[OUTLOOK]Let children roam the golf courses

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[OUTLOOK]Let children roam the golf courses

Last month, about 10,000 people came to the Chuncheon Country Club in the city of Chuncheon, Gangwon province. There was no PGA tour in town; the crowd was there for the Rhododendron Festival, for which the country club had opened its golf course to the public at no charge. Students of all ages, housewives and the elderly came out to the course for a spring outing.
Covered with new spring grass, Chuncheon’s 480,000-pyong (390- acre) course was bright green in the sun. Blood-red rhododendrons, royal azaleas and all kinds of other flowers were in bloom, showing off their glory as if it were a beauty pageant.
There were fountains and ponds with water wheels. Rabbits and squirrels played hide-and-seek in the greenery. Parents couldn’t stop cooing over the scenery, while their children took pictures with their digital cameras or, if they were younger, just played on the grass. Of the 10,000 people there that day, about 8,000 were children.
Fairways had become ballparks, hills had become grassy sledding runs and sandtraps had become wrestling rings. Disabled children were playing, screaming and giggling with joy. The soft grass of the golf course seemed an ideal playground for disabled children.
Eight thousand kindergarten, elementary and middle school students might sound like a huge, chaotic scene, but they took up just 10 of the golf course’s 27 fairways. On the other 17, just a few adults were strolling here and there.
On that day, the Chuncheon Country Club golf course became a playground, and an amusement park for children.
Korea’s golf courses are all clean and beautiful. They have lots of lovely trees, peaceful ponds and manmade waterfalls, and the landscaping is always scenic and harmonious. Anyang Benest CC, said to be the best golf course in the country, is rumored to have more than a trillion won ($1 billion) worth of trees. The club’s management dismisses this rumor as “unfounded,” but when one sees the trees and the landscaping there, it isn’t hard to believe.
There is no denying that there are environmentally harmful aspects to the development of golf courses, given that they are artificial creations. But if they are maintained as the beautiful gardens that they are today, then they can be seen as serving the function of beautifying our country. It is my hope that many more golf courses are created across the country.
The problem is that most people don’t have the chance to enjoy these beautiful places.
It’s said that the golfing population has risen, but it is still an extravagant luxury sport. It is unthinkable for ordinary people, because country club membership costs as much as an apartment does, and the greens fees are expensive too.
Last year, more than 16 million man-days were spent playing at the nation’s 190 or so golf courses. But considering the number of golf fanatics who play once or twice a week, the actual number of golfers is pretty small. Perhaps there are one million or so. In the eyes of most people, golf courses are the fortresses of the rich.
A golf course is as pretty as a garden, and it is sad to think that only a chosen few can enjoy it. If ordinary people could use the space from time to time, it could be dozens of times more valuable as a social asset.
The possible uses of golf courses are endless: a children’s playground; a concert space; a place for a festival to be held; simply a place to rest. More people than one might expect are willing to pay an entrance fee just to walk around and admire the scenery. Some golfers might object to the courses being used for other purposes, because it’s hard enough to book playing time as it is. But I think it is worth thinking about.
Still, we cannot force golf courses to open their doors to the public. That would be communist thinking. Considering the huge investments and administration costs that go into a golf course, not to mention the expensive greens fees charged for its use, today’s closed-door policies are actually quite natural. Opening their doors is only an option if it is voluntary, as in the case of the Chuncheon Country Club.
The Chuncheon club’s management says they started the event with “the intent of allowing more people to enjoy the picturesque scenery.” They have done so once a year for seven years. Their intentions are heartwarming.
Of all its possible alternate uses, a grassy golf course is perhaps best suited as an incomparable playground for children. I think it would be good to think about opening golf courses to children, perhaps once or twice a year to start with.
Let’s think about all the people that gathered in parks on Children’s Day. People were pushed here and there by the crowds, making one wonder whether it was Children’s Day or Children’s Hardship Day. That crowded scene is one that golf course managers and golfers alike should contemplate.
How wonderful it would be to offer our children, who are locked in this concrete forest of buildings, a spacious green garden. Perhaps golf courses that designate a “non-golfer’s day” and open their courses to the public could get tax deductions. Golf courses, the government and civic corganizations need to put their heads together to think of ways to make this a reality.

* The writer is the chief of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin
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