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East vs. West: The major differences between golfers in the U.S. and Korea

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My name is James, and I am a golfaholic. More specifically, I am an equipment junkie, and I have been sober from impulsive buys for almost 48 hours.

Perhaps many of you can sympathize with the above, since who can easily resist the lure of the latest irons or the putter that claims to hole every putt within six feet? Certainly, not I. But I also know that most of you golfers seem to draw the line at iron head covers.

Well, I own not one but three sets of iron covers; and I only have two sets of irons. I can’t help myself. As you can see, my symptoms are severe. I not only worry about playing this game as best I can, but I also want to look good doing it (a matter of opinion, to be sure).

While you may find this statement strange, given that I just admitted to using iron covers, reading about the golf environment here in Korea may help you to better understand where I’m coming from. It’s just different over here—a fact that can easily be seen from these glaring examples.

Golf Accessories

Since I came out about the iron covers (no, I was not inspired by Bubba), let me start with the golf accessories that are more common in Korea.

As mentioned, iron covers here are as common as carrying a putter in your bag over there. In fact, it would be harder to spot a golf bag without iron covers than without. Also, most Korean golfers prefer to keep their rain covers on their bags at all times.

Iron covers everywhere. Bonus points for matching brands with the clubs.

You may be having a good laugh about how silly this must look. I also thought it was weird when I first started playing here 20 years ago. But when everyone is doing it, then it becomes all about conformity. So why do we do it? It’s to keep the clubs as clean and blemish-free as possible (and keep the resale value as high as I can!).

Almost all Korean golf clubs are serviced by caddies and porters. So when you drive up to the front of a luxurious clubhouse, a porter unloads your golf bag and has them sent down to the caddie master to be placed onto a power cart.

The caddie for the day then checks and records which clubs are used and ensures that all are accounted for at the end of the round. Then the clubs are cleaned, headcovers replaced, and the golf bag is placed back into the golfer’s cart while the players head off to the locker room.

In this manner, the golfer hardly needs to be bothered with club covers during a round, and we are free to show off the $200 iron covers and the latest Scotty Cameron limited release wood cover for double that amount. 

High-tech gadgets and accessories are all part of the complete Koran golfer

However, headcovers are the least of the golf accessories that we covet. Some of the more popular gadgets include GPS watches and laser range finders, as well as carry cases and golf pouches for on-course necessities. I won’t get into much detail here as there are too many items you probably can’t relate to. But suffice to say that these items are almost a fashion requirement for a typical Korean golfer and can be quite pricey.

Golf Bags

Golf bags are usually designed to be versatile during play, whether it is a light stand bag for walking or a cart bag for ease of reaching certain pockets while strapped onto a cart.

While these things are important, I think it’s more about design over functionality over here. For example, stand bags are all the rage, but they can be quite heavy. Then how can you carry them around, you ask? Well, remember I said that all golfers are required to ride the power cart on Korean courses? That’s right. We don’t walk or carry our own golf bags here.

Although it is rare for us to walk a course, stand bags are the norm.

But that doesn’t stop us from buying more golf bags—the flashier the better.

I’ve owned seven golf bags over the past year, with most of them having gone the eBay route. Prices can vary from about $200~$600, with the median being around 400-plus dollars. Another aspect that may seem weird to North American golfers is that all golfers have their rain covers on permanently over their clubs. Maybe it keeps others from looking into our bags or prevents theft. Or it may be as simple as “I paid for the whole bag, so I might as well use the whole thing.” Regardless, I myself have yet to hear a solid reason other than “that’s just the way it is.”

Boston bags, rain covers, and don’t forget the golf pouches to carry valuables on course.

The golf bag here also comes paired with a ‘Boston Bag’ (still don’t know why we call it that), which is like a fancy gym bag we carry for our shoes and change of clothes. It is not uncommon to have a matching set of golf bag and Boston bag. Bonus points if the whole ensemble is color-coordinated with your iron and wood covers.

Golf Wear

Perhaps equally puzzling, if not more, is our choice of golf wear. If you haven’t seen my article on the golf market size in Korea, it may surprise you to know that nearly half of the 10 billion-dollar golf industry is due to the golf equipment and fashion sector. We like to look good while playing.

In fact, casual golf wear is now a common sight outside of golf courses. By my simple estimation, there are over 55 golf wear brands, both imported and domestic, with new fashion brands popping up every year. Women golfers particularly enjoy a plethora of ‘field fashion’ to choose from, and men’s golf wear is also booming with colors and designs most North American golfers would not be caught dead wearing.

The norm for golf wear seems to change every few months.

Aside from well-established names in golf such as Titleist, Footjoy, and Callaway, there are dozens of exotic name brands you probably never heard of that offer their wear for jaw-dropping prices. Premium is placed on looking good, and the “tour-fit” apparel that accentuates a slim athletic look is the latest trend. And did you know PXG apparel was actually designed in Korea? They are now actually exported back to the US to be featured on their website. In addition, fashions ranging from preppy to laid-back casual all enjoy their own niche of following here. 

Are they worth the price? Personally, I cringe at the thought of a pair of golf pants costing $500. But then again, I think shelling out a $200 green fee for winter golf is a deal, so what do I know? I guess if it makes you feel good to be wearing designer clothes, and you can afford and/or pull it off well… then all the power to you. 

Golf Clubs

Last but certainly the most (see what I did there?), let’s talk golf clubs. I’d like to say that we have the best of both worlds here, with large OEM brands on one hand and the lesser-known but more exotic brands from Japan and Korea on the other.

While a vast majority of Korean golfers play household names such as Ping and TaylorMade, a surprisingly large number of Asian golfers play brands that may be unfamiliar to golfers in the West.

For example, I currently play a set of Fujimoto MB irons with Autoflex shafts. Before these, I dabbled with Axis Z2 Tour-spec irons and Zestaim Noir driver fitted with Autopower shafts. I am now eyeing a sweet set of Baldo Competizion 568 T1 irons, but secretly wishing that I could afford their latest Corza Forged MCs. It’s good to have goals.

Clubs and bags that went the way of eBay since last Fall…

The common theme with these brand of clubs is that most are quite expensive. I’m talking PXG-and-beyond prices, which can seem ludicrous to most golfers, no matter where you live. And since I am nowhere near the level of deep-pocket of some of my friends, this may explain why I covet their second-hand clubs when they move on to the latest and greatest.

If you’re muttering that I should invest a fraction of that money on lessons to improve my game, you’re probably right. A scratch handicap would be better rather than seeming like a poser trying to impress others with fancy stuff. But golf is not an easy game to master quickly. It can take years, if ever, to break par. And as I’ve said earlier, the social norms are a bit different over here. So if I were to rely on a little materialistic happiness while struggling along with this amazing game like the rest of you, what’s the harm? 

Golf is already an expensive hobby here, with typical green fees at $200~$300 per round (see “A typical round of Golf in Korea”). Still, most golfers are lined up here to pay for the privilege to play, and luckily this keeps the golf business booming. And if getting the occasional look of envy from your friends makes the experience more enjoyable, then I am all for it. 

So the next time you see a guy on course with iron covers, don’t be so quick to judge him. He may simply be protecting those sweet forged irons, which allowed him to card that smooth 97 the other day. 

How about you? What’s the most prized golf club or accessory you’ve ever owned—and possibly been ridiculed for?

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James is a golf gear-nut living and writing about all things golf in Korea. A fan of Tiger, Fred, and Seve, he is forever seeking the holy grail of golf clubs that will lower his score. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada and has been in Korea to witness the explosive growth of golf since 1996. Despite playing golf for over 30 years and being a perpetual 10-handicapper, James steadfastly claims to be the embodiment of the Average Joe Korean golfer. He can be reached at [email protected], and often introduces cool new Asia-based golf gear on YouTube and Instagram.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Bill "BOGEY" Ronecker

    Mar 16, 2021 at 8:14 pm

    In 1980-81 I was the US Army civilian budget chief for the 8th Army J3 stationed at Yongsan garrison in Seoul. The Army had an 18 hole golf course nearby, my monthly dues were $11 plus 50 cents green fees. They had young women caddies who used pull carts for $5 a round. They did not tell me what club to hit. I believe the course was torn down and the land used for the 1984? Olympics in Seoul. I remember taking a bus then getting off to walk around some shopping areas where I saw a golf shop. In the shop one of the brand names on the golf balls was HY SKORE. I wish I had bought a couple of dozen as souvenirs. A few times I had my Korean Army friends join me for golf. The Korean people were very nice. Times have changed in 40 years.

  2. Arno

    Mar 15, 2021 at 10:57 am

    Hi. Thanks for the nice report. What kind of rangefinder is it?
    regards Arno

  3. Gunter Eisenberg

    Mar 14, 2021 at 10:01 pm

  4. Big D

    Mar 14, 2021 at 4:07 am

    Thanks man I feel better about my purchases LOL

  5. hko

    Mar 13, 2021 at 7:23 pm

    k doing k thang. a bit obnoxious but always fun and positive way + trend setting. glad seeing my homies still doing well. chicks look chic. too much pink tho lol.

  6. Raj lp

    Mar 13, 2021 at 11:45 am

    This was fun to read. Thanks!

  7. Keith

    Mar 13, 2021 at 9:55 am

    I emigrated to Canada from Korea when I was 4 and started playing at 14, went to Korea for a year in my 20s and was lucky to play golf regularly due to well off relatives, pet peeves for Korean golf, caddie tries to club select for you, usually 1 to 2 clubs more, fixes your ball marks and replaces your divots, those are nuances I enjoy about golf, almost zen like experience, and found golf in Korea too superficial and just really different, I was happy to play but I prefer the dig it out of the dirt golf mentality from across the pond.

  8. Chadd

    Mar 13, 2021 at 9:49 am

    Great article. Love the different perspective.

  9. Mike

    Mar 13, 2021 at 9:44 am

    Looking at all the pics, I’m thinking that I played there, there’s a really good chance I’ll be paired up w/ a ‘golf hottie’. Hell, for $200-300 a round, I need more than a good hot dog at the turn!

  10. Kirk

    Mar 13, 2021 at 8:23 am

    I think it begs the question though — do you even like golf ? Or just the paraphernalia and “look” of it ?

  11. Bubs

    Mar 13, 2021 at 8:19 am

    All of this I see in Japan… just less so. I reckon since golf is older in Japan, the quirks were born there but perfected in Korea ?

  12. Eric

    Mar 13, 2021 at 3:52 am

    Never wanted to go to South Korea more! This is something I want to experience 🙂 thanks for a great article and a very funny one at that.

  13. Kristian

    Mar 13, 2021 at 2:40 am

    You should do this for the UK. It’s a common man’s sport there. Very different but equally as interesting. All walks of life play the game here as it is relatively inexpensive to join a club (from £300-£1000 and no joining fee). Some amazing players with eclectic bag setups and some of the finest courses in the world.

  14. Wm

    Mar 12, 2021 at 10:24 pm

    Following their Korean coaches all their gear is high end stuff that we don’t see in North America.

  15. John m

    Mar 12, 2021 at 3:43 pm

    Great story! Thanks for sharing. I lived in Japan during the lush years (85-95) and your article brings back memories. I remember the greens fees included club insurance and hole in one insurance.

  16. CrashTestDummy

    Mar 12, 2021 at 12:14 pm

    “Seven golf bags over the past year.” James, I think you won the golf bag owning competition easily.?? Good article with a lot of good humor.

    • James

      Mar 12, 2021 at 11:31 pm

      Thanks Crash. I console myself into believing I am not losing a lot of money by reselling them quickly. Lol

  17. T.A. Jones

    Mar 12, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    James,

    This is an awesome write up! I lived in Korea for a year and fell in love with the Golf culture and how loud it is. The clothing company Chucuchu is amazing. I looked at their website and absolutely fell in love with their apparel being a PXG guy. Thanks for taking the time!

    • James

      Mar 13, 2021 at 1:45 am

      ThanksT.A. Chucuchu, Rak Golf, Tarot Golf, all are cool brands ?

  18. Kyle

    Mar 12, 2021 at 10:36 am

    This is awesome, thank you

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