Amateur golfers invited to tee off in the North

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Amateur golfers invited to tee off in the North

North Korea will resume an annual amateur golf tournament in 2019 after a two-year hiatus as the country struggles to earn foreign exchange due to international sanctions.

Lupine Travel, a U.K.-based travel agency that sponsors the event, recently announced that the 2019 DPRK Amateur Golf Open will run from next Sept. 5 to 6 in Pyongyang. DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The agency’s four-day tour packages for the golf tournament, which starts on Sept. 4 and ends on Sept. 7, begin from 999 euros ($1,130) and include train travel from Chinese cities, hotel accommodations, meals, guides, a tournament entry fee and a North Korean caddy.

Travelers without a North Korean visa will be required to pay an additional 50 euros, the company’s website explained.

“The event is open to all amateur golfers,” the website wrote, “except those with South Korean and U.S. passports.”

The tournament will be held at the Pyongyang Golf Complex, 27 kilometers (17 miles) from Pyongyang, the North’s capital, and no more than 40 people will be allowed to participate.

North Korean tourism is exempt from UN sanctions, though South Korea and the United States ban its citizens from visiting the country through unilateral measures.

Jung Chang-hyun, a North Korea expert who heads a modern history research institute, said the Pyongyang regime was probably trying to make up its loss of foreign revenue by designing new tour packages for outside visitors.

The North always had a penchant for inviting foreigners and making them spend cash, Jung pointed out, but recent North Korean tourism trends seem to show the country is more open than ever. Visitors can see places that were mostly off-limits in the past to keep North Koreans from meeting foreigners.

According to Lupine Travel, day one of the four-day golf tour package includes a train ride from Sinuiju, in North Pyongan Province, to Pyongyang, which provides a “great chance to interact with locals on the train and in the restaurant car.”

On the third day, tourists will have the option of visiting the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground, an amusement park in Pyongyang, or spending the night at a Pyongyang bar.

A separate website for the DPRK Amateur Golf Open describes the Pyongyang Golf Complex as an 18 hole, par 72 course that covers 120 hectares (297 acres) and is the only golf course in North Korea.

On a separate note, the North is also receiving foreign applicants for 10-day and month-long North Korean language courses at its Kim Chol Ju University of Education in Pyongyang and a university in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province.

The 10-day course costs about $1,696, while the month-long course costs $2,721.

North Korean education programs are also exempt from international sanctions.

Local pundits say it’s rare for North Korea to offer language courses to ordinary foreigners, though in the past, the regime has offered language programs for diplomats and students from ally countries such as China and Russia.

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