- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
If you love golfing but you’re tired of the same old circuit through St. Andrews or Pebble Beach, why not try North Korea? At least that’s what two Australian duffers decided to do when they competed in an official international golf open outside Pyongyang.
Morgan Ruig and Evan Shay, both 28, jokingly applied to the tournament in October by email, pretending to be pro golfers, which they are most definitely not. But when they received a positive response from the organizers of the Pyongyang tournament, they decided to try it out.
“Initially we just said we were a couple of Australian golfers and they said ‘you’re the Australian team?’ and we sort of didn’t … say no” Ruig told a local Australian news outlet. The North Koreans bought it.
Sneaking into the world’s most secretive police state isn’t the safest — or smartest — of moves. But Ruig and Shay had a master plan. They made custom blazers with fake embroidered logos to sell the story. Surprisingly, it worked: The pair made it to the tournament and back to freedom without a hitch.
“I think their internet access is pretty limited in North Korea, so they didn’t really have too many opportunities for research there,” said Shay. They shared photos of their time at tournament with the Daily Mail.
Visiting North Korea is no joke for Westerners, however. An American student was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp in January while on an officially sanctioned tour of the country. Another American was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April. In total, thirteen Americans have been detained in North Korea since 1995, many in horrendous conditions.
The two faux pros did run into one hitch: Neither is any good at golf. When Ruig shanked a shot, he said the caddy “thought it would bring great shame on my family.”
In Ruig and Shay’s defense, they did have a high bar to meet. In his first-ever game of golf in 1994, then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il allegedly scored a ridiculous 38-under par, including 11 holes-in-one.
Making it in and out of North Korea in one piece wasn’t the only miracle Shay and Ruig experienced: They also didn’t come in last. Shay says they bested the Nepalese ambassador’s 15-year-old daughter.
Photo Credit: KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images