The moment that your backswing is interrupted by the tinny, electrically amplified song of the Muslim call to prayer, you’ll know you’re not golfing at Pinehurst any more. Although it doesn’t register yet as a golf destination for most Americans, Turkey—particularly the town of Belek, on the Mediterranean Coast—has become the new “it” place for Northern Europeans looking for a combination of five-star hotels and great golf variety at reasonable prices.
More great reasons for a visit are provided by nearby ancient sites such as the walled harbor city of Antalya, with its winding streets, boutique hotels, carpet shops, and great restaurants; the world’s best-preserved Roman amphitheater at Aspendos; and the foamy melange of cultures and great hospitality that the Turks are famous for. Turkey is a place were East and West meet in everything from architecture to culture to cuisine. Our stay at the Gloria Serenity Resort made for a perfect base of operations to visit nine of Belek’s fifteen golf courses, take a few cultural tours, and be able to return to the peaceful elegance of a world-class hostelry each night.
Possibly the best golf course around Belek is the 7,135-yard Montgomerie, associated with an upscale Papillon Hotel. Opened in 2008, the course winds through mature pine forests and sculpted dunes close enough to the Mediterranean to taste salt on the breeze. Beloved European tour player Colin Montgomerie created a course where nearly every hole is not only different from every other, but also surprising in some way—often because a pine tree or two have been left within the playing field, forcing a decision of some kind—or demanding a particularly shaped shot. While a few of the trees definitely bear removing (unfortunately I didn’t have a chain saw in my bag), they generally create interest on this meticulously maintained and always intriguing layout. Follow your round with a grilled kebab and an Efes pilsner on the deck of the sprawling clubhouse to enjoy even further Turkish delights.
Hole 1 (522 yards, par 5)
The course opens by demanding a first tee shot hit underneath tall pines loitering along the right side, but which doesn’t curve into a flotilla of waste bunkers lurking along the left. A mound field grows between the bunkers and the fairway, which is itself flat—if you can find it. The second landing area capers narrowly between bunkers and trees—the bunkers run all the way to the green and eventually dart across the fairway, requiring a high, soft, air-mailed approach.
Hole 4 (527 yards, par 5)
This scythe of a hole curving left around a large lake features an aqueduct left of the tee and water left of an elegant stand of pines, with the fairway tapering off left toward the hazard. Engineer your second shot just short of wetlands. The hole will play easier if you’re between the sentry trees and the water to the left, but you’ll still face a 200-yard poke over water to a green that’s moderately welcoming— unless you hit the edges, which may deflect your ball to a watery fate.
Hole 5 (205 yards, par 3)
This long short hole plays over a reed-lined, bulk-headed pond with a humped pot bunker protecting the bailout area to the left. Look for the Scottish castle of a clubhouse through the trees to the right if you can stop focusing on the golf demands for a moment.
Hole 7 (420 yards, par 4)
The second long par four in a row requests an initial carry over a pond. Housing is visible to the right and bunkers line the left side. Your second shot must negotiate a tree set in the middle and bunkers and moundings left and right. There’s no real strategy to consider if you can’t hit a towering shot over the pine defense protecting this #1 handicap hole.
Hole 8 (166 yards, par 3)
The third short hole on the front nine offers a peaceful respite from the course’s early demands. It plays over a tinkling stream, with no bunkers to mar the grassy paradise.
Hole 9 (408 yards, par 4)
The first hole on The Montgomerie requiring a draw off the tee features water far to the right and a fairway bending around it from left to right. The severe green boasts more tiers than a Shakespearean tragedy, and the best shot after your draw off the tee is a fade into the green, thus testing your directional skills and ability to shift gears quickly.
Hole 10 (331 yards, par 4)
Following a short walk, the short tenth hole offers distant mountain views, with the huge clubhouse just behind you. It lends a sense of having been back to civilization to re-provision (possibly with more golf balls) before re-embarking upon the golf journey. This rolly dogleg left plays downhill then uphill around an elegant pine to the left. I don’t recommend yanking a tee shot onto the adjacent par three course and then hitting out of a bunker there over towering trees to an uphill, tiered green. But it worked for me!
Hole 11 (521 yards, par 5)
The eleventh proffers a sort of Australian sandbelt look with cross bunkering slinking from left to right with a slot up the middle. White bunkers are offset by a red-colored waste area in front of the elevated green. A deep pot bunker awaits to the right.
Hole 13 (516 yards, par 5)
Trees in the middle of the fairway establish two chutes to aim for. This is the third hole on the Montgomerie that actually punishes a draw. The second shot here is very difficult depending upon where you land your drive. You may need to execute a perfect draw over a waste area and below the trees, without going too far. At 125 yards out, a tree in the fairway defends entrance to the green.
Hole 15 (302 yards, par 4)
This nearly driveable par four dogleg left whispers that you should lay up with three-wood. But who can hear with all that blood pumping? A waste bunker around the gentle corner to the left forces you to hit right or leave your tee shot far enough out to hit a high wedge over the pine tree guarding the green— unless the superintendent was in a good enough mood to set the pin on the far right. This is a hole you’ll want to play over again—and we did! Whereas we tried to hit power draws around the corner on our first attempts, we realized that a 200-yard shot to the right was really the best play as it left a short, open pitch to the green.
Hole 16 (165 yards, par 3)
From the elevated tee this hole presents a sweepy Pine Valley-esque waste area that runs into gumdrop humps in front of a green that spills left to right. It’s another par three of similar distance to many of the others here, one of the course’s few weaknesses.
Hole 17 (358 yards, par 4)
A glimpse of the clubhouse through the trees suggests that kebabs are imminent. This dogleg right is framed by forest, and a lone tree protects the right, front of the green. During our round, the pin was diabolically set at the back and up a tier, forcing a high soft shot or a ground-hugging fade.
Hole 18 (510 yards, par 5)
The long finishing hole opens invitingly after playing through a chute of trees. Clear the large waste area and the spacious green will prove as welcoming as the Turkish people.