Noraebangs — karaoke rooms to the unitiated — have long been popular and many make extra profits illegally selling alcohol and sex along with the songs (or in the case of room salons, selling songs along with the alcohol and sex). But it seems that now the trend is for men to play video golf games rather than sing offkey Abba songs before getting their drink and poke on.
We are in a video golf restaurant in Seoul on the 6th.
In the room at the back of the hall the video golf is in full swing.
Other than having a video golf machine instead of a noraebang, this place looks like any other room salon.
The miniskirt-clad girls who work here watch the customers hit the ball and high-five them. “Oppa, nice shot!” They operate the machine, make the drinks on the table, down them with the customers and play golf, too. They wear name tags saying Manager on them, but in fact they’re just like the doumi girls in room salons.
A manager in her late 20s who introduces herself as a former caddy said, “we keep a membership system so when customers call ahead before coming to play we prepare enough doumi girls for the size of their group. If the partners agree they can go out and have a bottle of soju.” She means they can go to the second round.
According to the industry, at the end of 2007 there 2,500 video golf rooms across the country. An industry representative said, “the number doubles every year. We expect there will be 3,000 this coming March.”
Video golf games have systems to evaluate your swing and measure the distance traveled by the ball. Recent machines produce three-dimensional simulations of world-famous golf courses. It costs 25,000 won per round per person, a tenth of what it would cost to play for real.
The number of players across the country is 200,000 on an average day, about five times the roughly 30,000 who play on real courses. 37-year old office worker Park said, “I gave it a try on a rainy day once but they were totally booked from people leaving the golf course behind.”
The machines cost 30 million won each. To set up a room with four machines will cost 200 million won, I was told. The good news is that in one month a business could bring in 50 million won.
Like pool halls, people can order jajangmyeon and other foods and eat them while betting and playing all night, and the number of people doing so is increasing. So now many golf places are staying open all night. And wine bars and other high-class establishments are putting in golf games, too.
39-year old office worker Baek said, “after a company dinner young people like to go to a golf bar rather than a noraebang especially since they can bet there.” Just as bars can set up pool tables and dartboards, it is not illegal to install golf games since they have restaurant licenses. But the problem is that some businesses offer doumi and operate like room salons.
There are not yet many golf rooms which resemble room salons. But as the market becomes saturated the trend is to become more like them. Park, who is making a sexy bar in Gangnam with a video golf machine, said, “I started in Ansan, Anyang, and Suwon but I heard that business in Seoul is good so I’m here to try it.”
But as there is no law governing them there is no way they can be arrested, because while it would be a problem for them to sell alcohol if registered as places for exercise, they are bars with extra equipment so police can do nothing. And since a large business with over 10 machines would have to register as a place for exercise, they register as noraebangs instead. Businesses registered as places for exercise are selling cans of beer, which is a problem. It shows that there must be policies enacted because there is a danger of an accident.