2002: Golf ‘missionary’ makes Iranian pilgrimage

As the need for diplomacy in the Middle East increases, perhaps an unexpected source has been found: Golf.

Englishman Simon Dicksee, a self-described golf missionary and a former pro in Denmark who now introduces newcomers to the sport at China’s Shanghai International Golf Club, recently returned from a 13-day golf crusade to . . . Iran.

Dicksee received permission from the Iranian government, and his

mission was endorsed by the PGA of Europe and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. His journey was even more unusual because it included teaching women in Iran, where there are strict Islamic laws regarding women’s clothing and their ability to interact with men other than their husbands.

“Before I undertook the visit to Iran, I checked on the kinds of things I should avoid in order to respect Islam,” Dicksee said. “There was some discussion on whether I could coach women individually, and I was told to go ahead.

“When it was all over, it was made clear to me just how huge a concession had been made. I was the first male in 28 years to teach women and to be allowed to go on the course with them.”

Learning the game is difficult enough, but the women’s task was made even more arduous by the restrictive, head-to-toe traditional garb that includes a large knot under their chin.

“There wasn’t much freedom of movement, but they coped well,” Dicksee said. “The women seemed totally surprised, especially when it was necessary for me to touch them in order to illustrate the movements of a golf swing.”

Said Lowrie Thornton, general secretary for the PGA of Europe: “When I first heard about it, I pictured women dressed in black from head to toe with a big, white Nike Swoosh on their back.”

Golf has been played in Iran for 50 years, but the fundamentalist

revolution in 1978 ended the sport’s development. A number of courses were destroyed in the war with Iraq, and the course widely regarded as the country’s best – Englhab Tehran – was reduced to 13 holes when the Iranian Army took over part of it to build military facilities.

The Iranian government’s fundamentalist attitudes have loosened in recent years, however, and Dicksee said his experience was much more relaxed than he had expected.

“I met wonderful, friendly people, who are very interested in developing a relationship with the West,” Dicksee said. “The feedback we received from the Iranians is that they were very grateful.

“They see golf as the perfect vehicle, since it is neither political nor religious.”

Not political? Tell that to the NCWO’s Martha Burk, who might point out that women now can play golf in Iran but they can’t join Augusta National.



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