[Yongsan Legacy] Golfing in the middle of Seoul
By Darrell Brown
This 1969 photo of the Yongsan area shows the Eighth U.S. Army golf course labeled as 12. Most of the space is now used for the National Museum of Korea and Yongsan Family Park. / Courtesy of Rich Kent
As the U.S. military relocates out of Yongsan Garrison, Yongsan Legacy aims to archive the living memories of those who served, worked and lived there. This is one of them. _ ED.
In 1959 a Korean landowner, to show his appreciation to the U.S. Army defending South Korea against the aggression of North Korea and China, donated a parcel of land adjacent to South Post Embassy Housing. This land was used to develop a nine-hole golf course. When I visited the course in 1962-63, there were no buildings between the golf course and the Han River, nor were there any bridges across the river in that area.
In 1978 a good friend from my university days was assistant manager at the course, so I played a few rounds in 1978-79. I returned to Korea in 1982 and resided in Seoul until 1997, during which time I was able to play on the course until the land was returned to the Korean government in November 1992. As it was only nine holes, we had to play it twice for a full 18-hole golf score.
Every Thursday evening, members had a drawing for Saturday and Sunday (or holiday) tee times. This took place in the bar of the club restaurant. By the time the drawing was complete, a large amount of alcohol had been consumed by many of those present, so it was not so steady a group of golfers heading home. Many needed designated drivers.
Many local Korean nationals were associate members and had access to the golf course. We had a group of diehard gamblers that would play for money, but that was not for me. I was not a great golfer and had a high handicap, but the camaraderie of friends was welcome during off-duty times. The golf course was a natural paradise, with pheasant running around, and the few water hazards had these giant bullfrogs and small fish. In summer, I would sometimes leave my office at 5 p.m. and play a round on my own. I was usually able to get in 11 holes before it got too dark. We played year round; if it happened to be a snowy day we used orange balls. One day in January 1990 it was so warm we wore short-sleeve shirts when playing.
I remember we had one four-star general who loved to play, but not that well. He had a bad temper and once on the ninth hole he got upset with his game and threw his bag of clubs in the water hazard. His caddy managed to get them out of the water.
I never saw the need for a caddy, which I would mention every time I was jogging on post and ran across this particular general exercising. He always gave me a real look of distain, but never said anything. Maybe he was aware I saw his golf clubs go in the water.
It was a sad time in November 1992; a group of us were gathered at the golf course, when we were told the U.S. State Department had agreed to return the land to the Korean government. The next week engineers built a cinder block wall about 10 feet high to block off the course. One of our engineer officers told us not to lean on the wall or it would topple over; it was just stacks of cinder blocks with no support. Nothing was done with the land for the next two years and from what we could see it grew into a jungle of trees and grass.
The Korean government provided an 18-hole golf course in Seongnam that was nice, but inconvenient. Americans could never understand the negativity of the Korean people towards them having this small nine-hole golf course on Yongsan, especially since so many Korean nationals used the course with us. We saw these negative stories in the Korean newspapers about the Americans having a county club and golf course in the middle of Seoul and Korean people being upset about it. I don’t think my Korean friends who played the course were upset.
Darrell Brown is an engineer who served in Korea for KMAG, FROKA (First ROK Army) in 1961, 7th US Infantry Division in 1963 and for USFK J4 Transportation unit later on till the late 1990s. Visit YongsanLegacy.org to read more about the history of Seoul’s disappearing U.S. garrison or to contribute your own memories.