By Andrew Belet – Rattling Chains staff
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part column on Andrew’s experience participating in and organizing tournaments under the Korean Professional Disc Golf Association. Get caught up on part one here.
The man almost solely responsible for the rise of disc golf in South Korea is the great Sung Bae Kim. He has done more to get disc golf recognized in his homeland than anyone I’ve ever known.
Kim and his dedicated crew have really worked on what I think is something the disc golf community needs to emphasize: youth activities. Whatever disputes players have with the way KPDGA runs tournaments, no one can say anything negative about their handling of expanding the Korean youth’s knowledge-base and skill set when it comes to disc golf.
Kim is also no slouch when it comes to competition. He often participates in the tournaments he holds, and frequently wins in the masters or grandmasters divisions.
Known for his international travel, he has also competed in Japan, Taiwan, Israel and tries to make PDGA Worlds every year. At the 2013 Worlds, he placed 15th overall in senior grandmasters, shooting a 56 in his final round.
To say the man cares about disc golf is a bit of an understatement. He has received numerous awards and accolades from the Korean governments, the city of Seoul, and just about every educational body in South Korea for his work in promoting disc golf as a fun, healthy, cheap, safe sport for people of all ages.
His tireless dedication to promotion is the driving force behind there even being any disc golf in his country. Though he has had plenty of support from American and Canadian disc golfers who reside in Korea, Kim’s face is the one associated with the sport here.
He is also extremely approachable. When I e-mailed him about a possible KPDGA event at the Dragon’s Lair course here at Camp Casey, he replied within 24 hours — despite me e-mailing while he was in the States competing in Worlds. He even went so far as to give me a few tips on how to make my proposal even better, and how to make it run smoother. He also provided me with a few additional contacts to ensure that the event happens.
So why all the harsh words and proclamations of my previous column?
Well, to put it bluntly, Kim is only human. He is of the older generation of South Koreans, and, as such, is fiercely loyal to his homeland and unabashed in his patriotism.
He is also stuck in a bit of a quandary.
That is, simply, that there is not yet a solid base of competitive Korean disc golfers. There are, however, many disc golfers of American, Canadian, Australian and other origins living here who are competitive in our sport. Therefore, for Kim to continue to have the KPDGA as a sanctioning body for tournaments, he needs the foreign players.
But, he also runs the risk of losing face in the Korean community if all his events are won by foreigners.
And, if everything was organized as it is supposed to be, that would almost always be the case. Not because Korean players are unskilled, but simply because there just aren’t enough of them.
It puts Kim in a pickle. That pickle leads directly to me and my proposed tournament, which is another sticky situation. As I’ve said, my course here has been built and paid for by myself. Not being a man of means, I’ve had to go a more “budget-oriented” route and, rather than paying for full-on baskets (like I originally wanted) I struck up a deal with Jeff and the fine folks at DG Nomad for nine of their awesome object targets.
Said targets happen to be approved by the PDGA for XC- and XB-Tier events.
Now, as this proposed event will be hosted on American property (with restricted access to Korean nationals, though they are able to get on with a U.S. or ROK Army sponsor) and paid for by American funds, it would be difficult for the KPDGA to sanction such an event. It would clearly show favoritism to American personnel in Korea, and that is obviously not the goal of the KPDGA.
By the same token, they cannot completely cut ties with the event at the risk of angering American players and also losing a valuable asset (myself, as a PDGA official).
(For the record, I would not be so petty, but file this one once again under “cultural misunderstandings.”)
As the event has not been approved by the folks in charge on my end, it is a non-issue, for now. But needless to say, the quest for competitive disc golf for all in South Korea has turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than I could have imagined.
There is only one reasonable solution, and it is something I have discussed with all my fellow foreign players — be kind, be courteous, show a love of the game and, above all else, respect our host nation and its culture. We are the visitors here. It’s up to us to show them the unity that our terrifically fun niche sport can provide. If we can do that, we can all look back in five or 10 years and be satisfied that we helped disc golf explode in the country of South Korea.
And isn’t growing the sport what we all want?
For more on the history of the KPDGA (in English) check out the history section of their official website.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.