Contributed by John
Hopkins for GlobalGolfPost
Merhaba. That’s what they say to one another by way of greeting in Turkey.
Merhaba or hello.
The buzz word in golf
at the moment is momentum. And momentum right now is with Turkey, where big tournaments,
amateur and professional, have been staged for the past three weeks.
First came the Espirito Santo, the women’s world amateur team championship
in Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. This was followed by the Eisenhower
Trophy, the men’s equivalent at the same venue. Last week, it was the turn of
the Turkish Airlines
World Golf Final, an eight-man spectacular involving Tiger Woods and Rory
McIlroy, among others, playing at a medal-matchplay
format with a purse of $5.2 million and a first prize of $1.5 million. There
were posters all around Antalya: “Masters meet in Turkey. Tiger v Rory.”
As if this wasn’t enough, midway through the matchplay event the European
Tour and the Turkish Golf Federation announced that from November 7-10 next
year the Turkish Open will take place at the Montgomerie course for a purse of
$7m and a field of 78 players. Significantly, this event will be immediately
before the season-ending Race to Dubai World Championship, which could be the
start of an end of season series of events on the European Tour to rival the FedEx Cup in the US.
“For years the PGA Tour in the US has been drumming into us that we need new
venues and new countries,” Chubby Chandler, the promoter of the matchplay
event and the Turkish Open, said. “Now we are.”
What was it we knew Turkey for? Turkish baths, Turkish Delight (note: a
sugar-coated jelly sweet), Turkish coffee, cold turkey, turkey shoot. Now, it’s
golf in Turkey. They’re trying to make a country that has fewer than 6,000
golfers and not even 25 golf courses, a Turkish delight.
The reason for this is a forthcoming Olympics. Istanbul, Turkey’s second
city, is bidding to be the host city for the 2020 Games. Madrid, one of the
other candidates, is surely out of the race because of Spain’s well-documented
financial woes. Tokyo has already held the summer games (and Sapporo in that
country the winter games). This leaves Turkey and Istanbul in prime position,
which is why Turkish Airlines put up perhaps $15 million to stage the World
Golf Final and why Turkey is blowing its own trumpet so loudly at present.
“We believe our bid is strong because Turkey has become one of the strongest
economies in the world in the past decade,” Suat Kilic, Minister for Youth and
Sports, said. “More importantly, Turkey hosted a number of huge events in this
time frame and, furthermore, it proved to the world what it is capable of as a
country by way of making the best of these events.”
In Belek in Antalya there is a 15-mile strip of land adjoining the
Mediterranean that has been turned into something of a golfers’ paradise, and
attracts 135,000 golfers each year, mainly from Germany, the UK and
“It’s the only compact golf venue in the world,” Ahmet Agaoglu, president of
the Turkish Golf Federation, said. “There are 15 courses on a 15-mile coastline
and 52 four-star hotels. Not bad, eh?” At that, Agaoglu, who has the slight
build and flat stomach of a former 800m runner (“my best time was 2.04. Even
the turtles can go faster than that nowadays.”) gave a satisfied smile.
David Jones, the former European Tour player, has had a hand in the design
of many of the courses on this stretch of golfing territory.
“You used to be able to fly to Antalya, drive down to Belek and go along the
road and to the right there was nothing, not even a rusty old shed,” Jones
said. “Now, you need only a wedge to hit a ball from Tat to Novila, a distance
of 15 miles, and only in one place, from the Montgomerie course to the Gloria
course, would you need any club longer than a wedge.
“Of the 14 courses, eight are Tour standard,” he added. “You’d have to go a
long way to find so many good courses in such a small space of land.”
For pure golf, the only areas that match it are those in the Sand Belt in
Melbourne, Australia, the Lancashire coast in England, and the west coast in
For all this enthusiasm for golf though, the past few weeks in Turkey haven’t gone as
well as the enthusiastic (sometimes over-enthusiastic) members of the host
nation would have wished. There have been the continuing rumbles of trouble
with Syria, 500 miles away, and on Wednesday night a Syrian plane en route from
Moscow to Damascus was forced down and detained at Ankara airport.
In an embarrassing incident, Agaoglu got involved in a scuffle with photographers.
And then it rained very heavily and one day’s play in the matchplay event had to be abandoned barely one week after
one day’s play had been wiped out in the Eisenhower Trophy.
Suddenly, the future of golf in Turkey did not seem quite so rosy as it had
at the start of the week. As anyone who has overseen the growth of a child
knows, the first steps are the most difficult.
Gule gule (good-bye).
PHOTO: Getty Images