TURK­ISH DE­LIGHT

BELEK'S NUMER­OUS RE­SORT COUR­SES MAKE FOR AN EX­CEL­LENT VALUE-FOR-MONEY GOLF DES­TI­NA­TION IN SOUTH­ERN TURKEY.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - 3-Wood V 3-Hybrid - BY STU­ART MCLEAN

WHEN RORY MCIL­ROY

thought it best to stay away from Turkey for rea­sons of per­sonal safety, he was wor­ried that as a celebrity his se­cu­rity might be com­pro­mised by ex­trem­ists. But by fail­ing to ful­fil an obli­ga­tion to com­pete in the Turk­ish Air­lines Open last Novem­ber he was do­ing a dis­ser­vice to a re­gion that has be­come one of the most at­trac­tive and safest golf des­ti­na­tions in the world to­day. The Mediter­ranean town of Belek in south­ern Turkey is a cen­tre of the coun­try’s tourist in­dus­try, its shore­line lined with a mul­ti­tude of re­sorts that are the ul­ti­mate in lux­ury, com­fort, value and ser­vice. It has the Land of Leg­ends theme park. Golf was tagged on as an ex­tra at­trac­tion, thanks to enor­mous reser­voirs of water which made it pos­si­ble to sus­tain a vast ar­ray of golf cour­ses in Au­gusta-like con­di­tion­ing.

From my sixth-floor ho­tel room I looked out over a vast for­est of pine trees in­land from the sea which is home to 243 golf holes, numer­ous prac­tice ranges, and sump­tu­ous club­houses. It is wall-to-wall green­ery in a rel­a­tively arid part of the world. If golf had never come to South Africa, the golf­ing tourism ex­per­i­ment in Turkey would be the equiv­a­lent of our hav­ing 15 cour­ses at Fan­court, and a hand­ful else­where.

I was in Belek as a com­peti­tor in the an­nual Turk­ish Air­lines World Golf Cup, one of the most glob­ally reach­ing cor­po­rate events in the game. In 2016 there were 100 in­di­vid­ual Stable­ford qual­i­fy­ing events in 61 dif­fer­ent coun­tries from Fe­bru­ary to Oc­to­ber, and I won early on at Pearl Val­ley. There was an­other qual­i­fier at Royal Johannesburg & Kens­ing­ton, won by Sadiq Din­dar, and the two of us were South Africa’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the week-long Grand Fi­nals, where we not only played a 36-hole tour­na­ment, but were VIP guests for the du­ra­tion of the Turk­ish Air­lines Open.

For the com­peti­tors it was a five-star ex­pe­ri­ence, start­ing with busi­ness class flights to An­talya in Turkey, and for my­self a cul­tural eye-opener in that I shared golf­ing part­ners from the likes of Egypt, Kaza­khstan, Iran, Pak­istan, Malta, Hol­land, Brazil and Ja­pan. I’ve sel­dom seen a more com­pet­i­tive group of golfers. You had to queue for a spot on the prac­tice range prior to our shot­gun morn­ing starts.

Here in South Africa we take for granted how ad­vanced we are in terms of our knowl­edge of a com­plex game. Con­form­ing to ex­pected be­hav­iour on the course comes nat­u­rally to us. For play­ers from golf’s de­vel­op­ing coun­tries it re­mains a mine­field of ob­sta­cles, ex­tend­ing from rules to eti­quette, which they are still ab­sorb­ing. Eh­san, from Tehran, whose wife never left his side, be­ing both cad­die and interpreter, hit the ball beau­ti­fully, but was baf­fled by the in­tri­ca­cies of a tree-lined course filled

with haz­ards of ev­ery de­scrip­tion. Stable­ford was a for­eign word to many; com­peti­tors were thus told to record their score for each hole, and a com­puter would work out the points. As a re­sult, ev­ery­one kept play­ing un­til their ball was in the hole. On each tee we spent sev­eral min­utes ask­ing each other what we had scored on the pre­vi­ous hole, as if we had been play­ing blind­folded. Rounds lasted be­tween five and six hours.

TI­TANIC DELUXE

We were ac­com­mo­dated at the Ti­tanic Deluxe re­sort, an ap­pro­pri­ately named ho­tel which looked like it could have dwarfed the ill-fated ocean liner. It was at the far western end of the golf­ing land­scape, on a river rather than the beach­front, and with a 27-hole fa­cil­ity that is far down the peck­ing order of lo­cal cour­ses in terms of rep­u­ta­tion. And yet I thought it was rather good, and chal­leng­ing. Only two of the 98 fi­nal­ists played to their handicaps over the 36 holes. The first prize, which went to Amer­i­can Thomas Buckley (38-35=73), was a draw in the Turk­ish Air­lines Open pro-am with Mas­ters Cham­pion Danny Wil­lett.

There was time for me to ex­plore some of the re­gion’s other golf cour­ses, to gain an over­view of what it had to of­fer. The cour­ses are com­pacted, and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, yet get­ting to them re­quires ex­pen­sive trans­port. My taxi ride from Ti­tanic to the other end of the golf­ing strip, the Glo­ria Re­sort, driv­ing con­tin­u­ously past golf cour­ses and through Belek, took al­most 15 min­utes, and the re­turn fare was R640.

You can hire a car, which is use­ful if you’re trav­el­ling to other towns in the re­gion, but the most sen­si­ble ar­range­ment for golfers vis­it­ing Belek is to seek a pack­age whereby you stay at a re­sort and have a travel com­pany de­liver you to the cour­ses you wish to play. Or you can play un­lim­ited golf at your own re­sort. Best then to pick one which has 36 holes, to pro­vide va­ri­ety.

Wher­ever I went there were buses from Bilyana Golf Hol­i­days fer­ry­ing golfers about, and their web­site has a wide range of out-of-sea­son pack­ages for a week’s stay. In terms of value, Belek is sim­i­lar to South Africa, pos­si­bly cheaper at cer­tain times of the year when you fac­tor in that ac­com­mo­da­tion is in­clu­sive of meals. Out-of-sea­son, by the way, is not cool and damp. I was there in Novem­ber, which is au­tumn, and the weather was truly epic. Warm, calm days where you can lie on the beach and swim in the sea. A per­fect sea­son for golfers. In the height of sum­mer it’s ex­tremely hot.

Dur­ing the Turk­ish Air­lines Open the play­ers stayed at the up­mar­ket Reg­num Carya Re­sort & Spa, ad­join­ing the mag­nif­i­cent Carya course, ranked No 3 in Turkey, but in my opin­ion pos­si­bly the best. Out of sea­son a pack­age there can cost as lit­tle as R10 000 a per­son for a week, with un­lim­ited golf at both Carya and the neigh­bour­ing National Golf Club, one of the orig­i­nal cour­ses when the area was first de­vel­oped in 1994.

Carya is one of two cour­ses which of­fer night golf through the use of flood­lights, the other be­ing Mont­gomerie Maxx, which hosted the Turk­ish Air­lines Open from 2013 to 2015. It’s a Peter Thom­son de­sign, opened in 2008, and redo­lent of Pine­hurst or Au­gusta National with its tow­er­ing Stone Pines lin­ing un­du­lat­ing fair­ways, and beau­ti­ful bunker­ing. It was a pleas­ant course to walk dur­ing the Open, and the greens com­plexes were fas­ci­nat­ing just to look at. The prac­tice put­ting green was most dis­tinc­tive, un­du­lat­ing over more than 50 me­tres. In the club­house pro shop there were no Pro V1s for sale, but you could buy a sleeve of three Ja­panese Honma balls for over R300.

LYKIA LINKS

While all the top cour­ses are sideby-side in this area (fenced off from each other), the No 1 ranked lay­out is cu­ri­ously out­side Belek, fur­ther along the coast. It’s not far as the crow flies, but is a lengthy drive. It’s the Lykia Links, and I spent a day there, savour­ing the unique­ness of this mod­ern sea­side lay­out by Perry Dye, son of Pete Dye.

It’s unique inas­much that ev­ery other course in Belek is park­land in char­ac­ter, while Lykia is tree­less among low dunes, linksy in de­sign and looks, although too soft un­der­foot to repli­cate the firm con­di­tions of proper sea­side golf. But it was fab­u­lous fun to play, in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, with gen­er­ously wide fair­ways, and quiet in the af­ter­noon of the day I vis­ited. It’s also a course where you can ap­pre­ci­ate the beau­ti­ful moun­tain range that runs

‘A WEEK AT A TOP RE­SORT, WITH UN­LIM­ITED GOLF, CAN COST AS LIT­TLE AS R10 000.’

par­al­lel to the coast.

Lykia Links is ranked No 22 in Con­ti­nen­tal Europe by the web­site Top 100 Golf Cour­ses, but it is hard to jus­tify such an el­e­vated stand­ing. The prop­erty has no spec­tac­u­lar qual­i­ties, and some of the holes near­est the sea were plain in char­ac­ter.

Gen­er­ally the cour­ses weren’t too busy, even though Novem­ber has al­ways been a pop­u­lar month for tourism in Belek. How­ever, vis­i­tor num­bers have been re­duced by the coun­try’s many ter­ror­ism at­tacks, mainly in Is­tan­bul, and McIl­roy is not the only golfer to have been scared away. This has ob­vi­ously low­ered prices, so hol­i­day­ing at these re­sorts has be­come some­thing of a bar­gain right now.

The big­gest fa­cil­ity in Belek is the Glo­ria Re­sort, with 45 holes, plus im­pres­sive prac­tice fa­cil­i­ties and a fab­u­lous club­house. The Old Course opened in 1997, the New Course in 2005, and the Verde 9-holer is of an equally good qual­ity, although it was de­serted on the day I was there. Glo­ria has been host to numer­ous tour­na­ments, in­clud­ing those on the Euro­pean Se­nior and Chal­lenge tours, plus the women’s World Am­a­teur Team Cham­pi­onships in 2012. Stun­ning re­sort vil­las bor­der the perime­ters of the cour­ses.

If I had walked in to the pro shop with­out a book­ing and asked to play, the rack rate for 18 holes at Glo­ria would have been about R1 600, and that’s roughly the av­er­age green fee in Belek. This un­der­lines the im­por­tance of book­ing a pack­age hol­i­day which in­cludes golf. The cour­ses are of a uni­formly ex­cel­lent qual­ity, and well looked after, yet there’s sel­dom a sense of hav­ing your breath taken away on the first tee, as you can ex­pe­ri­ence at the best cour­ses in South Africa.

Part of the prob­lem prob­a­bly lies in the flattish ter­rain, nar­row play­ing cor­ri­dors, the ab­sence of views, and also the lack of big-name de­sign­ers em­ployed to build the cour­ses. Most of them have been Bri­tish, with Nick Faldo the most fa­mous, hav­ing de­signed 27 holes at the Cor­nelia Re­sort, the near­est fa­cil­ity to Belek it­self. I didn’t play there, but the holes are said by web­site re­view­ers to be some­what tricked up.

Driv­ing from the air­port at the city of An­talya to Belek, about 40 min­utes away, the roads were adorned with posters of McIl­roy. He, Tiger Woods and Pa­trick Reed were the three big names due to play in the Turk­ish Air­lines Open, and sadly for the event none of them turned up. Golf’s ma­jor stars first came to this part of the world in 2012 with an eight-man ex­hi­bi­tion match­play event, won by Justin Rose, and that evolved into the cur­rent tour­na­ment which is part of the Race to Dubai Fi­nal Se­ries.

That first event was played at An­talya Golf Club, a 36-hole fa­cil­ity at­tached to the Sirene Belek Ho­tel, and the Sul­tan Course is ranked No 2 in Turkey. It dif­fers from all the oth­ers in that the back nine ap­pears from above to have as much water as it does grass. Large lakes bor­der sev­eral of the fair­ways, and make for a chal­leng­ing fin­ish to the round.

If you’re look­ing for a break from golf, or your re­sort, the area is home to the ru­ins of an­cient cities which are all worth an out­ing. This part of Asia Mi­nor was once ruled by the Per­sians, Alexan­der the Great, and the Ro­mans, who more than 2 000 years ago built most of the sites that re­main, such as at Perge, the Aspendos am­phithe­atre (up­river from the Lykia Links), and Side, now a re­sort town.

‘STUN­NING RE­SORT VIL­LAS BOR­DER THE THREE COUR­SES AT GLO­RIA.’

Pre­vi­ous page: This aerial view of the PGA Sul­tan course at An­talya Golf Club cap­tures the beauty of the Belek beach­front re­sorts and the golf­ing ter­rain. Above: Den­mark’s Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen tees off from the roof of a re­sort villa on the 16th hole at Carya Golf Club. OIe­sen won the Turk­ish Air­lines Open. Right: Golfers re­lax at the Glo­ria club­house.

The tenth hole at Lykia Links is one of the most im­pres­sive at a course ranked No 1 in Turkey.

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