Ed Butler is a 7-handicapper from West Sussex, England.
Ed went to the Belek region in Turkey’s Antalya province for his wedding anniversary and bartered spa treatments for tee-times with his wife.
Did he think Turkish Golf was a delight or did the prices give him a fright?
Bangers and mash, Sir Steve Redgrave and gold medals, Carlos Tevez and controversy, some things seem to have been made for each other.
So when someone says that Turkey is now the place to play golf in continental Europe you would be forgiven for thinking they didn’t know their strokeplay from their matchplay.
I first heard about the Turkish golf resort of Belek in 2008, when my wife and I were thinking of holidaying somewhere in Turkey.
Back then, we were in the early days of our relationship and not wanting to ruin things I decided upon a resort without golf.
However, the desire to play in Belek proved too much and this month I managed to get a week of golf past the wife, with her only stipulation being that whichever hotel we chose had to have a spa.
Off we went to our local travel agents and booked an all-inclusive 7-day holiday to the Gloria Serenity.
Gloria Resorts are golf central in Belek
Gloria Resorts, of which there are three, have a long history of golf in Belek and many of the British golfers play the Gloria Old and New courses when staying out there (more on this later).
Obviously, not booking with a golf operator meant I had to organize my games independently and so I hit the web.
Never knowingly under prepared, I compiled a list of the courses in Belek and noted how close they were to our hotel.
Taxi for Butler
I also had to take enough Euros with me for three rounds and the taxis that I would need to get me from our hotel to the courses and back.
I chose three courses, the PGA Antayla Sultan, the National and Carya Golf Club.
If I could squeeze 9 holes on the Gloria Old so much the better, but I didn’t want to test the resolve of my wife, especially as the purpose of the holiday was to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary.
Lost out to the Ladies
My first mistake was not checking with the individual golf clubs before I travelled as I soon realized that my first choice, the National, was closed for the Ladies European Tour Turkish Open, so I couldn’t play there.
The National would have been nice and I have been told that it is probably in the top-two in Belek, so I was sorry not to give it a go.
But all’s well that ends well as my hotel concierge made sure I got early tee times on the Sultan and Carya.
Being a relatively decent player and (I hate to admit this, but it’s true) a bit of a golf snob, I was at pains to play golf clubs rather than golf resorts.
Choosing the right club
In my opinion there is a clear difference between a club and a resort and you can see it in any country you choose to play.
Normally the green fees vary accordingly between the two types of golf destinations but in Belek this wasn’t necessarily the case with the average green fee being €100.
What I wanted to avoid at all costs was to be directly behind a group of beer drinking lads zigzagging across the fairways and terrorizing all and sundry on their golf carts.
As a result of my snobbery I told my hotel concierge in no uncertain terms that I wanted to play with other golfers of my ability (I play off a solid 7 handicap).
A fellow English player would be a bonus but I wasn’t too fussed either way, I just wanted to sample some of these Turkish delights.
With this in mind I ruled out a few courses straight away.
Big name designers didn’t seal the deal
Two of the courses in Belek have been designed by two of golf’s leading lights, Nick Faldo’s Cornelia and the Colin Montgomerie’s new course.
Nice as they might be, I viewed them with trepidation as I thought that many a golfer would want to play them just so they have said they have played that course.
The image of playing behind these kind of golfers for 5 and a half hours was giving me sleepless nights.
Cornelia does rank highly in Belek and their greens are some of the best around but I just felt that I wanted to play a course that was on the list of every golf traveller.
Likewise the Montgomerie has had excellent praise for its presentation and superb greens.
I did read that there were some long carries off the tee and that there were some trees in the middle of some fairways that golfers found not only baffling but quite annoying after a good drive.
The ones that came up time and again on internet forums were the three I have mentioned above.
The only other one I would have considered playing was Lykia Links but sadly this was 50 minute drive from our hotel and the taxi there and back would have been about a greenfee so this was non starter.
This was a shame as I had heard excellent reviews on Turkey’s only links course and I would have loved to have given it a go.
With the wife relishing the prospect of her beautiful Turkish bath and copious spa treatments I was ready to play some serious golf.
Royal ranking for the Sultan
The first game I arranged was a round on the PGA Antayla Sultan course.
This course has recently joined a select band of courses Including the Old Course St Andrews in that it will be hosting the Eisenhower Trophy (World Amateur Team Championship) in October 2012.
After driving off the main road in Belek the taxi driver soon arrive at a beautiful front gate and promptly up through a lovely stretch of road leading to the hugely impressive clubhouse.
I was early and there is nothing better whilst playing golf abroad than seeing green keepers busy on the course, and the sprinklers full on producing a lovely rainbow effect with the warmth and strength of the early morning sun.
Freshly cut grass also cannot fail to whet the appetite of the first tee shot and to see what kind of test awaits you.
The course was in pristine condition when I went out at 8:30am with my two English and one German playing partners.
The course reminded me of a US stadium course and when I played it off the back tees it presented some nice driving holes.
With good par 3’s and a nice mix of risk and reward par 5’s this course was a definite challenge.
Water comes in to play in Belek a lot and at the Sultan there were probably 13 holes that you could quite easily lose your ball in the drink.
The Sultan is a great test of one’s mental game as there were no mickey-mouse holes out there. Our group made great time and it was a fun 4 and a bit hours.
My next test was on Carya Golf Club, which I had been assured was the club of choice for Turkey’s wealthiest businessmen and women.
If anything, the drive up to this course was even more breathtaking than the Sultan.
A tiny corner of Turkey that is forever England
The thing that struck me almost instantly was how very un-European the course looked.
Designed by Thomson Perrett & Lobb, the design business of Peter Thomson, the legendary Aussie golfer of the 1950’s who won five Open Championships, this championship golf course set on undulating sand hills and cutting through mature pine and eucalyptus forest, in the heart of Belek.
Thomson himself has gone on record saying:
“This is an exceptional piece of land on which to build a golf course. It is reminiscent of the famous Surrey heathland courses near London that I rate among the world’s best and which I was fortunate to enjoy much success on in my playing days.
I am very excited about the prospect of creating a classic, traditional style course in Turkey.”
He really has done a remarkable job and it does feel as though you are playing a psychedelic version of St George’s Hill or Sunningdale.
It is certainly unique to Belek in that it features so much heather that is gown on site.
What it does give is the most arresting spectacle of the tall pines framing each fairway with the heather down the edge.
Carya was a truly demanding golf course where you have to think about every shot.
One of the other key features of this course is the very strategic bunkering which was particularly evident on the superb par three holes.
I had read online that the greens had just been relaid about 8 weeks prior so naturally I was a little concerned before I left.
Actually I had nothing to fear as they were in remarkable shape considering. They were probably better than about 90% of all English greens at that time of the year.
Starting my round at 7.57am I was paired with two nice Englishmen in their fifties, who were mid teen handicaps.
We romped through in 4hrs and 2 minutes which was superb.
Edges out Spain and Portugal says Ed
This really has gone very high on my list and I would put it already above anything I have played in Spain and Portugal, including Vilamoura Old and Penina.
It feels as though you really are playing in England in 85 degree heat.
Just an absolutely brilliant golfing day and I am so pleased that most Brits prefer to go to the others down the road as it leaves these kind of courses free from some of the beer swilling types you can find playing resort golf.
If you are a single figure handicap golfer you simply must play this course.
Not so glorious on the Old
My last round was on the resort at the Gloria Old.
I wasn’t originally going to play this but due to a mistake with our hotel booking I got a free round so I decided to give it a go.
Boy, what a mistake.
Admittedly I wasn’t feeling great as I had a stomach upset but nonetheless this was one of the least enjoyable rounds of golf I have ever had.
Sadly everything I thought might happen came true.
I was put behind four English golfers who probably weren’t affiliated to a club, which clearly was no fault of theirs but they didn’t have a clue about etiquette.
They took ages and weren’t very good. I actually walked in after 8 holes through a mixture of frustration and exhaustion (mostly the former).
When I looked at my watch it said I had already played for 2.5 hours.
The course itself is ok, but there are probably six others that are better.
I would strongly urge any serious golfers to avoid this course if you have a chance to play any of the ones I have already mentioned in this article so far.
So what’s was my conclusion.
I have to say that I was bowled over by the quality of the courses, the facilities and the golf in general out in Belek.
When I go again I will probably book through a golf tour operator to keep costs down.
One thing I would advise is to take lots of golf balls.
I found that if you needed to buy a dozen new pro V1’s from a pro shop you would have to fork out a whopping €72 but at the Golf USA discount store in Belek, you could buy 10 nearly new pro VI s for €15, a significant saving.
So there you have it.
If you are looking for a different golfing experience from Spain or Portugal then Belek it is.
Just don’t all go out there and play in front of me when I am out there next.
The Editor writes:
“Thanks for this great review of your time in Belek Ed.”
Booking a golf break in Belek couldn’t be easier, there are more tour operators offering packages there than you could shake a stick at.
You can’t go wrong sticking with Golf Breaks or Your Golf Travel. A specialist is Go Turkey and for a more tailormade approach try Leisure Links Golf.
For general tourist information about Turkey, visit: www.goturkey.com