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|Sensuous shaping is a feature of Turkey's LykiaLinks Antalya. (Courtesy of Alternative Travel)|
BELEK, Turkey -- Ancient ruins, sandy beaches, spectacular waterfalls, historic towns, majestic mountains, interesting cuisine and an extraordinarily benign climate evidently aren't enough to attract today's demanding tourist.
To compete effectively with other appealing destinations, it's absolutely essential, even for the very cradle of civilization, to offer golf as well; not least because we golfers, with our high disposable incomes and frightfully good manners, make attractive tourists who are happy to holiday in what would otherwise be regarded as low season.
And so it was that golf began in Belek in 1994 when two Davids from the Emerald Isle, Messers Feherty and Jones, created the National Golf Club.
The formerly sleepy fishing village, principally famous for the Caretta turtles laying eggs on its beaches, subsequently morphed into a magnificent golf and holiday destination.
Although still primarily a seaside resort, today it contains no fewer than 14 courses, which is pretty well Turkey's entire complement. Insiders say at least another half-a-dozen new ones are needed to cope with demand.
Belek also boasts dozens of five-star hotels. Returning turtles must marvel at the changes and wonder where it will all end.
One of the principal attractions of this delightful destination -- to golfers perhaps more than the turtles -- is that it's only 45 minutes from Antalya airport.
Bordering on the Mediterranean and blessed with sandy beaches, there is a sizeable strip of real estate just inland from the beach that is absolutely ideal for golf and is leased out by the government for 50 years at a time.
Originally swampy, pine trees have been planted on the sandy soil to create what is now perfect-golfing terrain not unlike the Surrey heathland belt southwest of London or the forests around Pinehurst, N.C.
It also has the considerable benefit of a water table a little more than a deep divot below the surface. So attractive water features are sprinkled everywhere. What land hasn't already been converted is almost certainly earmarked for golf.
Almost as impressive as the courses themselves are the attached clubhouses, which are huge, glass-plated, marble-floored, no-expense-spared, mini palaces. But even they are eclipsed on the Las Vegas Scale of Sumptuousness by the spectacular, way-over-the-top, five-star, leviathan hotels.
Built of biblical proportions, these gargantuan establishments are principally populated by Eastern European families for whom the Turkish Riviera appears irresistibly appealing. For the moment they seem content to play chess and ping-pong, but the worry for the rest of us is that one day they'll discover golf and clog up the courses.
I stayed in a spectacular hotel that, nominally at least, appeared to cater specifically for golfers.
Although Leetonia Golf Resort has no course of its own, it's ideally located and contains a driving range, mini golf and putting green. Like its many neighbors, it offers a bewildering range of recreational activities that could keep you occupied all day before the in-house entertainment takes over at night.
The "all-inclusive" concept means you don't have to pay for any of it, and all drinks and meals are also included. Although you'll have to shell out to play golf, the hotel is happy to book tee times for you and can secure a worthwhile discount at most, if not all, of the courses.
Having played most of them, I can honestly say that I've yet to find a less-than-impressive one. They are all terrific, but here are my three favorites.
Because the topography and trees are pretty much the same, it's difficult to create anything dramatically distinctive. That, however, is precisely what Peter Thomson has achieved at Carya Golf Club.
By deploying thousands of heather plants he has, in effect, produced a little bit of Scotland near the shores of the Mediterranean; a feat that bears comparison with winning the British Open five times.
The heather appears to be flourishing on the sandy soil, especially on top of the 75 or so bunkers. Measuring a challenging 7,168 yards from the back, Carya weaves its peaceful way through a pine forest and is surely destined to become recognized as one of Belek’s best, while the 150-yard long putting green must surely be a strong candidate should anyone be interested in staging a Long Putting World Championship.
A half-hour drive away from Belek is lovely LykiaLinks Antalya. Like an art expert peering at a suspect Rembrandt, I honestly couldn't tell whether the "dunes" were genuine. What baffled me was they weren't "igloos" but were shaped exactly like, er, well -- dunes.
The bunkers have distinctive wooden sleepers behind them, and the overall effect is totally and utterly convincing. If it weren't for the fact that the sun was shining and it was delightfully warm, once again you could easily have imagined you were in Scotland!
Finally, there are the two golf courses at the mightily impressive Sueno resort. Here, guests can gaze down from their lofty bedrooms onto both 18th greens, which occupy neighboring islands.
Sueno's Pines Course is the tougher of the two and a potential European Tour venue. Long and pretty tight in places, it's a serious challenge and, as its name suggests, heavily wooded.
Meanwhile the atmospheric Sueno Dunes Course, which has an appealing and slightly wild feel, meanders through the forest and offers a mix of scenic views, island greens and impressive waste bunkers.
Belek is blessed with pretty well everything you want in a golf destination and is mercifully inexpensive, so why not try a slice of Turkey some time soon?
October 18, 2011
Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.
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