- - Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Golf is a liar’s game, as anyone who has lingered in the clubhouse at the 19th hole could tell you, but some lies are more dangerous than others. You can get in trouble in North Korea, for example, by lying about your handicap at one of the world’s most exclusive golf resorts. It’s exclusive because it’s the only golf course in the country.

But boys will be boys, as is well known, and sometimes they beg for trouble. Morgan Ruig and Evan Shay, two 28-year-old gentlemen of Brisbane, were vacationing in Beijing when they heard about a golf tournament organized in Pyongyang by the North Korean government. They decided playing tournament golf would be great fun in such a weird and not-necessarily-wonderful place, and applied to compete with 83 others for the North Korean Amateur Golf Championship.

To their surprise, they were invited to Pyongyang. They thought it would be further great fun to pose as the Australian National Golf Team, and had green jackets made up with an official-looking emblem on the breast pocket. They were wined and dined in Pyongyang, treated as celebrities, for four days.

When their tee-times inevitably arrived they were exposed as being not very good. One slice went into the woods, a hook into the Taedong River. “Everyone thought we were pretty legit,” Mr. Shay told the Daily Mail Australia, “until I put the ball in the river.”

Their caddy was shocked. “You are a disgrace and have brought shame to your families,” he told them. They soldiered on, though not very well, and left Pyongyang as having ruined the reputation of Australian golf.

The North Korean government, which is not particularly known for a well-developed sense of humor, preferring its own sense of the absurd, heard of the joke after the men returned home and now demands they return to apologize on national television.

They’re not particularly eager to return to a reception that would be somewhat cooler than the warm welcome they got the first time. “Well, no,” says Mr. Ruig. “Years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp doesn’t exactly appeal to us.”

The two Australians, who concede they hardly rise to the level of duffer, hardly rise to the standards of North Korean golf, either. The late Kim Jong-il, revered in life as “the Dear Leader” after he succeeded his father Kim Il-sung, “the Great Leader,” opened the golf course in 1987. He shot a remarkable round on his first ever attempt at golf, making 11 holes-in-one. He apologized for not making the other 7 holes with a single stroke.

He promised to do better once he got a little practice. No one asked to see his card, taking his word that he shot a 38 under par. Golf in the hermit kingdom has never been the same since.

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