WGT Golf News

  • Golf And Turkey: Who Knew?

    15 Oct 2012

    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 Scandinavia.

    “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 Scotland.

    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

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