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The Next Korean Wave

Published 6 days ago on Sep 2, 2022

It’s been 10 years since the world was introduced to the antics of PSY, the outrageous Korean pop star who rocked the world with Gangnam Style. As a Korean-Canadian, my western side was first perplexed as to why his music video became so popular the world over. After all, the lyrics are in Korean, and the context of the video is so satirical as to make even Gangnam residents pause for meaning. Nonetheless, if you’ve ever put your hands together for the horse dance or chant Oppan Gangnam style! Then you too, have experienced the Hallyu Wave.

Gangnam style had James Hahn rocking the horse dance at the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix

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The Korean word Hallyu translates to Korean Wave. After some research, I learned that the term was coined in the late 1990s with the goal of bringing our pop culture (K-music, K-drama, etc) to the world stage to promote tourism, culture export, and familiarity with Korean history. Apparently, it worked. K-pop (read BTS, BlackPink) now has practically taken over the teen music scene, while re-runs of K-dramas are played in households throughout the world. Squid games captivated audiences across the world on Netflix, Samsung mobile phones continue to sell as much as Apple, and Hyundai/Kia cars can easily be seen on the roads of most North American cities. To be honest, I’ve never imagined a day when English speakers would sing along to a Korean song better than me. But since that has already come to pass, I would now like to put forth the idea that a whole new Korean wave, this time in golf, is sweeping over the world.

Pandemic + Golf Boom = Golf Wave

There is no denying that the coronavirus helped drive the growth of golf here. With the limitations placed on overseas travel and severe initial restrictions on outdoor activities, many Koreans needed new ways to ease their boredom and spend their disposable income. While golf had always been regarded as a sport for the more well-to-do, the timing was ripe for the younger, hipper newbies to discover the joys of golf.

Simulators allow newbies to practice and play with friends of in private (to save face!)

Due to the ease of accessibility, the screen golf industry here was the first to enjoy a huge increase in business. As hundreds of thousands of newcomers flocked to the game and became addicted, they were not satisfied with using house rental clubs and shoes. As such, sales of exotic golf brands along with renowned OEM brands flourished as trendsetters quickly set out to purchase equipment that helped to express themselves. Soon, as restrictions on outdoor activities lessened, most of the newbies eagerly headed to the golf courses, which also began to reap profits generated by the new golfers.

MZ generation means new golfers with more disposable income… to spend on golf equipment and fashion!

It seemed as though the main demographics of Korean golfers shifted almost overnight. Whereas the 50-60s age group was the main driving force before the pandemic, the momentum seemed to have shifted to those in their 20s-30s, who now make up about 1.15 million or 22% of Korean golfers. Due to the incredible enthusiasm of the MZ generation, golf manufacturers and suppliers scrambled to meet the new demand. New golf brands in every category sprang up to add fuel to the fire – including but not limited to fashion, golf bags, tees, satchels, club covers, shoes, the whole nine yards. And now, as strange as it may sound, I have reason to believe that our style of stylish, flashy, over-the-top golf is slowly being taken up by golfers outside of Korea. Perhaps the best new innovative tech to come out of Korea in recent years is the Autoflex golf shaft, which offers ease of swing and more accuracy and distance in an ultralight shaft. I’ve covered this unicorn in detail in the past, so I won’t get into it here. In addition, both the Puttist and Ficor bands that I have introduced before have proven to be just as popular outside of Korea. Below are several more golf items and trends that may soon turn golfers’ heads outside Korea.

Diamond With Wings?

Once you get over the cringy name that is Diawings, you just may feel that your prayers for distance may have been answered. The Korean-made 2-piece ball has made an enormous ripple in the Korean golf scene over the past two years as THE long-distance ball. For those of us chasing more distance, Diawings claims to increase distance by as much as 20% through faster ball speeds off the clubface.

I don’t know how, but they are conforming. More importantly, they increased my ball speed from 63m/s to 67m/s.

Ho hum. So what else is new? Aren’t there already dozens of distance balls out there that promise to make short work of long par 4s and 5s? Yes. But what sets Diawings apart is that these balls are legit. Not only do they perform as advertised, Diawings golf balls actually conform to the rules of golf. Of all the distance balls that I have encountered over the years, Diawings is the only one of its kind that has been recognized as legal for tournament play. No longer do you need to fear ridicule from your playing partners for playing a non-conforming ball. And unlike their namesake, they cost only a fraction of the more recognized premium golf balls.

If you’ve ever used silicone tees, chances are you used a product from Birdie79, a Korean manufacturer of all golf things silicone.

For All Your Golf Needs

Even more so than the golf equipment sector, the Korean golf apparel and accessory sector exploded and thrived with new brands emerging every month. After all, how can we be expected to enjoy this great game to the fullest if we don’t look our best? According to the Korea Institute of sports and leisure, the golf wear industry reached a staggering 6 billion dollar mark in 2022, making up nearly half of the entire golf-related industry. For every fashion statement cared to be made, whether athletic, street-casual, or chic & modern, there is something for everyone with almost all brands offering their own interpretations of the next golf look. Tech Skin is one such brand, which covers the chic & modern spectrum in offering everything from hologram golf bags, shirts, and inner layers, all the way down to the minute details that complete your golf game. In fact, that’s their company motto, and it’s hard to find a golf bag here that doesn’t have at least one of their products in it. And I’m betting, sooner or later, that it will be the case with many golfers in the west.

With golf permeating into everyday wear here, golf lifestyle brands have enjoyed huge success.

One of the biggest factors that helped churn the waves here is the many influencers on social media. Once golf was deemed to be the next “in” thing, hordes of young social influencers went all out in displaying the awesomeness of the sport on their respective platforms. It soon became all the rage to flaunt our latest golf outfits (#gootd #fieldlook) and accessories on Instagram and YouTube, which in turn attracted more non-golfers to take interest in what the hubbub was about. As the popularity of golf gained more and more traction on all fronts, popular TV personalities and comedians also began to create diverse golf-themed shows on YouTube, making it easier for non-golfers to understand and relate. The long-held notion that golf is a boring pastime for seniors was quickly replaced with one of fun, flair, and fashion.

With golf permeating into everyday wear here, golf lifestyle brands have enjoyed huge success.

There are currently four TV channels that are devoted to 24-hours of golf in all forms, and user-created content has begun to be showcased on mainstream media as well. The golf show formats are varied and entertaining. I enjoy shows where competition is the focus, where older alumni of rival high schools compete with each other, or the club champions of different courses compete to see who has the bragging rights for the year. My wife, on the other hand, enjoys fashion-related shows that showcase the latest looks and gears, and golf variety programs which are a cross between a talk show, match play, and American ninja. I’ll leave it to your imagination. While these types of golf shows and programs may not be traditional and perhaps even annoying to the purists of the game, it nevertheless has helped to create a new generation of golfers here who continue to grow the game.

From lessons to talk shows and everything in-between, treading slightly off the beaten path has brought a ton of new golfers to discover the joy of golf in Korea.

In the past, I had written about how different and difficult it was to play golf here, what with the limited number of golf courses and the sky-high cost. Yet, if we managed to increase the enjoyment of golf to the level of adding millions of new golfers despite these obstacles, think how easier it may be for countries outside Korea who are blessed with access to thousands of courses at a fraction of our cost. So, if growing the game in your part of the world includes attracting new golfers, maybe give some of the above a go. It can’t hurt, right? Now, if I can only convince BTS members to pick up the game, we would see millions of new young golfers overnight. Now, that would truly be a tsunami of a Korean wave indeed.

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