Playing golf in South Korea can prove to be very dangerous.
But what’s the worst thing that can happen?
Well, you could get blown up to smithereens, for one.
The “deadly golf course” is pretty small at 192 yards, and it is flanked by military style bunkers on the right, while, on the left side, separated by an 5,5-meters high security fence topped by concertina wire, lie buried countless unexploded mines.
And even a small mistake could cause a huge, fatal explosion.
A nearby sign warns players with a hardly reassuring: “Danger. Do not retrieve balls from the rough. Live mine fields.”
But there are also a two-meters deep trench, an empty machine-gun nest, a ginseng field, an army bunker, tigers, a vampire deer and something called a man-bear-pig. And, yes, less than 500 meters to the south is the Demilitarized Zone, the buffer that separates North and South Korea.
This is golf in a war zone.
Welcome to Camp Bonifas!
The base was named after Captain Arthur Bonifas, an American who was slain by the North Korean Army in 1976 with pick handles, knives, clubs and axes.
The “Axe Murder Incident”, as it’s referred to, started as a dispute over tree pruning. Basically the Americans trimmed a poplar tree that the Koreans claimed was planted by Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder.
It was built in 1972 as an emotional outlet for the 50 American soldiers stationed in the area at a lonely outpost. With no theaters or restaurants, they had no option but to convert the deadly area into a golf course.
While it was being built, the commanders figured out that even though it wasn’t possible to fit in all 18 holes in the limited area, they could compensate by making the game more difficult.
So they created a layout slicing through dense trees, with a fairway that is only 40 yards wide. The result is pretty simple according to Sgt. James Meisenheimer, a 23-year-old from Kansas, “Most golf holes would get boring if you played them again and again. This one doesn’t.”
Moreover, strong wind gusts from the North Korean side makes no shot easy.
But if you think the live land mines are the only scary thing about Camp Bonifas, you’re wrong as, over the years, the area has been shrouded by scary rumors and sightings.
For example it is said that if you play alone you can see and experience weird things, and this includes seeing animals like wild boars, Korean tigers, vampire deers and even a bizarre creature some men refer to as a “man-bear-pig”, and you’ll just have to imagine what that looks like.
The golf course was very well maintained in the years when more than 700 soldiers were stationed there. The fairway was mowed almost daily and always kept green.
However, it soon turned into a cow pasture when the number of men and military budgets dwindled.
Later a few soldiers got together and decided to do something about Camp Bonifas: the course was given a face-lift and construction crews were brought in to clear up the sand traps. A riding lawnmower was shipped in from the US and Astroturf installed on the tee box and green.
But it’s not all barren: there’s actually a surprising number of tourists who stream through, nearly 1,000 a day, so much of the troops’ duty is giving tours (and they must memorize a 13-page history of the Korean War before they can start). There’s also a gift shop with DMZ-related paraphernalia.
But for all the visitors and tours, the gifts and Korean War history recitations, the hole remains a place where North Korean soldiers are across the way, ready at a moment’s notice to fire, where the drum of war replaces the game’s typical tranquility.
Images from web – Google Research