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Tee Time in Tehran

A relative newcomer to the game, Eshaghi, 33, said, "I used to think golf was for old people, but it's very exciting. And Iranians like new sports."

"And golf is politically correct?" I asked, remembering how Iran's government politicizes sports. Arash Miresmaeili, a world judo champion, refused to compete against an Israeli in the 2004 Olympics, citing "sympathy with the oppressed Palestinian people." It is widely believed that Miresmaeili did not make this decision on his own but rather was coerced by Iranian officials.

"Sure," Eshaghi replied.

His third-floor office had a lovely view of the course, including the rather benign-looking military constructions. I took the liberty of snapping a photo.

Earlier I had corresponded with Simon Dicksee, a British instructor who had been sent to Tehran by the PGA of Europe and the R&A to coach Iranian golfers. Dicksee noted that two golfers had "international potential." I was planning to meet one of them, Hasan Karimian, the club pro and reigning national champ.

Even from a distance I could pick Karimian out. Like golf pros everywhere, he had the infuriating ability to bounce a ball on his wedge and then hit it baseball-style, just like Tiger did in those commercials.

Karimian, 27, had half an hour before his next lesson and agreed to play a couple of holes with me and a member of the club. He loaned me a set of clubs—clones of a well-known brand—and we started on number ten, a difficult par four. The fairway was wide, and I hit what I thought was a good drive. But when I got to my ball, I couldn't see the green. So I asked Karimian for advice.

"Hit a nine-iron to just in front of that line of trees," he instructed, advising me to lay up.

I did and still couldn't see the flag through the trees, which bordered a hidden stream that crossed in front of the green. I had thirty yards to clear tall trees and stop the ball on the putting surface. I pitched high enough, but long. I chipped back and two-putted for a double-bogey.

"What do you say when you miss an easy putt?"

Karimian indicated a common four-letter English expletive.

"But in Farsi?"

"Same word."

Karimian left for his lesson, and I continued with Bahram Baharlo, a retired engineer with a son in California. The last hole had a narrow fairway that bent left toward the arid Elborz mountains. I thought of Eshaghi's philosophy: Golf reduces stress. What if he's right?I slowed my breathing and smoked my drive. Then I nailed an eight-iron to the green. My putt came up just short, but I had an easy tap-in for par. Maybe the Iranian Golf Federation president is on to something. •

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