Eighteen Secret Golf Courses

Eighteen Secret Golf Courses is an artist's Book about censorship in South Korean Maps. It contains maps of golf couses that can't be found on South Korean Maps.

Eighteen Secret Golf Courses
Max Neupert
Self published in 2015
38 color pages. 14 x 17.9 cm
50 numbered copies

Compare censored and uncensored satellite/aerial imagery for the Korean peninsula: VWorld vs. ESRI images.
Compare the illustration below with the location on Daum Maps or Naver Maps. For an uncensored map see Google Maps.

36.7167, 126.4797

A secret golf course

© OpenStreetMap contributors

According to the Korean Golf Course Business Association, there are 473 golf courses in South Korea. Slightly less then half of them are exclusively for their members. 76 additional courses received permission to be built or are currently under construction. However, there are some additional golf courses which are not acknowledged by the association. In fact they are not even on the maps in Korea. If you look for these golf courses on Korean map providers like Daum, Naver or VWorld, you will see that the satellite images have been digitally manipulated so that they show mountains or rice fields instead. The manipulations are very obvious, often with drastically different fake topographies when the different providers are compared to each other.

My book Eighteen Secret Golf Courses shows maps of these courses which exist hidden from the public.

Why can't wee see these golf courses on South Korean Maps? The golf courses in my book are part of military installations in South Korea. Military areas are censored on Korean maps. In fact not only army bases are censored, also nuclear reactors, the presidents house, the national intelligence headquarter, the national mint and industrial factories, for instance the POSCO steel mill in Pohang are. A retired professor for geography estimated a staggering 20% of the South Korean territory to be off limits to the public, even if it is just for looking at it on a satellite image.

Security concerns are a likely argument for censorship. Korea's security situation is indeed special, considering the often stressed is the fact that the two Koreas are officially still in war with each other, albeit an armistice, but not a peace treaty has been signed. This is why South Korea has a two year mandatory military service for every male and a substantial part of the Korean peninsula is reserved for the military. The masses of conscripts need to be housed and trained, so army bases are ubiquitous and spacious. Even in areas which are not military at all, there are fortifications in place. On mountaintops it is common to find helipads, trenches and simple bunkers with embrasures. In addition to the 640 thousand South Korean army personnel and 2,97 million in reserve, the US forces have a strong presence in Korea with over 27 thousand deployed.

What if military golf is a secret weapon against the dictatorship in the North? Will the next war be decided by a tournament in golf instead of deadly weapons? The collateral damage would be minimized. Unfortunately this isn't a particularly likely scenario. North Korea only has one single golf course. The Pyongyang Golf complex, a civil golf course which features 18 holes and covers 120 hectares, 45 of which are green. It doesn't look like they are adequately prepared to beat the South Korean military in golf.

From the information I have gathered, it is up to the map providers to censor sites they deem sensitive preemptively and then submit their map product to the government to obtain the license for publication. Considered that a list of sites to be censored would be very dangerous if it would be leaked, this procedure makes sense. It also explains why a commercial golf course is accidently censored on VWorld just because it is located adjunct to an army base.

However, the overall result of the censorship is quite peculiar. The censorship is very obvious, because the photo-shopped topographies just don't match up with their surroundings. Even more, if the same site is compared amongst different censored sources, their landscapes are contradicting each other. That makes you wonder why the areas in question are not simply blacked out or blurred, but photo-shopped with generic landscape. Finally with Google Maps, Nokia Here, Microsoft Bing Maps, ESRI and DigitalGlobe there are a plentitude of uncensored satellite images freely and easily available, so it seems rather nonsensical to censor the areas in the first place. In the light of the ubiquity of uncensored sources, the censorship of domestic maps is a dispensable Sisyphus venture.

The reason for censoring isn't the Northern fiend. It rather seems to be the fear of accountability in face of the own population. While golf is probably not the biggest dissipation in the military's budget of 35.7 trillion Won, it is a strong symbol for the privileges of the military elite.

Guns and golf clubs are insignia of force, power, status and wealth

Installation view at Hanmi Gallery Seoul

Page updated: 2016-06-20

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional