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Wigan travel agent plans North Korea golf tournament

The golf course at Pyongyang in North Korea
Image caption The Pyongyang course is the only public golf club in North Korea

A Wigan travel agent is helping to organise what is thought to be the first international amateur golf tournament to be held in North Korea.

Dylan Harris said the matches at the country's only public course, in the capital Pyongyang, had been arranged after a client asked to play there.

He said the country's officials had been eager to host the matches.

A regular visitor to the state since 2007, Mr Harris said "over the last 12 months, they've been relaxing things".

Mr Harris's company, Lupine Travel, specialises in breaks to unusual places, including Chernobyl and Siberia.

He said his first reaction to being asked to arrange a golfing break in North Korea was that he could not make it happen, though not because he did not think the authorities would allow it.

"My first reaction was 'no, not a chance,' as I'd never played golf myself and didn't know anything about it," he said.

"But the client asked if I could check with the North Korean authorities, so I did, expecting a straight no.

"Instead, they were interested straight away."

As with the tours that Mr Harris has arranged before into the country, the golfers he is taking to Pyongyang to play will be given a tour of the country before they play.

Mr Harris said this had been "a requirement from the authorities".

"They agreed to do the tournament if the people coming in were actually going to see the country," he said.

The open tournament, which was limited to 30 places, will see golfers from the UK, Germany, USA, France, Luxembourg, Australia, Sweden, South Africa and Finland taking part.

Mr Harris has been arranging holidays to North Korea for four years and said that visiting was "more bizarre than you can imagine".

"It's like going back in time to a 1950s communist state," he said.

"It's not for everyone, but for people who are interested in unusual destinations, it's definitively worth a visit."

He said that while he knew what people's views of the state were, the reality of holidaying in North Korea was becoming more of a "normal" experience.

Image caption Dylan Harris has been organising breaks to North Korea since 2007

"I've done things over there in the past and it's been pretty hard - you stick to a really strict tourist path while you're there.

"But over the last 12 months, they've been relaxing things and allowing a lot more of the country to be opened up.

"You get to travel through the countryside on the trains and you see a lot of the poorer villages, but it's no worse than anywhere else in Asia."

He also said that the traditional criticism of the state, that it was impossible to find out what the "North Korean in the street" thinks, was fair, but not for the reasons that were usually documented.

"You can't talk to the citizens, but that's because they can't speak English.

"People smile at you and nod, but there's not really a chance to converse."

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