Kiwi amateur golfer a champ in North Korea

By Steve Deane

West Auckland amateur golfer wins title in Republic

North Korea's Pyongyang Golf course has witnessed some astounding play.

Flanked by 17 security guards - and presumably an extremely pretty caddie - the late Kim Jong Il torched the 7,041m par-72 course in just 34 strokes, including 11 holes in one, when he marked its opening in 1994.

It's fair to say the Dear Leader's world record 38 under par effort was never under threat when self-proclaimed West Auckland hacker Peter Clarke chugged three beers in the clubhouse before setting out to record scores of 88 and "something over 100" to take out the North Korean Amateur title earlier this week.

A 29-year-old whiteware salesman from Henderson who only started playing golf last November, Clarke became New Zealand's most unlikely international sporting champion.

Transported by the world's only one-star airline, fuelled by a sumptuous banquet that included local delicacy dog, and guided by a caddie he suspected was not employed for her course management skills, Clarke bested the, er, six-strong field to become the People's Democratic Republic's third golfing champion.

"It was just mad," the veteran backpacker said of the experience.

Despite being subjected to the secretive, rarely-visited communist state's propaganda machine from the moment he stepped on the Air Koryo flight from Beijing, restricted to his hotel's grounds and followed by suspicious eyes wherever he went, Clarke treasured the experience.

"How many people do you know who have played golf in North Korea?" he asks.

Clarke wanted to tell his story to let people know there is a fun side to one of the anchor nations of former US President George W Bush's "Axis of Evil". His sunny outlook, however, wasn't shared by the majority of the original 30-man field, with all but six pulling out as the likelihood of thermonuclear war on the Korean peninsula intensified during the months leading up to the event.

"The funny thing was I felt safer than I did in Singapore, or anywhere else in the world," Clarke said. "No one is going to touch you or they are going to be in the paddy fields. That's what it's like."

The tournament is the brainchild of Britain-based travel agent Dylan Harris. His company, Lupine Travel, offers tours to not-so-regular destinations such as Chernobyl, Iran, Turkmenistan and Trans-Mongolia.

The company recently extended its golfing tourism arm to include the Iranian Amateur Champs. Clarke - who boasts a 26.4 on the handicap board at the Huapai Golf Club - is weighing up whether to have a crack at a second international title, or return to Pyongyang to defend his maiden championship.

"To be honest I didn't think I'd win it so I hadn't really thought about it. But the moment I won it ... I'd have to think about it. It's not cheap."

Clarke estimates he spent close to $5000 for the privilege of walking in the footsteps of the Dear Leader.

The worst score on Kim Jong Il's card during that majestic 1994 round was a birdie. Clarke played 36 holes without making one, and was awarded the title by three strokes on handicap after staggering home about 26-odd over the card in his final round.

"I'm a hacker," he admits. He's also a national champion, and has the trophy to prove it.

- NZ Herald

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