Asian Golf Explosion Continues

Time To Visit Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea


Having designed the first public facility in South Korea, in 1982, and led the country’s second wave of public golf development during the 1990s, the course architects at Californiai-based Golfplan-Dale & Ramsey are spearheading Stage III with one stand-alone, public project newly opened and another three in various stages of development.

The first to market, Keun Wi O’Phel Golf Club, opened for play outside Daegu in early 2018; it accommodated a startling 120,000 rounds during its first season of operation, according to Golfplan partner David Dale. The companion Iris O’Phel design, also from the hand of Dale, will open nearby in September, while two more public tracks — Sehyeon Golf Club and Solseado Golf Club (the country’s first senior golf-residential project) — are now in construction.

asian golf keun wi ophei
Keun Wi Ophei Golf Club

Until 1982, there wasn’t a single public course in South Korea. Today, there are some 485 golf facilities and the public/private mix is essentially 50-50. Over the course of 35 years, Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Golfplan-Dale & Ramsey has played an extraordinary role in developing those public courses, while also developing the case for public golf.

“At long last, the economics of public golf development have found some real traction,” David Dale says. “Developers have also realized that only attractive, strategic designs will be embraced by South Korea’s ever-more sophisticated public golfer. (And only those professionally designed courses will allow for four-and-half-hour rounds, going off at 6-minute tee time intervals.) The economics and the architecture work together.”

Golfplan got the ball rolling when it designed the very first public course in South Korea back in 1982: a 9-hole, double-green, dual-tee track at Yong Pyong. This and a handful of subsequently developed public courses proved extraordinarily popular, Dale says. Unfortunately, developers were making too much money developing private clubs.

 “These initial public projects set the table for Stage II, which began in the 1990s,” Dale explains. “The government did not want for the game to be seen as such an aristocratic, exclusionary sport. So it encouraged private club developers to add 9-holes of public golf, in order to get permitting for 18 private holes.

 “This was the model deployed at The Club at Nine Bridges,” Dale says, citing the 1999 Golfplan design that today plays host to the U.S. PGA Tour’s CJ Cup (it’s ranked by GOLF Magazine #41 in the world). “But we’ve designed some 25 private club projects in South Korea, and I’d say 10 of them feature this additional 9-hole public component.”

Many of the finest public courses operating in Korea today were born in this fashion, including Golfplan-designed Island Country Club, which opened in 2011, southeast of Seoul.

Other Golfplan projects include Pine Beach, an ultra-scenic, cliff-top stunner many rank among the country’s Top 5. It was designed and built on the 18-private, 9-public model. The broader market for an all-public project wasn’t there 10 years ago. 

 “Today, the market is there. Look at our Sehyeon Country Club project set to open in Yongin next year. That’s a pretty pure public development actually, not a failed or stalled private project. The owner develops shopping malls and condos — but he loves golf. He found a gorgeous property 15 minutes from his home, a secluded little valley. It’s going to be a spectacular track.”

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