Quality and quantity would appear to be the general thrust of Turkey’s push for recognistion in the golfing world. There is a stretch of 14 outstanding courses close to the town of Belek, in the Antalya region, with the sea on one side and the snow-capped Taurus mountains looking on in the distance. Famous golfing names, Sir Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, David Feherty, Dave Thomas and David Jones are the architects behind several of the acclaimed layouts, with further input from European Golf Design.
There are unquestionable reasons for packing the shorts and heading to your nearest airport. Antalya is handy for all the courses on the strip. Turkish Airlines and several budget conveyors fly here regularly. The flight time from London is around four hours and the destination offers guaranteed sunshine with only 35 days a year seeing rain. Some of the deals available are amazing. A group of golfing pals from Hale Golf Club, Cheshire, flew out last October, sun screen and all. Seven nights, four rounds of golf, allinclusive four-star hotel for just £565 per person, plus flights from Manchester.
The “all-inclusive” package, as visitors discover to their undying happiness, means that once you have checked into your four or five star hotel everything you can eat or drink is yours with no extra charge. Happy days. Thus, you sit down for a gourmet four-course meal with aperitif, wine and digestif cognac and your wallet remains untroubled.
One man amazed at the value Turkey has to offer is Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, chairman and managing director of International Sports Management, who looks after Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen and others.
Ever a man of pragmatism, he said: “The all-inclusive deal is astonishing. Think about it: a group of golfers at a club could pay £20 a month into a holiday fund for a week that costs £800 and still have £200 to play with. All the courses are four or five star. “Turkey offers a genuine alternative to Spain and Portugal, where they have probably been before. There are so many good courses here that Turkey has a definite chance and the weather is fantastic.”
Chandler was visiting Turkey with the top eight players in the World Ranking to play the World Golf Final, won by Justin Rose. But at the end of the week Turkey as a destination won the hearts and minds of all the visitors.
Tiger Woods had no doubt that Turkish golf would soon be soaring, handing credit to the fledgling Turkish Golf Federation. Casting his eyes to the distant mountains, he said: “Turkey can become a significant destination. I want to play golf all over the world and I will definitely be coming back here.
“This is a good venue and if I can put some focus on Turkey and the development of its junior programme so much the better.” Sure, Tiger may have felt obliged to say the right thing at the right time, but the other seven players competing on the PGA Sultan course – Rory McIlroy, Westwood, Hunter Mahan, Schwartzel, Rose, Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar – echoed everything the world No.1 had said, and more.
Simpson, winner of the 2012 US PGA Championship saw Antalya as a possible venue for his American friends. He told me: “It is not hard to get to at this time of year when many parts of the States are getting colder while it is beautiful here.
“The game is growing quickly in these parts and I just hope I can make it back to the tournament next time. After the way golf has taken off in South Korea and Japan a lot of people predict the same will happen in Turkey.”
Simpson is hoping to take his course development ideas to the Turkish capital, Istanbul, where there are just two courses for 20 million people. He wants to enhance facilities and boost the burgeoning junior golf academies. Turkey, a hotbed of football, has yet to produce a professional golfer of note but that, and the ambition to stage big tournaments, demonstrates the appetite for growth.
The Antalya courses and the 45 hotels provide plenty for the visitors to enjoy. High seasons are October/November and March until May. Rates vary slightly between seasons but the courses appear to remain constant in their condition and presentation.
One course, the Lydia Links, skirts the Mediterranean shore in a clever attempt to replicate some of the British and Irish links courses. They certainly have the prevailing wind and four holes, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth have the ‘linksy’ feel.
The Turks point out that from 36,000 courses world wide only 300 are considered true links and Lydia Links is one of them. The ratio may be open to argument!
The Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club, designed by former Ryder Cup captain Monty, is described as seaside/parkland/forest which just about covers everything.
All are ‘resort courses’ which means they are generously fair and available to hackers and scratch men alike. Interestingly, Westwood shot 61 and 64 on the par 71 Sultan course. Magnificent scoring, of course, but the fairways are wide and the length of 6,954 yards is shorter than most of the championship courses they play on when touring.
For the aesthetes there are crystal clear lakes, colourful birdlife, fairways lined with umbrella pines and eucalyptus trees set against the mountainous backdrop.
Schwartzel said it reminded him of his native South Africa while Sky TV’s on-course commentator and former European Tour winner, Wayne Riley, said the eucalyptus trees transported him back home to New South Wales.
There is certainly much to admire. Turkish golf and its tourist industry is making life attractive to the golfing visitor.
One man, Oner Uygun, managing director of Millennium Golf, is working with British travel agents and tour operators bringing golfers to Antalya. And for lovers of ancient history there are venerable towns close by. Roman Emperor Hadrian has a gate named after him. Shades of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires are all around. A two-day diversion to Istanbul could be an exciting option for the culture lovers. Back in Antalya the courses were busy with visitors from the UK, Germany, Scandinavia, the Far East, Russia and other countries.
You could play the Sultan course, walking in the footprints of Tiger and the rest for 109 euros. For some reason the Turks like payment in euros even though they are not in the European money system. The local currency, still acceptable of course, is Turkish lire Menus are in euro and the value is good, especially for those on the aforementioned allyou- can-eat-and-drink deal. Otherwise a beer, for instance, costs 3.5 euros for anyone not on an all-inclsive deal. A very few hotels prefer the half-board arrangement.
The golf is good, the weather outstanding, the value excellent and the last word goes to Justin Rose, the man who collected the £1m winner’s cheque at the end of the World Golf final. He said: “The golf courses all look fantastic. What better place to come to play some winter golf. You have the weather, the courses and the Turkish hospitality. It has all been just brilliant.” Turkish golf, most people agree, is on the march and it will be stamped even firmer on the World map when the penultimate event of the European Tour season in 2013 will be held on the same strip that beckons holiday-makers.