Seoul, South Korea: OneAsia’s big hitters get the chance to shine this week when the one billion won (about US$1 million) SK Telecom Open returns to Sky72 Golf Club for the first time since Bae Sang-moon claimed the title in 2010.
Held on Jeju Island for the past three years, the tournament heads back to the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course, adjacent to Seoul’s Incheon airport, which promises a long and fast set up that will suit the Tour’s power players.
“The rough is relatively short, so even if the long hitters are a little bit off target they will still have the chance to recover,” said Yang Tae-seok, superintendent of golf at the complex which boasts of being the busiest golf facility in the world.
“The greens are also very fast – they’ll be running at round 11-plus for the tournament. So you have to have a good touch or else you’ll be in trouble.”
The Ocean Course, one of four 18-hole layouts making up the Sky72 complex, hosts an average of 87,000 rounds a year thanks to floodlights and a team of grounds staff that make play possible regardless of weather.
“We’re so good a clearing snow that I reckon Korea would take Gold, Silver and Bronze if golf was ever introduced to the Winter Olympics,” joked Jim Prusa, Director of the facility.
Although it is a public course, it still costs an eye-watering US$300 a round – not including caddie or buggy – making it an extremely profitable enterprise, but you get what you pay for and the facilities are first-rate.
Sky-72 is home to the world’s largest driving range, according to Guinness World Records, the massive circular Dream Range with a diameter of 360 metres (400 yards).
Much of the sprawling facility is automated, and first-time visitors frequently stop and gawp as driverless buggies whizz around, delivering clubs from drop-off points to the starters.
“We want everyone who ever plays here, from the humble amateur to the top professional, to walk away with a good impression,” said General Manager Nam Tae-il.
The star attraction this week will be KJ Choi, who has won this tournament twice and finished third when it was last held at Sky72.
Coming off a joint 13th place finish at The Players Championship on the US PGA Tour at the weekend, the stocky former powerlifter is long off the tee and possesses the sort of touch needed to tame the tricky greens.
Arguably the longest hitter in the field is Australian Scott Hend, who finished tied for fifth at last week’s GS Caltex Maekyung Open on only his second OneAsia start outside Australia.
“It’ll be wide open,” predicted David Parkin, OneAsia’s Director of Tour Operations. “The wind will certainly be a factor, but the course is in immaculate condition and ripe to be taken.”
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