- On its surface, it sounds like a great story
- But the reality is another matter
Hong Kong (CNN)The headlines are everywhere.
"Pair prank their way into North Korean golf tournament," read Brisbane's Nine News.
"2 Australian men pretended to be pro golfers and faked their way into the North Korean Open," proclaimed SBNation.com
Even Golf Digest fell for it: "Pair of Australian hackers pull ultimate prank by posing as pros to play in North Korea Golf Championship."
On its surface, it sounds like a great story. So let's start there ...
The awesome story
Two Australians, who by their own admission are terrible golfers, bluffed their way into a premier golf tournament in North Korea.
Morgan Ruig and Evan Shay -- a real estate agent and a builder, respectively -- had just wrapped up a polo event in China when they decided to go out on a limb.
"We thought why be a single internationalist when you could be a dual internationalist? So we got Googling on some exotic sports close by," Ruig told CNN in an earlier interview.
Ruig says it came down to Mongolian Eagle Racing or the North Korean Amateur Golf Open -- and made their decision over a "long lunch."
They then sent an email to event organizers and, to the pair's surprise, it didn't take long to score an invite -- although a little creative wording did help.
"We said we were a couple of Australian golfers. And they wrote back asking if we were the Australian team. And we sort of swerved around that question and thought we'd run with it," Ruig said.
Soon, Ruig and Shay would be gracing the hermit kingdom's only course -- which it bills as the world's most exclusive. It's also where late leader Kim Jong-Il is said to have made 11 hole-in-ones.
Now the pair just needed to look the part. So they found a tailor in Beijing who made them very official-looking green jackets, complete with an Australian emblem and the inscription "Polo and Golf Grand Slam Tour The Orient 2016" underneath.
Ruig says North Korean officials rolled out the red carpet, chauffeuring them around Pyongyang on official tours.
"It was fantastic. We were well looked after, the people were lovely and kept us well fed and full of beer!" he said.
It seems everyone thought this plucky duo was the real deal ... until they teed off.
"Evan, my offsider, was one of the first to tee off and I think they knew pretty quickly after he dropped three balls into the river that we weren't all we were talked up to be," Ruig said.
"They knew pretty much from there that it was a laugh and we got a good round of applause when Evan finally finished the hole with an 8 on the par 5," he added.
By the end of the 18th, Ruig and Shay had hacked their ways to abysmal scores of 120 and 126 respectively. They only finished ahead of the teenage daughter of another country's ambassador.
So, what really happened?
The Amateur Golf Open at the Pyongyang Golf Complex isn't something the North Korean government puts on. It's an annual event hosted by a UK-based tour company Lupine Travel.
You don't have to be a pro. You don't even have to know how to play golf.
All you have to do is book through the tour company and you can take part -- no "duping" required.
It says so right on its website: "Bookings are taken exclusively through British travel agents Lupine Travel."
That would explain why the guys weren't asked any questions. That would also explain why they were wined and dined and taken care of so well. The price of booking includes "breakfast, lunch and dinner each day."
And that would also explain why their photos are so prominently displayed on Lupine's site.
Also, they needn't have bothered with the custom-made jackets. Some played with windbreakers on, and the tournament also included a bride and groom in their wedding outfits.
Reached again for comment, Ruig told CNN that Lupine organized the tour and the men's visas. He wouldn't say any more.
But hey, it's a great story ... almost.