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Destination on the edge: golf on the DMZ

The small golf course in Panmunjom is often called the most dangerous in the world. Nestled between North and South Korea – which are technically still at war – sending a ball off the fairway means that it probably won't be retrieved.

Welcome to the strangest place on earth. Panmunjom is the heavily militarized "truce" village straddling the Military Demarcation Line that cuts down the middle of the Korean peninsula's Demilitarized Zone. The most famous image from this corner of the world, of course, is that of soldiers squaring off across from each other, each rigid and ready for the worst. Not far from this scene of perpetual anxiety, worries turn to backswings and short games.

Camp Bonifas, the U.S. military installation in Panmunjom, is home to a one-hole golf course, mostly for the benefit of service members stationed in this dangerous spot for a year at a time. The 192-yard par three "course" is free to anyone interested in playing but is generally unavailable to outsiders. Once you're on Camp Bonifas, according to Erica (who prefers to keep her last name private), it's pretty easy to find "The World's Most Dangerous Golf Course," as the locals call it. There isn't much of anything on this army post, and there are only so many places you can go.

"It's a fairly flat one-hole course," Erica recalls, "so it serves as a novelty, not as somewhere to play an actual game." The location, however, is what makes it unusual. "There isn't anywhere else in the world that one can golf while gazing across the world's most armed border. It's surreal to say the least."

I can see why she feels this way. As you approach the golf course, the sign that welcomes you announces with no equivocation: "DANGER! DO NOT RETRIEVE BALLS FROM THE ROUGH LIVE MINEFIELDS." Never have the implications of shanking a drive been so severe!

If you're up in Panmunjom for the DMZ tour, don't plan to squeeze in a few rounds, however short they may be. But, if you're getting ready to spend 12 months of your life in the Joint Security Area (well, 11 months, as you'll have 30 days of leave), bring a putter and a nine iron. That's all you'll need.

[Photo via Nagyman on Flickr]

Filed under: Asia, North Korea, South Korea, Hidden Gems, News, Infiltrating North Korea

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