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The King of the Screen

Hongtaek Kim, King of the Screen, wins GS Caltex Maekyung Open
Hongtaek Kim, King of the Screen, wins GS Caltex Maekyung Open

On the Asian Tour recently South Korean pro, Hongtaek Kim, aka ‘King of the Screen’, won the GS Caltex Maekyung Open in Korea.


Kim, a regular on the Korean PGA Tour, had been filling in time between events this season by competing in GTour golf simulator tournaments in his home country. With 12 wins on the indoor circuit, it’s easy to see why he got the nickname 'King of the Screen'.


The ‘green grass’ victory came on a rain-soaked final round at the Namseoul Country Club, with Kim earning his first Asian Tour title after defeating Thailand’s Chonlatit Cheunboonngam in a playoff, sealing the win with a par to Chonlatit’s bogey on the first hole of sudden death.


Speaking to the media afterwards Kim said, “There was a misunderstanding I was only good at simulator golf. I solved the misunderstanding today”.

Hongtaek Kim from Korea
Hongtaek Kim from Korea plays on the GTour using Golf Simulators

Simulator golf is a phenomenon that’s taken Korea by storm in recent years, to the point where they televise each GTour event. Industry officials estimate seven out of every 10 simulators sold globally are to South Korea, Golfzon being the biggest distributor. South Koreans differentiate between “screen golf” and “field golf” with no sense of irony. Recently, the republic became the only country where more rounds are played annually indoors than out. Golfzon locations (5,500) outnumber Starbucks by 5-to-1.With less than 300 golf courses in South Korea and almost 5 million golfers, playing on the real thing is expensive and oversubscribed. It’s no wonder the indoor version has become such an attraction.


It got me thinking whether it’s part of the reason Korean pros on the LPGA and PGA Tour’s seem immune to outside influences such as pressure and the elements. At times they look almost robotic, and with swings forged on driving ranges and simulators, along with their incredible work ethic, success has followed suit.


Se Ri Pak was the first to open the floodgates for female Korean pros to the LPGA Tour after winning two majors in 1998, showing everyone what was possible. At the time she was the lone South Korean on the tour. Just 10 years later they had 45 representatives. Also, around this period, the biggest source of revenue for the LPGA Tour was the sale of TV rights in South Korea. I hope they continually thank Se Ri for opening up the Asian market for them. Currently, a third of the tour is from Asian descent, with leaderboards filled each week with players from especially China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.

Indoor 'screen' golf is a popular alternative to outside 'field' golf in Korea.
Indoor 'screen' golf is a popular alternative to outside 'field' golf in Korea.

Success for the men hasn’t quite been the same as their female counterparts but it’s still very impressive. K.J. Choi is South Korea’s most successful golfer with 8 wins on the PGA Tour and a world ranking that reached No. 5 in 2008. However, it was countryman Y.E. Yang who sent shockwaves throughout the golfing world when he took down Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Tiger had never lost a major when leading heading into the final round until that Sunday in Minnesota. Similarly to Pak, Choi and Yang both paved the way for many Asian male golfers who are now having success in the US and Europe.


Golf has boomed since Covid and different forms of the game such as driving ranges, simulators, mini golf, along with (green grass) golf courses are all driving growth. What’s becoming apparent is with less space available and an ever-growing golf population, the simulator version is leading the way forward for many. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the dress code. 😉 

Thanks for reading.



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