Golf has found its way to most corners of the world but nowhere has its presence been felt more extensively over the course of the last decade than Turkey.
Around 20 years ago golf had barely scratched the surface in Turkey but in two decades it has become a significant player on the golfing scene.
Given its only recent love of the game, it seems remarkable to say – but Belek is truly one of the world’s golfing hotspots, offering an array of top-quality golf as well as world-class hotels.
hey are all contained in one stretch of golfing paradise in Belek, rather in the way of a modern, foreign and glitzy version of the links of Southport, East Lothian, Kent or Ayrshire.
Why has Turkey become so big in golf so quickly? Quite simply, golfers like it – and it’s easy to understand why. Nice weather, good courses, value for money, a shortish flight, classy hotels and plenty to do away from the course. What’s not to like?
So, golfers have flocked to Turkey in their droves and it is now a serious player on the golf scene.
Indeed, they hosted eight of the finest golfers in the world in the Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals in the autumn (and even though it didn’t produce the Rory-Tiger final the organisers dreamed of, it was an undoubted success – the former even admitted he was just as happy lazing in the sun by the pool as on the course… in October! – at Antalya GC, which also hosted the Eisenhower Trophy this year) and have announced a lucrative event on the European Tour for the end of the 2013 schedule.
This interest in the professional game is fuelled by two things: firstly, to further establish their position as a player at the top table of the Royal & Ancient game; and secondly to demonstrate they are capable of hosting top-level sporting events to enhance their chances of luring the Olympics to Turkey.
Either way, it is good news for golfers – because this is one of the few areas of the world which is building, progressing and improving. And of course as it remains popular and as it continues to make money, the capital is there to keep getting better – the polar opposite of the situation which is afflicting some of its competitors in western Europe.
Turkey has two inherent advantages over its western Europe opposition; as well as benefiting from a fantastic year-round climate, it is not in the Euro. And without wishing to turn into an election manifesto for the UK Independent Party, you would have to have lived a long way from Europe in the last four years not to realise what benefits that brings.
Unburdened by the constraints of the euro, Turkey sets its prices as it chooses and to suit its own economy. Economic discussion over, what does this mean for golfers? Lower prices.
Just in the same way as one of the few benefits of the mess of Greece leaving the euro would be its ability to offer very cheap sunshine breaks to British and German holidaymakers, Turkey is already 1-up on the 1st tee in terms of golf break prices.
Few golfers simply book just on price though – the product has to be right. Cheap golf isn’t always the correct choice and golfers don’t want to fly four hours to play on boring, unattractive and poorly condition courses.
That description doesn’t apply to Turkey – or rather, we should now start to say, Belek, because while the general advantages of sun and value are relevant to the whole of Turkey, almost all of the golf is in this holiday haven on the country’s south coast.
Belek is home to 14 courses within 11 clubs, many of which are part of luxurious, all-inclusive hotel complexes.
They are: Montgomerie Maxx Royal, Cornelia Faldo, Antalya (Pasha & Sultan), Lykia, Sueno (Pines & Dunes), Carya, Gloria (Old & New), TAT International, Robinson (Nobilis), National Golf Club and Kaya Eagles.
Let’s start with putting a bit more meat on the bones of Antalya, host recently of Rory, Tiger, Westwood and Rose.
It is home to two courses – the PGA Sultan and the Pasha – both of which were built by the renowned European Golf Design team who also laid out the likes of the thrill-a-minute TwentyTen course at Celtic Manor.
The Sultan is the premier venue but is backed up impressively by the Pasha. The former opened in 2003 and European Golf Design were aided by input from Senior Tour star David Jones.
The PGA Sultan is a long course at 7,100 yards, and is a serious challenge for even strong players – including the world No 1 and 2! – with water hazards, large bunkers and tall trees. It is more exacting than the Pasha, which opened a year earlier and provides more gentle holiday golf if the correct tees are chosen.
At 6,350 yards, the Pasha is immaculately manicured, with undulating greens, water hazards and eucalyptus and pine trees lining its fairways and making accuracy crucial as well as making the doglegs strategically testing. Set in 140 hectares of pine and eucalyptus forest, The Montgomerie was designed by the 2010 Ryder Cup captain and is testing, with plenty of water.
Colin Montgomerie announced himself especially pleased with this design, which was formerly known as Papillon. He and his design team routed the course through sandy ridges with fairways lined by clumps of pine and eucalyptus forest. The Maxx Royal Hotel is one of the finest in Belek – no mean accolade.
His predecessor as Europe’s captain has also worked in the region and Sir Nick Faldo’s Cornelia creation is not just one of the best in Belek it is one of continental Europe’s finest courses. A 27-hole complex, Sir Nick’s input will mean you won’t be surprised to learn it is a testing course with water playing a significant role – witness the 9th, with lakes on both sides of the fairway.
The three loops of nine are interwoven around the two fabulous hotels and just like the golf, these are right out of the top drawer. Of the three loops, the Prince combination is thought to be the best – but as at (coincidentally) Prince’s in Kent, any mix is a good day out.
If you want to go to one resort and never move from it, Gloria is a good bet – one of the largest facilities in Europe.
It comprises an incredible 45 holes (two 18-holers and one nine-hole) as well as a fantastic practice facility. You genuinely could play here every day for a week and not get bored!
Home to two class tracks – the Pines and the Dunes – Sueno Golf & Country Club offers golf for all levels and features great holes, including ones with island greens. Opened in late 2007, it is one of the best in the area.
With fantastic beaches, sightseeing, shopping and watermarks, Belek has something to keep everyone happy. Now we move to two different kind of courses more usually associated with British golf than holiday golf: a heathland and links.
Carya was designed by Open legend Peter Thomson and was inspired by Wentworth and Sunningdale. This heathland track is dominated by heather with water and trees also present to catch wayward shots.
To give you a taste of something a different from the normal diet of parkland-style courses, Carya is first class.
The same could be said of LykiaLinks; rather than the Surrey heathlands, it was inspired by Scottish links and Perry Dye was delighted to be given this design task.
It is the only links in the area (although it is a little way from the cluster) and is one of the few genuine links in continental Europe. It is perched right next to the sea and a gorgeous stretch of sandy beach. Dye, son of the legendary Pete, was careful not to be too clever with his design, meaning he has produced a quirky, interesting course rather than a manufactured one.
Hence, the ridge which runs through the middle of the course results in lots of archetypal links holes the like of which you never see except by the sea.
There are even proper mounds and blind shots – plus a view of the sea from every hole. The most dramatic spell is the four holes from the 13th – carved among the dunes, this is as good as golf outside of GB&I gets.
TAT International, Robinson (Nobilis), National Golf Club and Kaya Eagles are all perfectly enjoyable courses, just less dramatic than the others – but that’s not to say a day out at any of them will leave you disappointed.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that even if you discount golf, Belek is a fabulous holiday destination – meaning it is entirely possible to combine a family holiday with the odd round here and there. With fantastic beaches, sightseeing, shopping and watermarks, Belek has something to keep everyone happy.
Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?