Gate To Golf

Hosting two important events last month, Belek is a town on the make when it comes to golf tourism.

Belek in Turkey’s southern province of Antalya played host to two important events in May. One was the ‘Turkish Airlines Ladies Open’, the Turkey leg of the European Ladies Golf Tournament, the other ‘Turkish Airlines Challenge 2010’, the Turkey leg of the European Challenge Tour. Earning over 130 million euros from golf tourism last year, the area plans to bring this figure up to 155 euros by the end of 2010. And in 2012 it is hosting the World Amateurs’ Golf Championship. When we put them all together, it’s clear what distance Belek has covered in golf in just a short time.
Although golf got its start in Turkey back in 1895, the Belek story goes back a little less far. One day in the 1980’s, the late Turgut Özal, former President of Turkey, was flying from Antalya to nearby Side in a helicopter when he looked down and asked ‘What place is that?’ ‘Belek’, replied those traveling with him, adding, “It’s a swamp, no good for anything.” “Let’s develop it for golf tourism then,” countered the President. His traveling companions were taken aback.

Belek’s destiny was transformed when Özal’s plan took shape in the Sixth Five-Year Development Plan (1990-1994). The area’s first golf club, the National Golf Club, opened on November 18, 1994 over an area of approximately 230 acres.  Now there are 14 golf courses along the 15-kilometer coastal strip and 52 five-star hotels in the area, which proved itself by being chosen ‘Europe’s Best Golf Destination’ in 2008 by IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators).

With high occupancy rates almost year round, the popularity of the Belek courses is no secret. And one of the basic reasons for this is the area’s ideal climate. When Antalya’s dynamism is added to the area’s rich natural and cultural advantages, golfers never had it so good!
But the real Belek difference lies in its surprising and difficult courses. According to players in the Turkish Airlines Ladies Open, the courses are, in a word, ‘fabulous’ - even rather difficult and challenging - in terms of design, layout and condition. Even rather difficult and challenging. Don’t be surprised if the Belek courses, which push the golfer to develop different strategies during the game and which don’t forgive a miss hit, become the top choice of the world’s professional golfers in just 3-5 years.

A small white ball, 4-5 hours of slow walking, 7-8 kilometers… It strikes a person as a trifle strange at first, but the rest is history. Once you’ve started the course, there’s no turning back. It’s a calm, quiet, green and white world. It’s not for nothing that one out of every three people in the U.S. is interested in golf.  It’s a very individual but equally social sport. And it is never discouraging. Each time is a new beginning. Because if you make a bad shot, you always have hopes that the next one will be better.
Golf used to be known as the sport of the moneyed and leisured classes. But those days are over. Shoes, a glove… you can even get a good set of clubs for $1000-1500.  Club membership fees are still a little high but they too will come down as the number of courses goes up. As Carya Golf Club President Fikret Öztürk puts it, “The investors have done their job. Now it’s up to the municipalities. It’s up to them to make golf a popular sport.”