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Report of my Open Asian Championships inspection visit to Kish Island, Iran, May 29-30, 2014

Pasi Aho, WMF Sport Director

I was invited to Kish by Arash Pooyanmehr, president of the Iran Minigolf Society (IMS). The trip was hosted by Kish Sport Organisation with its deputy Mr. Jalali and IMS.

Travelling
I didn’t book the flights myself, so I can’t tell much about the booking process. I flew overnight from Frankfurt to Dubai with Emirates to continue on Thursday morning with Kish Airline from there to Kish. Kish Airline is already a member of IATA, but their issuing e-tickets is currently not possible. This means you can’t book flights all the way from your origin to Kish. However, according to Mr. Jalali this situation is expected to change within one month, as the new strategy of Kish Free Zone Organization is to enable booking flights all the way to Kish.
Kish Airline is operating from the terminal 2 in Dubai, a very small terminal compared with terminal 3 which Emirates are using. Terminal 1 is used by other airlines. On my way back home I stayed overnight in Fortune Plaza hotel in Dubai, as I left Kish in the evening and the flight to Frankfurt was early next morning. 
Depending on your travel plan there are various options for the duration of the stay in Dubai. The tournament organizer is cooperating with SadafSarv travel agency, who can offer you on request full package of services for the transit and stay in Dubai (if necessary). Especially for a larger team this may save a considerable amount of time and work. On the championship homepage www.kish2014.com there is an enquiry form for flights. If you wish to receive help with bookings or anything else regarding the travelling, contact the organizer via homepage. The organizer pointed out that when Kish Airline has been connected to the world booking system, it is perfectly ok to organize your trip without assistance if you wish to do so.  The travel agency will assist nations that need visa for UAE (Dubai) and booking hotel in the UAE to stay for connection flights.
Visa: There are international flights to Kish only from Dubai (mostly 3 per day) and Abu Dhabi. Travelers coming from these origins don’t need visa to enter Kish Island Special Free Zone. However, you still may need a visa to enter United Arab Emirates, so check this in advance. Entering Kish without visa doesn’t allow you to travel to Iranian mainland. A visa is needed for that. Travelling to Kish via domestic airports in Iran obviously means you need a visa for Iran.
In the meeting with the Kish Organization they pointed out, that for example U.S. players are very welcome and have absolutely no problem with entering Iran. Iran is only in one official political conflict and that is with Israel.  Kish hosted for example some weeks ago an ATP Future tennis tournament in which three U.S. players participated. Further, a wrestling team from the U.S. has been practicing in Kish and in January Kish will host a taekwondo tournament with 3.000 athletes from all over the world!


Kish airport international terminal waiting hall

Hotels

Kish has approx. 50 hotels in different categories from 2 to 5 stars. Most of them are located on the east coast, which is a kind of central area in Kish with malls, most restaurants, administrative buildings etc. The minigolf course is located in the northern part of Kish, but with the dimensions of 7 km from north to south and 13 km from east to west on the whole island it is easy to imagine that transfers to the course are not taking more than 5-10 minutes on the very good streets.
The price level of the hotels is said to vary from 30-40 EUR up to 100 EUR per room (2-4 stars). More information on the hotels will follow on the championship homepage, as the organizer is still negotiating some special prices for the participants. I stayed in Shayan hotel, which is closer to the higher end of the category scale. There was absolutely nothing that I could have missed, possibly with the exception of WiFi in the room. But it was available in the lobby indeed.
Organizer will check possibilities for helping with local transfers during the championships, as there are no hotels very near the minigolf course. Probably they’ll prepare special minibuses and vans for this purpose during the competition. It is also from my point of view recommendable to stay in the eastern part of Kish, where more services are available.
Contact the organizer for your hotel wishes. I am sure they will find you rooms that respond to your needs. Booking is much easier via them too.


Lobby of Shayan hotel

Minigolf course

The course is located in the Olympic Complex with several other sports facilities. It is a self-created MOS course with rather slow artificial turf as playing surface. Under the turf there is a concrete basis on which the turf is glued. The boundaries are kind of shallow bricks with the size of 7-8 cm each, connected with concrete. No obstacles exist to date.
The course inspection showed that some repairing must and changes should be done to make the course more interesting and better playable. Mr. Jalali was very open to these ideas and promised to take care of them. I will give more detailed information about the planned changes and special rules in the later document with lane pictures. Let’s just mention that some obstacles or rather objects are planned to be mounted on the lanes or at the boundaries to allow rebound play where there otherwise seems to be no chance of playing a proper stroke. Some recarpeting as well as repairing of the lanes will be done too. Some tee-off lines will be adapted to the special character of the lane.
There are lots of trees on the course offering shadow. But it can also be quite windy due to the relative proximity of the sea. This means lots of debris falling from the trees. The organizer will see to put some nets under the trees to battle this problem. There is illumination available, but additional lights will be provided to enable practicing in the evening and finishing the tournament days on schedule.
I would still say that due to the slow surface there won’t very many aces out there. There are a couple of pipe lanes where you can easily win or lose a stroke or two, but no real killer holes. The rest is up to you and your skills!
Iran Minigolf Society (IMS) will be the main organizer of AsC 2014. Kish Sport Organization (KSO) will support with personnel, venues, logistics etc. AMF will be included in cooperation with IMS in the organization.


View over the minigolf course

A lot was asked about the playing conditions under consideration of Iranian laws regarding clothing etc. This was of course one of the main topics in the discussion with Mr. Jalali. He as a former president of Iranian Track & Field Federation and former athlete himself (400 m hurdles runner in the national team) understands the needs of athletes and promised to guarantee that the minigolf course area will be separated for the tournament and training with non-transparent banners. So it will not be considered as public area, which allows looser dress code rules than regular public life in Iran. Mr. Jalali said he'll take care that ladies during training and competition can wear comfortable wearing with minimum difference to home wearing. For men, they can wear sport shorts on the minigolf course.


Ladies' tennis court in the background

The ATP Future tennis tournament in Kish had also female participants. See above the solution for ladies' tennis court in the background. I could personally see some ladies coming out of the court after practicing, of course dressed again for public life. But for playing minigolf the conditions will be quite normal.
In the immediate proximity of the course tents will be installed for a players' camp. The idea is also to provide fridges etc. to the tents. The organizer will set up a buffet and restaurant in a separate tent near the course, so services are available. Mobile toilets will be provided too.
The opening and closing ceremonies are planned to be held in Kish International Convention Centre, again located in the eastern part of Kish, near most hotels.

Daily life

Clothing: The main issues when I collected questions were the dress code, local manners and status of women. Now Arash for sure can answer more in detail, but I’ll describe my observations during the 30 hours I spent in Kish.
There are laws defined by the Islamic religion, but it is more about respecting the local culture and habits. Men should always wear long trousers in public. In November with temperatures around 25°C this should not be too hard. There are trousers and trousers, just don’t take the warmest ones you have. If a guy like me with “few extra pounds on my hips” can survive at 40°C, everyone can survive. If it is too warm outdoors, don’t spend more time there than necessary. Every single building has an air conditioning, even the underground city had ventilators all over the place.
Women are expected to wear a scarf in public. Both men and women are expected to cover their shoulders and women of course should not use short skirts or trousers either. I could observe at the airport that at the passport control women not wearing the scarf already were very kindly advised to do so. If the scarf was not available, one was provided at the airport. You were expected to leave it back when departing the country.
Now I hope the following pictures will show you that there are ways of wearing the scarf and there are other ways of wearing it. I must say that some of the extremely beautiful ladies also knew how to use the scarf as a fashionable accessory and you could almost have the feeling they “played a bit with the rules” by wearing the scarf very far back on their head. Some highly enjoyable sights anyway, beautiful ladies in beautiful and stylish clothing!

Sandals are absolutely proper footwear. Not on the minigolf course though and leave those white tennis socks home!
Currency: This is one of the harder issues of daily life… The official Iranian currency is rial. One EUR is approx. 42.000 rial to date. One USD is approx. 32.000 rial. The notes you’ll receive are rial. But there is “another currency unit” called toman, which is widely used in everyday life. 1 toman = 10 rial. So one EUR is 4.200 toman and 1 USD is 3.200 toman. 100.000 rial is the biggest bank note, valuing at slightly under 2,5 EUR or a bit over 3 USD.
The problem is that you never know if the prices are written in rial or toman, even if you often can judge it from what you exactly are buying. It should be quite clear whether an ice cream or a cola costs 1 EUR or 10 EUR… But it is never wrong to ask and be sure!
You can’t get rial abroad, so you need to change them in an exchange office in Kish. Arash advised not to use banks, as not all of them are able to change. All main currencies are accepted, dollars, euros, pounds, yens, yuans…you name it. The only chance I could use foreign currency was at the departure on the airport, where UAE dirhams were gladly accepted.
Cuisine: One of my favourite issues on every trip. J I didn’t have that many meals during the short trip, but was able to taste through the different kebabs. Lamb, chicken, fish, shrimps, you name it. No pork of course.


Fish and shrimp kebab

I am sure the variety is bigger, if you have more time to search and experience. But everything was delicious and fresh. For logical reasons fish is highly recommended.
Another local habit is of course that alcohol is forbidden. Don’t bring it with you and of course you can’t get it anywhere. Some nice alcohol free malt beverages with tropical tastes are available. Absolutely try pomegranate alcohol free beer as they call it! One of my favourites is doogh, called ayran in Turkey. Yoghurt drink with spiced mint, lightly salted. Excellent thirst quencher and according to Arash it gives you a good sleep too!


Doogh and my favourite snack, processed olives in a delicious paste!

Attractions: The weather is nice, so conditions for water sports and swimming are of course favourable. There are separate beaches for men and women. At least the men's beach was of good quality. Just watch out the corals (Kish is completely a coral island) as you walk into the warm Persian Gulf to find waters deep enough to swim. Apart from that just follow the instructions the helpful and kind people will give you. Various water sports (jetski, boating…) as well as fishing are activities you could try.



There are two touristic attractions every visitor must see. Kariz, the 2.500 years old underground city, right next to the minigolf course.



And then the mysterious Greek ship…



I won't tell more. Go and find out the rest!

Final words

I want to thank Arash Pooyanmehr and Iran Minigolf Society as well as Kish Sport Organisation for inviting and hosting me during the short trip to Kish Island. I hope I could contribute to the successful organization of the Open Minigolf Asian Championships 2014. It was an honour to be your guest for this short time. I highly enjoyed the experience.
My main task next to the contribution to the organization surely was to find out about facts and conditions in Kish to inform interested players and teams about their upcoming stay. Some of the questions I received were suspicious, can’t blame anyone for that. Many people have prejudices based on the information in the media. So my trip also had a marketing function.
I can secure you that based on what I saw and heard, there is no reason not to participate in AsC, if you are considering it. KSO is standing behind the event, as they are supporting many other sports events in Kish too. The target is to make Kish more known worldwide at the same time. The current, new Iranian government under the regime of new president is targeting on opening Kish even more and making it more attractive to foreign visitors, companies and investments. This was not hard to see, as construction sites just followed each other at the streets. The current population of 35.000 is sure to grow in near future and with its status of Special Free Zone it is possible that Kish will be an important factor in the Gulf life in future. So take the chance to see Kish while it still is in original, yet already now with good infrastructure!
I want to finish this report with a quote by Mr. Jalali:
“We are a modernly thinking community. That’s why we organize a minigolf championship. Otherwise we could have organized just another football tournament!”

Yours sincerely,
Pasi Aho
WMF Sport Director



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