Korea is a land of breathtaking beauty and fascinating culture. Ancient temples abound, but now there is a modern shrine that Koreans have taken to heart: the golf course.
The interpretation of the Chinese symbols for the country's name have long been an area for debate, but “The Land of the Morning Calm”, though considered slightly fanciful, is generally thought to be a close enough translation. So you have Korea’s “Land of the Morning Calm” in the west and Japan’s “Land of the Rising Sun” in the east.
But this is a country of contrasts. The cities, especially the capital Seoul, are modern, dynamic and vibrant hubs of commercialism. Then there is the other side to Korea, where a land of calmness still holds so true. The country's compact size and good transport infrastructure mean that an older and more traditional Korea is reachable within only a short space of time from any urban location. Mountains surrounded by forests and an altogether simpler way of life exist to this day.
COLOURFUL HISTORY. The history of Korea is eventful, colourful and, like many others, not without turmoil. Bordering China and with Japan to the east, it has become accustomed to the presence of strong, ambitious neighbours.
From the early fourth- to mid-seventh centuries, the region was divided into three kingdoms: Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla. These regional powers covered territory spanning the Korean Peninsula and parts of north-eastern Asia. The three were eventually unified under the Kingdom of Silla, which in turn was superseded in 935 AD by Goryeo. This is considered to be the origin of the name Korea that we know today.
During the 13th Century, like China, the kingdom was invaded by the Mongolians and became a vassal for their vast empire, eventually regaining independence on its collapse later that same century. Recent history has seen the country invaded by Japan and divided by a war that has created the separate states of North and South Korea.
THE CAPITAL. Seoul is one of Asia’s cultural and economic powerhouses, straddling both sides of the Han River and surrounded by mountains. The northern side of the river is known as Gangbuk and is the original, more historic area; the hilly neighbourhoods seem frozen in time and have retained that ‘old city charm’.
The main historic area is the Jogno District. Close by is the residential area of Bukchon, filled with traditional houses, some of which date back to the dynastic era.
Gangnam on the southern side is known for its concentration of wealth and high standard of living, and thus has a more modern feel to it. The area is dominated by luxury residences, commercial buildings and expensive restaurants. The district has now been immortalised by the hit song “Gangnam Style”, which emphasises the area as a hangout for the trendy and super-rich.
This is a vast city of roughly 10 million people. Once you include the surrounding metropolitan provinces of Incheon and Gyeonggi, the total population is in excess of 25 million, over half the population of the country.
Seoul has been in existence for over two thousand years and was originally founded by the kingdom of Baekje. Once the three kingdoms were united, it became the capital of the new Korea.
The city of Seoul today is a mixture of ancient buildings and traditions, along with modern high rises and cutting-edge technology. It is doubtless a marvel of the modern age.
WORLD HERITAGE SITES. It’s important to have some ideas about where to visit as there is just so much to do and see. Within the capital alone there are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites which includes Changdeokgung Palace, one of the five Grand Palaces that were built during the Joseon Dynasty. Nearby is the Confucian Jongmyo shrine, dedicated to the country's past kings and queens. This is the oldest Royal Confucian shrine in the world. It was built in 1394 and the ceremonies still follow age-old traditions.
TOP FEMALE GOLFERS. A recent article in The Economist pointed out that for a country that has only 0.7% of the world’s population, four of the top ten female golfers are Korean, with 38 in the top 100 and 144 in the top 500.We have all heard how seriously the Koreans take their golf, and with the new Jack Nicklaus golf club they have yet another to add to their impressive roster.
The Jack Nicklaus Golf Club is a key part of the Songdo Green project, a sustainable city hub, built just 40 miles from Seoul and seven miles from Incheon International Airport. Amazingly, those living in this new city are a mere three and a half hour flight away from a third of the world's population. This new, gleaming metropolis has been built on 1500 acres of reclaimed land by the Yellow Sea
Consisting of an 18-hole championship golf course, driving range, clubhouse and private villas, this Jack Nicklaus-designed course offers the best of both worlds – city elegance and convenience combined with stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding nature reserve.
The ultra-modern and emerging skyline of Songdo makes a stark contrast to the surrounding sea and nature. This is a course that blends perfectly into its environment, the tall towers of Songdo reminiscent of a Dubai skyline, but with greener and much more luxuriant surroundings.
ON THE COURSE. From the very first hole, a par-4 with a rather large lake on the left hand side, you know that you are in for something special. The undulating fairway slopes from right to left, with some well-placed bunkers to add to the fun.
From the tee on the third par-5 you get the distinct feeling that the fairway is going to continue all the way to the towers in the distance. Again, the fairway may be reasonably straight, but the lie of the land and the placement of the bunkers connive to create quite a test. The par-4 hole number 10 is a challenge with water, cliffs and countless other obstacles in play. Every hole has a story to tell and it’s worth just taking your time to enjoy the views.
Once you finish your round, the clubhouse, designed by Mehrdad Yazdani, a world-famous architect from California, awaits you. Already a landmark, it is truly a beautiful piece of modern architecture with a total area of 17,716m2.
ANYANG COUNTRY CLUB. Founded in 1968 and built to rival courses in Europe and America, Anyang is often referred to as the home of Korean golf. For a short period of time, the club changed its name to Anyang Benest Golf Club -- a play on the words 'best' and 'nest'. The name did not stick and the club reverted to its original name in 2013.
The course was revitalised in 1997 when Robert Trent Jones Jr. was called in to add a more challenging aspect. It is now sown with a unique grass known as Anyang Jungji, which is dense and stands upright -- a bonus for golfers as the ball tends to sit on top rather than sink in. The idea behind the course, according to Lee Byung-chul, the club owner and founder of the Samsung Group, was to create something that would appeal to ordinary players rather than attend to the whims of tournament play.
ISLAND OF THE GODS. Pinx Golf Club is located on Jeju, the largest Korean island, which is situated roughly sixty miles to the south-west in the Korea Strait. Also known as the “Island of the Gods”, this is a popular tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike due to its sub-tropical climate.
The entire area is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its unique lava formations and bio-diversity. Views are dominated by the impressive Mount Hallasan, a dormant volcano that soars to the height of 1950 metres.
AWARD WINNING HOTEL. The golf club is part of the award winning Podo Hotel complex, the architecture of which is based on the concept of the mountains and traditional cottages that are found on the island. The hotel was designed by the world-renowned Jun Itami. Each room in the building is linked to others, looking from the air distinctly like a bunch of grapes. In fact, the word for grapes in Korean is Podo.
The hotel accommodation features one- and two-bedroom apartments, reflecting both Korean and Western influences and finished in traditional materials. All apartments have large windows to maximise the view and private terraces.
The hotel restaurant offers locally grown produce and freshly caught seafood which is complemented by the best wines from around the world. There is also an indoor pool with glass walls opening onto the surrounding landscape.
NATURE’S BEAUTY. Consisting of 27 holes that were designed in 1999 by Ted Robinson, the golf course seamlessly blends traditional ideas with new concepts. With a combination of sea and volcanic mountains, you really do get a feeling of being surrounded by nature’s beauty.
Players have the choice of combining the nine holes from the north course, west course and east course to make up the perfect round of golf. Kentucky bluegrass has been used on both fairways and rough, giving the course a year-round green lushness. Accuracy is the name of the game here and you can expect to put all your clubs to use at some point.
The clubhouse, oval in construction to reflect the shape of the island and with large glass areas to maximise the views, fits perfectly into its surroundings.
As a place to visit, Korea really has it all: culture, history, stunning scenery and wonderful cuisine. And with around 200 courses, the question is, could you really visit and not play a round of golf in the Land of the Morning Calm?
The ultimate golf tour, visit the "Land of Morning Calm" an ancient land where history and culture abound.
This trip includes sightseeing at some of the countries famous sites while playing some rounds of golf at some of Korea's top golf courses.
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Good to know
Many airlines fly to Seoul including Korean Air, British Airways and Qatar Airways.
Korean Tourist Board -- http://english.visitkorea.or.kr
Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Songdo -- www.jacknicklausgolfclubkorea.com
Anyang Country Club -- www.golfsamsung.com
Pinx Golf Club -- www.thepinx.co.kr