Korea Tees Off

Allen Salkin A stunning victory by an unheralded Korean golfer in a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) event on Korean soil this autumn has focused the world’s attention on a fantastic course worthy of the most golf-crazy client’s attention. Nineteen-year-old Jee Young Lee, ranked sixth on the K

By: Allen Salkin

A stunning victory by an unheralded Korean golfer in a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) event on Korean soil this autumn has focused the world’s attention on a fantastic course worthy of the most golf-crazy client’s attention. Nineteen-year-old Jee Young Lee, ranked sixth on the Korean LPGA money list, beat a field of the world’s best, including Anika Sorenstam, when she won the CJ Nine Bridges Classic in October. Besides the glory her victory showered on Korea, Lee’s triumph brought new converts to a facility that is now ranked in the top 100 private courses in the world.

With bent grass fairways, a magical natural setting halfway up Jeju Island’s 6,000-foot Mt. Halla and a clubhouse that features delicacies like garlic-fried pheasant and luxuries like massages and facials, The Club at Nine Bridges is the real deal.

Barking Deer

Jeju is an island of verdant valleys and cedar forests with popular beaches and archeological sites. It is located to the south of the main Korean peninsula.

The course, which opened in 2001, takes its name from the bridges, which cross numerous creeks running through it. With national park land at its borders, there are no housing developments to mar a golfer’s round. Instead, the sound of native barking deer and tumbling water are all that can be heard.

The 18 holes are divided into the Creek Nine and the Highland Nine. The Creek Nine features several challenging ravines and the Highland Nine has nasty water challenges and an island green on the 18th hole. This is a tough course the kind real golfers love.

As is the Asian custom, caddies are female. There are no yardage markers on the course because the caddies know every corner and every elevation, and can provide players with exact information from any spot. Because of strong landscaping, carts are allowed on the fairways, a first for Korea.

There are a scattering of 5,600-square-foot, four-bedroom fairway villas or 2,000-square-foot mountain cottages laid out in a traditional village setting around the clubhouse. Each features a living room, large-screen TV, kitchen and Internet facilities. The rooms can be booked through Los Angeles-based Golf Projects International, which does not pay commissions to travel agents, but other nearby accommodations which offer commissions are available (see sidebar).

David Smith, president of Golf Projects International says that because the club is private, Americans who wish to play there should be members of private clubs in the US. Then, using the principle of reciprocity, Nine Bridges will extend invitations to those members.

“Players should be from a prestigious club,” Smith said. “Nine Bridges has reciprocity with some of the finest clubs in the world. If a travel agent has the right group from the right club, they can call me and we’ll work it out that way.”

Greens fees are about $300, and cottages are $600 nightly.

The spa is located in the clubhouse and offers hydro-therapy tub treatments, Vichy shower regimens and massages. Also in the clubhouse is a poolroom, and there is a karaoke machine in the Country Club Bar. The clubhouse needs to be especially hospitable because the weather can be a bit unpredictable with 125 inches of rain in the summer and fog and snow in the winter.

To keep the pace of play on the course leisurely, golf parties are spaced eight-10 minutes apart. The club has a concierge desk which coordinates tee times, rental cars and limousines.

Easy Access

Jeju Island is about the size of Maui. Clients can fly to Seoul’s Incheon Inter-national Airport, and then make a 35-minute ground transfer via limousine bus ($4.50) or taxi ($40) to the domestic airport, Gim-po, for hourly flights to Jeju. The island has 15 golf courses and 20 more under construction, showing how golf-hungry Korea has become.

Jee Young Lee’s victory is symbolic of the nation’s prowess on the links. Granted a special exemption to play in the 2005 event, she is one of only 14 non-members of the LPGA tour ever to win an official tournament.

While Nine Bridges is a private course, Golf Projects International can arrange outside play for your clients. One writer described Nine Bridges as “Disneyland for golfers.”

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