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Anti-graft law hits golf industry

[THE INVESTOR] The enactment of Korea’s landmark anti-graft law appears to be shifting the country’s social bonding culture for businessmen, especially in the game of golf.

Since the Improper Solicitation and Graft Law came into force on Sept. 28, those working for public institutions, private education bodies and the media are banned from giving and receiving free meals, presents or monetary gifts respectively worth 30,000 won ($27), 50,000 won and 100,000 won or higher. Offering or receiving rounds of golf would also be included. 


Golfers play golf Saturday at a course located in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province.
Golfers play golf Saturday at a course located in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province.


For Korea, golf has been more than just a sport. For businessmen and the elite, golf has been one of the common social activities to help break the ice and build relationships for future favors and partnerships. Regardless of their personal taste in sports, offering to organize a round of golf during the weekend has long been considered a show of respect and importance to the counterparts in business transactions, particularly among high-ranking public servants, politicians or even journalists.

Along with other expensive restaurants, bars and high-end merchandises, the golf industry has been hit by the enforcement of the anti-graft law.

At a golf course in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, the number of reservations made last weekend plunged to about 100 teams, dropping by nearly half compared to other weekends.

“The golf course was always fully booked by those with memberships. But starting this month, (we) decided to hold a promotion event to attract nonmembers as the booking rate sharply dropped,” said an official from the golf course.

According to the Korea Golf Course Business Association, about 500 golf courses are running across the country, with about 300 operating over 18 holes.

“I personally heard from the golf course businessmen that the booking rate has significantly dropped. But there is no specific data over it since it’s been only a week. At least one month is needed to clearly see the impact,” said an official from the KGCB.

The ban on paid-for golf is also likely to affect the jobs of caddies, industry watchers said.

Currently, about 50,000 caddies are estimated to work at the golf courses. In the peak season, caddies work for up to two rounds a day, with each round taking about four hours.

“Caddies are officially not employed by the golf courses. They are registered as ‘self-employed.’ The decline in the number of golfers indicates that the jobs of caddies will likely also fall. The impact is inevitable,” the official added.

The anti-graft law has also impacted the indoor driving ranges.

“I can clearly see a change. Although October is one of the peak months, many fewer people are visiting here. While about 15 new members used to register in the peak season every month, only two have registered so far. The inquiry calls also significantly dropped. I only got two calls today,” said a 40-year-old surnamed Hwang, who runs an indoor driving range in southern Seoul.

For some, however, the ban has been welcomed, especially for those forced to “work” on the weekend as part of their business.

“I decided to take a break for a while. Now, I can finally enjoy my weekends fully. Practicing golf during weekdays was quasi-work for me,” said a 54-year-old male surnamed Kim who works in public relations affairs in the construction industry.

By Lee Hyun-jeong/The Korea Herald (rene@heraldcorp.com)
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