Presidents, golf and the economy
According to Time magazine, U.S. President Barack Obama has played golf with his aides seven out of 10 times since his inauguration. Other times, he would most likely be with people he has known for a long time. “Obama clearly prefers to use his tee times to unwind with the guys,” said the magazine. In contrast, former President Bill Clinton “employed the sport just as one might assume: as grounds for entertaining donors and buttering up entrenched political opponents.”
President Park Geun-hye does not play golf and doesn’t seem to be favorable toward it, either. “I’ve never said whether you can play golf or not,” Park told Blue House secretaries in July 2013. “But you are all too busy to play, right?” She basically issued a de facto ban. It’s like saying, “It’s my treat, you can order whatever you want” at a restaurant, then expecting everyone to get the least expensive dish on the menu.
But golf became a topic of conversation after Park was named the honorary host of the Presidents Cup in Songdo next September. It is a regional tournament that traditionally invites a president or former presidents to be honorary hosts. “Golf is not just a sport, but an important industry now,” Park told the organizers. Indeed, golf is an estimated 20 trillion won ($18 billion) business in Korea, employing more than 100,000 people.
Just because a president doesn’t play golf doesn’t mean he or she can’t revive the economy. President Kim Dae-jung was not a golfer, but he led the country out of the financial crisis. However, a president’s perception of the sport can influence the industry. It is hard to comprehend Park’s position when she says its industrial aspects are important while characterizing it as “a leisure sport for people with free time.”
There is a more serious problem. In her administrative policy speech last week, she urged the opposition party to promptly handle legislation intended to boost the economy. Some measures are difficult for the opposition party to accept. However, the president is trying to persuade it to join forces to overcome challenges. But her reasoning becomes meaningless when it comes to golf, where she doesn’t even have to change the law. She could simply correct her position on her golf ban. Yet she remains stubborn.
Golf can be the touchstone for Park to show her will and pledge to revive the economy. It is matter of proving she is willing to allow something that she doesn’t like very much or understand, as long as it helps the economy. With Park as the honorary chairperson, the Presidents Cup’s slogan is all the more fitting: “The time has come.”
*The author is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 7, Page 34
by KIM YOUNG-HOON