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Douglaston Journal
Korean Word for Golf?
Chances Are, You'll Hear It Here
By Corey Kilgannon
Jay Na giving his 4-year-old son, Palmer, a lesson on the intricacies of the golf swing at the Alley Pond Golf Center driving range in Queens. Photo Courtesy James Estrin/NYT

For Queens's considerable population of Korean immigrants, the Alley Pond Golf Center driving range in Douglaston dispenses the American dream by the bucketful.

Many signs at Alley Pond are printed in Korean and English, and most mornings, a vast majority of players are Koreans who live nearby in the heavily Korean neighborhoods of Flushing, Bayside and Douglaston.

Korean immigrants have become a common sight on local golf courses, but they are especially a fixture at this range, incessantly honing and perfecting their swings and shots, and spending plenty on buckets of balls, which start at $7.50.

Golf is extremely expensive in Korea, and once Koreans immigrate to America, many are astonished at how comparatively affordable it is here, said Kyung Na, 37, a teaching pro at the range who goes by Jay Na professionally.

"To be able to hit golf balls for $10 is a dream come true for Koreans," said Mr. Na, a Korean immigrant whose two sons are named Palmer and Augusta.

Though newcomers are first attracted to the game by its affordability, more settled immigrants who have found financial success in their new homeland will buy the most expensive equipment and accessories, he said.

Many Korean players at the range spend $6,000 on a set of clubs, but Mr. Na said he tells his students, " 'Don't buy expensive clubs, because they might not even be right for you,' and the next day they show up with them anyway," he said.

Johnny Mun, 35, a Korean immigrant who lives in Flushing, said that most Koreans here take up golf "as a status thing, to show off."

"They have the $4,000 clubs, the Burberry pants, the Prada shirt, just to show that 'I'm successful, I'm rich,' " he said. Mr. Mun added that his wife, Hae, has a $3,000 set of irons and spent $5,000 on lessons last year. He bought her an $1,800 driver, he said, "but that's when I was dating her, to impress her."

Joseph Jahelka, 72, of Whitestone, a longtime range regular and one of the few non-Asians playing at Alley Pond last Thursday, said, "Over the past five years, I've seen this place evolve from strictly non-Asian to predominantly Asian."

"To play golf in the Orient is very expensive," he said. "It can cost over a million dollars to join a club. They have triple-decker driving ranges. The average person can't afford it. Then they come to the U.S., and it's finally available to them. "

Anthony Colonna, a teaching pro at the range, estimated that 80 percent of its customers are Korean immigrants.

"You should see it in the winter when it's just hard-core range fanatics," he said. "It's 99 percent Korean, one percent Chinese, and don't even look for a white guy," he said.

David Long, 43, a computer consultant from Flushing who is part Korean, said that for Korean-Americans, the golf range is a microcosm of the immigrant experience and the challenge of succeeding here.

"Many Koreans come from a world where opportunity is very rare, and you keep working toward a goal," he said. "If you fail, you keep trying again, just like golf."

He added that Koreans are also intrigued by the paradox at the heart of golf, the fact that it is so seemingly simple, yet so difficult. They gravitate toward the demanding practice regimen, the inner discipline and the meditative, repetitive approach the game requires.

"Golf is an attempt at perfection," he said. "It is a very hard sport to master and demands focus and concentration on every shot. A lot of Asians use meditation to relax and focus."

"A lot of Koreans have their own stores or businesses and can take time off in the day for golf," he said, as a large group of female players walked into the range. "Or at least their wives can."

Ilhyun Jung, 50, a dentist from Forest Hills, put the Korean affinity for golf in historical perspective.

"For 5,000 years, Korea was surrounded by big countries and suffered a lot of invasions," he explained. "We had to be strong and sustain many challenges, so we are used to challenge, and our persistence is naturally stronger. It is the nature of the Korean: We want to show our ability and do things perfectly."

Then a Korean man in the next stall announced that he spent all day at the range, going through between 10 and 20 buckets of balls.

Mr. Jung shrugged and added, "Or maybe we are just workaholics."




 

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