The Greatest Round Ever Played!By our Korea correspondent Park Eng Phee - September 19, 2003
PYONGYANG, DPRK - Jack Nicklaus won 18 professional majors. Tiger Woods held all four majors at once. Annika Sorenstam shot a 59. All candidates for the title of 'Greatest Ever'?
We think not.
For though they may be in the Guinness Book of Records, all their skills, their victories, even that 59, do not come close to matching the inexplicably unsung exploit of a modest little man with bad hair from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK): the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il.
We believe it is time to set the record straight and give full credit to a man who played a par 72 course in just 34 strokes.
And before you say "Impossible, he can only have played nine holes", beware!
No lesser authority than Pyongyang Golf Club's resident professional, Park Young-man (son of the famous revolutionary hero Park Old-man), together with Kim's 12 armed bodyguards, can attest that Kim played the full eighteen, all holed out, off the back tees on a crisp autumn morning in October 1994. "The Dear Leader is an excellent golfer," said Mr. Park.
Standing on the tee of the 340-meter (370-yard) dogleg par four first hole at Pyongyang GC, Park noted that "Dear Leader Comrade General Kim Jong-Il, whom I respect from the bottom of my heart, scored two on this hole." But there was even better to come, as Kim's amazing round included a world record five holes in one, one at each of the par 3s and one at a par 4!
But how, we hear you ask, does a man with a country to run, a 1.2 million man standing army to command and 23 million people to keep on the verge of starvation, find the time to work at his golf game? Answer - he doesn't!
The Dear Leader, faithful to the national philosophy of 'Juche', or self-reliance, has never had a lesson. Indeed, his heroic 38 under par score was his first and only round of golf!When he learned that this was a full 25 strokes better than any other human had ever achieved, far from being tempted to take the game up seriously, he decided that there were greater challenges to his intellect and natural atheletic ability, and has not touched a club since.
So why have we not heard more about the greatest round of golf in the history of the game? It would appear that politics has once again reared its ugly head.
Western media are under pressure to isolate and vilify Kim's stalinist paradise, and are encouraged to play up its role as a member of the 'Axis of Evil'. Governments, aware of the potential lobbying power of the world's 60 million golfers, many of whom are opinion leaders in the highest echelons of society, fear a tidal wave of adoration - similar to the recognition given to Tiger Woods - if news of Kim's golfing prowess is made public. So it has been suppressed and as a result gone largely unnoticed - until today!
In search of an 'official' comment, we went to US PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem. Seemingly embarrassed by our questions, Finchem finally, and grudgingly, broke the code of silence, putting a very different spin on the story. "Yeah, 34 - it's an amazing achievement, but he's just too good. We don't want him over here. We're lucky he's got a day job as a ruthless tyrant and fully paid up international terrorist. Otherwise this man could be really evil if he was let loose on Tour - he'd blow 'em away for sure!"
Perhaps recognising the economic potential of his phenomenal talent, Kim has also been wary of releasing too much information that could help Western powers. There are no photographs, for example, of Kim's golf swing, as these are forbidden for security purposes. (However, a local cartoonist playfully adapted the Dear Leader's comment that "My drives went like a rocket" to produce the amusing portrait shown here.) We do not know if he played left- or right-handed, nor which grip he used. Some experts have even speculated that to make such a quantum leap in golfing skills, he must have discovered an entirely new 'secret' to the game, far beyond anything that the great Ben Hogan may have found.
Yet, even without revealing his secret to the world, the diminutive dictator from North Korea has done the golfing world a great service. For as the debate about the impact of technology on the modern game rages, as journeyman pros wonder if they can ever hope to compete with Tiger Woods, and as experts speculate that Tiger himself may lose interest in the game as injury and family commitments take their toll, we can see that there is no need to worry. Until today's so-called 'Masters of the Game' can shave substantially more than a shot a hole off their best ever scores, the ultimate challenge of the lowest round will remain out there.
Knocking Kim Jong-Il off the top of the Dear Leaderboard will not be easy.
Travel update: Golf in Pyongyang
If you are tired of queuing up at the first tee and have trouble concentrating in all the hustle and bustle of modern courses, why not consider a little break away from it all, and perhaps make your own assault on the Dear Leader's record score?
Pyongyang Golf Club offers probably the most exclusive facilities at some of the most reasonable prices in the world. Memberships begin at only Yen 10.000 (about US$105), and green fees are US$25 for members and US$120 for non-members. Security is guaranteed, with a large detachement of the world's fifth largest standing army keeping an eye on the course and ensuring that no North Korean citizens are corrupted by contact with the ultimate capitalist sport.
Caddies are available for a very modest charge, wearing traditional Korean dress, and can be relied upon to say 'Good shottu!' every time you strike the ball, regardless of the result. The course is never crowded, with four players being the average on Saturdays, rising to a teeming eight golfers invading the links on Sundays. And your backswing will never be interrupted by the maddening ring of a mobile 'phone, as all visitors to North Korea must leave their 'phones with Customs on arrival in the country.
For further information, read on below.