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When is a golf tournament not just a tournament? When it's in North Korea.

Mao Zedong's 'ping-pong diplomacy' thawed Chinese-US ties. Could Kim Jong-il's 'golf club diplomacy' do the same for North Korean-US relations?

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Now, the North Korean authorities have given the go-ahead for the competition to be expanded, with the 2012 version set to be played over three days by more than double the number of players who played this year.

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Other efforts to attract tourists

The DPRK Open is not the only effort being made by the North to attract visitors from overseas.

The North Korean authorities have been touting a secluded resort at Mount Kumgang, situated on the North’s eastern coast near its border with South Korea as an investment opportunity to potential international suitors, including the Chinese – much to the dismay of the South.

The resort, which is home to another of the few golf courses in the country, was built using South Korean cash and had been jointly run by the two states until a tourist from the South was killed by a North Korean soldier in 2008.

And this month, the North launched a cruise liner from its northeastern port of Rason. However, the ship, called the Mangyongbong, is unlikely to worry the household names of the cruising world: It’s about 40 years old, offers cramped rooms, puts on a spread of reportedly low-grade culinary offerings, and allegedly some dubious sanitary conditions.

Harris, though, harbors high hopes for the golf tournament. Despite being shrouded by uncertainty, the inaugural 2011 event, he said, ran without any glitches.

He believes similar events could help massage the tense relations between the North and the outside world.

"Already this year there has been an international Taekwondo tournament and a marathon," he says. "Last year another tour company took a group of cricketers over to Pyongyang to help spread the sport over there.

"I think events like this can only help North Korea's relations with the outside world. Ignoring the country is not going to help anybody. I think engaging with them is the best way forward."

As for the kind of experience tourists can expect? Ian Garner, tournament director, paints a more surreal picture of the course environment.

“The golf course wasn't designed as well as courses on the amateur circuits in Europe and America,” he says. “It was about the experience ­– the experience of soldiers patrolling the course, the experience of playing in a country that is so closed to the rest of the world.”

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