Golf still paves the way for political demise

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Golf still paves the way for political demise

Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan is on life support. He is gasping for air like a beached whale. And all because he teed off.
How much does Mr. Lee love golf? I mean, getting entangled in golf-related scandals six times since becoming prime minister means only one thing: Mr. Lee is out to get the sport killed ― back on the government’s banned list.
Golf is a fun game. You swing at a ball and, if you connect right, nothing beats a great shot sent down the fairway to where you actually wanted it to end up. Well, that and your partners’ “missed swings” certainly make up most of the fun in my game. I certainly remember the three- or four-person games I had with my pals back in the States. We would carry our golf bags over our shoulders and pant and sweat our way around the course.
In Korea, of course, it’s a different story. Playing golf is excessively associated with social status. And it’s a common scene here for presidents to order a ban on senior government officials playing golf for a certain period of time when the economy seems to be on a down-turn or some national event has darkened the mood in the country.
Excessive golf trips abroad are news items, and membership at country clubs is viewed as an asset. For a guy, wearing shorts to a golf club is still a huge no-no. Caddies here are a must, shadowing every golf player because you gotta hear the “nice shot, sajangnim,” (boss) not only from your peers but also from your bag-toting lackie.
Back in the old days, tennis was considered a sport played only by the rich. Skiing shared the same fate until ski resorts opened up and the middle class started to hit the slopes.
The controversy surrounding Mr. Lee is that he was playing golf on a day when other public servants were facing an emergency, anticipating a nationwide railroad strike. I think the fundamental question here is whether the prime minister was or was not in a position to do his job. If he was laying on the couch at home instead of playing golf nobody would have uttered a peep. But he wasn’t ― he decided to play some golf. What if he had played tennis? How about curling? Or ping-pong? Somebody could have shamed him for his “attitude,” but would they have called for his resignation?
If there had been a national disaster in which lives were lost then maybe it would have been a problem. But what sort of brainless person would tee off on a day like that? The media has jumped on the case and while now their focus is on other issues related to people involved in the match, the press first focused on the fact that he played golf. The word “golf” has appeared at least a million times now in the country’s dailies, and it’s safe to say that it has more hits on the Internet here than “bin Laden.”
Golf is being blamed because Koreans still view it as an elite sport that is not for the “man on the street.” This is not fair and the media here has the responsibility of casting a different light on the sport. When South Korean golfers do great on the international stage, there are no negative sentiments. Granted, there is still a long way to go before the sport becomes affordable like it is in places such as the States, but at least the media coverage could change. Golf vacations abroad? That’s not news.

by Brian Lee
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