last year's total. Female players such as Pak Se-ri, Kim Mi-hyun and Park Ji-eun have a combined nine LPGA titles this year, with Pak Se-ri leading the pack with five.

Since 1998, with Korean golfers regularly making headlines on the international scene and their matches televised frequently, the sport has become more and more popular with the general public here on the peninsula.

Nevertheless, that doesn't mean that golf has become more accessible. The price tag to play is still prohibitive for many people. Private club memberships here range from 50 million won up to 400 million won while green fees for the few public course available are not cheap either.

After paying 180,000 won for a greens fee at a public course here, I felt it wasn't worth it to play the game anymore. At those prices, it is impossible for young people to learn golf. Now with a wide interest in place, the time is ripe to change the way the game is played in Korea. More public courses with reasonable fees should be made available, as has happened in the United States. Otherwise it may take another 30 years for Korea to make its mark again on the international golf scene.

by Brian Lee

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