Andrew’s Travelogue: Politics and disc golf — the whole mess (part 1)

It’s been quite a busy time here lately.

I’ve touched on it before, but I reason that I should go into a bit more detail with this next bit — one of the hardest parts of serving in the military is being gone all the time. I don’t mean just being deployed and away from your home and family, I mean being gone even while you’re deployed.

For instance, my unit just got back from more than a month in the field. Granted, “the field” in Korea is a bit more luxurious than “the field” in the states (i.e. hot showers, chow hall, even laundromats), but the fact remains you are out in the boondocks for more than a month. You are practically devoid of communication with the outside world, and do nothing but training, training, training. It’s a gigantic inconvenience, but one we have become accustomed to accepting.

Some of us, of course, work harder than others (photo by Andrew Belet)

Some of us, of course, work harder than others (photo by Andrew Belet)

The KDPGA (Korean PDGA) hosted its biggest event — the Korean National Disc Golf Championships — in late September.  To say I was excited would be an understatement.

(Editor’s note: Andrew submitted many stories to be run over time. This one was written before the championships took place). 

While my rating is still well below 900, I figure it’s about time to give it a run at Intermediate. Hopefully, I can win it all and become an intermediate national champion! There’s one for the resume!

I had heard, in year’s past, Korean nationals filled up quick. Not wanting to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I e-mailed the secretary of the KPDGA, who speaks excellent English. I even let him know I’d be out in the field when the registration opened and he assured me he would e-mail me the signup form and hold a spot for me. So, everything was gravy. Or so I thought.

Here’s where my internal conflict comes in.

I really debated writing this post for fear of burning any and all bridges with the premier disc golf sanctioning body in Korea. I also have no idea how tightly connected to the PDGA proper that the KPDGA is, so it is with a bit of trepidation that I continue this two-part column.

When I got back to my room, still reeking of a month’s worth of hard work, I checked my e-mail.

Nothing from the KPDGA.

I sent a gentle e-mail asking if I was still good. I then called the KPDGA office, with no response. I also used Kakao (the number one texting app in South Korea) and came up again with nothing. I checked the KPDGA Facebook page and saw nothing more than a post saying how nationals was almost filled.

Not quite in full panic mode yet, I contacted a few of my American contacts to get the scoop. What followed was a series of tales that made me question the purity of the KPDGA and, as I will dive into with the second part of this series, the various sanctioning bodies of disc golf in South Korea.

As it turned out, no one but Korean nationals had been allowed to sign up for the increasingly appropriately named Korean National Championships. After registration for the largest disc golf tournament of the year had been open for three weeks, no one except Korean citizens had been allowed to sign up.

Even though I am a PDGA official, I couldn’t recall a rule prohibiting this from occurring to be in the rule book, so I really couldn’t lodge a formal complaint. Nevertheless, within a few days, and many e-mails, registration was opened up for everyone and the event filled in short order.

Now, to understand why this occurred, one needs to realize a bit about the xenophobic nature of Asian countries. Many Asian countries and people tend to be both proud and insular. For those of us of differing heritage, this can often be seen as aloof or downright hostile.

That isn’t the case, it’s just one of the beautiful parts of being humans of separate backgrounds. Still, ever since the Korean War of the 1950s, and even before, South Koreans have been welcoming of other cultures and countries.

Having said that, I was naturally surprised to hear some of the so-called “horror stories” of events past. There have been tournaments where divisions were split into separate divisions, just so there could be an actual Korean winner. There were even reports of winners of divisions getting a trophy and no payout, while the Korean placers received a payout.

I found all of this to be odd as, so far, almost all of my disc golf related interactions here in South Korea have been nothing but overwhelmingly positive. Even more positive, I dare say, than many of my interactions back home in America.

Something about our niche sport, as I have mentioned in previous posts, brings people together in a positive way. Therefore, it was difficult to wrap my head around these issues that Korea seems to be having. As disc golf is fairly new to the peninsula, it seems so strange to have this much friction.

Now, I’ve never been one to fancy myself an optimist, but I still approached this with an air of positive thinking. After all, I want to hold an official KPDGA-sanctioned XC-tier tournament on my new course. We’ll just have to see if that happens.

This story will finish with my next post.

Andrew Belet has been playing disc golf for more than 20 years. He’s currently serving with the U.S. Army in South Korea. A published author and poet, you can see his works on Amazon. He can be e-mailed at andrew@rattlingchains.com.

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