While you may be aware that Turkey was the long-time capital of both the Roman and Ottoman Empires, did you know that the country is also the home to some really exciting new golf? Perhaps you were already aware that it was Turkey, and not Holland, that gave the world the Tulip, but as I recently discovered, there is so much more in this country, including golf!
In the land where East meets West, and Europe and Asia co-exist in a single city, Turkey is certainly a must-visit destination for avid golfers who want to add some cultural variety to their life. In fact, a golf and cultural tour of Turkey should be at the top of your “Bucket List!”
If you weren’t aware of golf in Turkey, you are forgiven as it is of very recent vintage. In fact, there are only eighteen courses in the country with fifteen of them being strategically located in the southern Mediterranean coastal resort town of Belek near the city of Antalya. Passing the conveniently bunched courses on the way from the airport to our luxurious hotel, I remarked to one of my companions that we would likely be experiencing the same course “look and feel” all week. Boy, was I wrong. Somehow, each layout featured a different feel and texture, various looks and shaping, and even terrain. While I was excited about visiting an historic and different culture, the golf turned out to be so much better than I had expected. And when you add the backdrop of the nearby snow-capped Taurus Mountains reaching more than 10,000 feet into the sky, it makes for a spectacular setting to play.
Here is the story – the golf here compares favorably with any of the resort golf to be found in the States, and the logistics are simple and extremely convenient as there are fourteen courses in a narrow corridor that literally adjoin one another. The golf course challenges, conditioning, architecture (all European designers), and most amenities will delight even the most discriminating golfers. When you add that fourteen of the fifteen courses are within fifteen minutes of the lodging, it makes for such an easy way to play while on holiday. Another unusual golf feature is the use of trees as vertical hazards. The courses were built with environmental concerns in mind so the architects thought twice before removing too many trees. (Inspect every tree on any property and you will discover each is tagged with a number.) Many, though not all of the layouts, feature trees in the middle of some of the fairways, which will either interest or frustrate golfers though most of the holes were very playable.
As far as the lodging is concerned, there are a plethora of five-star beachfront hotels similar to any you might find in the US or Mexico, and the “all-inclusive” plan is a popular feature. I stayed at the Gloria Serenity Hotel that with its five hundred-meter long swimming pool, spa, and restaurants was most comfortable (www.gloria.com.tr), but there are many similar options also at very reasonable prices which is another big plus.
While I played nine courses and one 9-holer, I may not have played all the best ones, but I came pretty close. Regardless of that fact, the ones I played were plenty good enough, and I can’t imagine better. From my perspective, all were enjoyable – not a single “dog” in the group. Here is a synopsis that might help you plan your trip.
It is almost unfair to try to pick favorites among this very competitive grouping of golf courses. If I had to award a “Best Course” from the trip it would be the Montgomerie Course at the Papillon Golf Club. It is a superbly attractive golf course and in immaculate condition, and tough yet playable – a definite championship test from the tips. As for a “Most Attractive” course, the Nick Faldo-designed Cornelia Golf Club Kings Course would be my choice though it had three or four holes that were simply too severe with inadequate landing areas by water hazards or trees infringing the approach shots on long holes. As for my “Favorite Course,” the Tat Golf Golf Course – The Mediterranean gains that honor. It is an easily walkable mix of simple lay-of-the-land golf, undulating terrain, and views of the Mediterranean that make for a golf experience that I could enjoy every day!
The Old and the New Courses at the Gloria Golf Club also rate very high on my list. They have hosted some European Tour and Senior Tour events with the Old Course (1997) being mostly an exceptionally tight driving challenge featuring wooded pine avenues and the New Course (2005) offering more generous landing areas, but more water. Along with a nine-hole layout, all were designed by Michel Gayon.
The Sueno Golf Hotel has two very fine courses, The Pines and The Dunes to recommend it as does the Antalya Golf Club with its very polished Sultan and Pasha Courses. They together with the Kaya Eagles Golf Club offer a more stereotypical American look to their courses with flatter terrain, and abundance of coastal pines, and cut-and-fill water hazards and mounding ala Florida golf.
For a change of pace, about a half hour’s drive from the main strip you will discover a links-like layout fabricated by Perry Dye at the Lykia Links. Its firm humpy, bumpy fairways and quirky putting surfaces can make for a beastly test when stretched to its maximum of nearly 7,700 yards. Lykia affords many full views of the Mediterranean and is fully exposed to any wind. If you want a more secluded location with all the amenities on site, Lykia would be the call, but you will have to drive about 30 minutes to play any of the other courses.
A short drive west from the golf in Belek is the historic seaside city of Antalya with its scenic harbor and seaside cliffs, and a “must visit.” In the Old Town section of Antalya, you will encounter a seemingly endless array of quaint romantic eateries, bars, shops, and hotels that are a refreshing change of pace from the modern luxury resorts of Belek. While there, I was treated to a most scrumptious dinner at the China Garden set high on the sea cliffs reminiscent of some famous California coastal restaurants. You should try it.
Speaking of history, Turkey is ripe with it, and in the province of Antalya only minutes away in the surrounding countryside are some of the best-preserved Greek and Roman ruins in the world. You will pass ancient Roman aqueducts and theaters, but you will likely never see any ruins more spectacular than the preserved ancient city of Perge or the theater of Aspendos.
No one should ever consider a trip to Turkey without a visit to Istanbul. Hop on an hour flight from the brand new airport in Antalya to Istanbul in the northwest corner of the country, one of the truly great large cities of the world. With a bustling population of 15 million, it is a city that never sleeps, and it is also the only city that spans two continents: Asia and Europe. Chief among its menu are a seemingly inexhaustible offering of museums, great mosques, palaces, statues, bazaars, gardens, shopping, quaint cafes and trendy restaurants, and a nightlife that never rests. Its 2,500 years of history are centered upon its waterways with the Bosphorus being one of the world’s busiest and most beautiful separating the two continents and providing spectacular water vistas. It is truly a crossroads of people, culture, commerce, history, art, and entertainment – an exotic, complex, yet utterly captivating city!
As you travel away from the areas of Istanbul and Antalya, the country is sitting on many natural resources. While the nation boasts the 4th largest economy in Europe and is 11th in the world in steel production along with many abundant agricultural exports, it has many pockets that are still very poor, so don’t think that you have experienced all of the country – far from it. Either way, I felt safe and secure while visiting; and the people are friendly and most are sensitive to the importance of tourism.
Now for a few practical considerations. Visit in the spring or fall as the summers are very hot, and you are apt to encounter the rainy season from Christmas until the end of January. No golf trip to Turkey is complete without visiting the ruins or Istanbul so plan for a minimum of eight days, with at least three in Istanbul. While you can easily get around speaking English, by all means hire a local travel company to handle your transportation and arrangements as I do not recommend driving yourself. I was so very impressed by Pamfilya (www.pamfilya.com.tr). Started in 1969, it is a full-service Turkey-wide travel operator who hosted me in Antalya. You may also consider the very professional Hello Tourism (www.hellotourism.com.tr) that worked with me in Istanbul. Both can accommodate special interest tours and local guided excursions, as well as complete air packages and local golf arrangements.
One last piece of good news is that Turkish Airlines will begin non-stop service from Los Angeles to Istanbul before the end of 2010, which will make any visit to Turkey even more attractive. Currently Turkish Airlines offers daily non-stop service from both New York and Chicago to Istanbul on very new planes. I found both the food and the service to be excellent, and in both Business and First-Class you will encounter lie-flat beds that make the trip so much more refreshing. Check out: (www.turkishairlines.com)
All the golf facilities I visited had ample practice facilities, with both riding and walking carts available. All had rental clubs available though I would recommend reserving them in advance, or better yet, bringing your own as the quality varied from brand new Callaways to an old mystery brand by the name of Hispo. Distances are marked in meters so add ten percent more to the number listed on the cards or markers. All in all, everything else is very similiar to what you might encounter in the States. As for the culture and history, nothing at home in America compares to it, and you will no doubt leave Turkey with many new insights. When you add in the tasty food, the exotic goods, and friendly folks, you will appreciate why this “golf nut” found far more to savor than just the great golf.
If I had only one regret with my first trip to Turkey, it was only that it had to end so soon. I barely scratched the surface, and look forward to playing more golf and experiencing more of the wonderful culture and spirit that Turkey offers. You should join me!
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