Ahmet Ağaoğlu: Full Speed Ahead in Golf

Belek on Turkey’s south coast is hosting the world golf amateur team championships in 2012. We discussed the importance of this tournament and the development of golf in Turkey with Turkish Golf Federation president Ahmet Ağaoğlu.

The amateur championships are going to be held in Turkey in 2012. What does this mean for Turkish golf, which has been on the rise in the last decade?
This is an extremely important championship. If you look at its history, some of the world’s leading golfers today like Tiger Woods, Colin Montgomerie and VJ Singh played the last amateur competitions of their careers in this tournament. What’s more, several of the leading names in world golf are going to be in Turkey for the tournament. Some 800 players and thousands of golf buffs are going to come from abroad, and the eyes of the world are going to be on our country. It’s also a great opportunity for promoting golf in Turkey.

What sort of process was involved in bringing this tournament to Turkey?
It wasn’t easy. The tournament is biennial and rotates every two years between the Americas, Europe-Africa and Asia-Australia. In other words, Europe’s turn comes every six years. We made our decision in 2006 and applied in 2008, going up against stiff competition like Italy and Austria. I won’t give their names here, but close to 20 countries went to bat for us. Another big boon for us was that the International Association of Golf Tour Operators voted Belek the world’s best golf destination in 2008. We made a very good presentation. We made contact with the vast majority of delegates. We were convinced in any case that if we explained our advantages well we would succeed. The Turkish Golf Federation was formed in 1996 and this is the first time such a young federation is hosting this event.

What are Turkey’s advantages when it comes to golf?
First of all, we have a golf destination like Belek with 15 golf courses and 52 five-star hotel golf resorts along a 15-kilometer strip. There is no place to compare in the world. In most countries the golf courses are nowhere near the hotels and you spend an hour to an hour and a half on the road. Neither the players nor the tourists are happy about that. Here it’s only five minutes from the hotels to the greens. And in some cases it’s just a few minutes’ walk. Our golf courses are extremely good ones that were designed by the world’s leading golf architects. The hotels are also new and modern. In price too they are far more reasonable than their European counterparts. Besides the facilities, Belek is also located in a spectacularly beautiful spot. Antalya will be bright and sunny in late September/early October when the tournament is going to be held. Another plus is that the golf courses are only 25 minutes from an international airport.

We made a recommendation that turned out to be quite effective. Usually two courses are used at these tournaments. The women play one week, the men the next. But we made four courses available. That way the players can come and practice to their hearts’ content and get to know the course. There’s also an advantage in having a number of different courses available. The golf managers and spectators like to play too. At other tournaments this is difficult because the courses are in use. At Belek they will be able to play all they want and have a great time. This is also an important factor.

Another key issue is Turkish Airlines’ sponsorship. As well as offering players in the tournament a 10% discount on tickets, Turkish Airlines carries one golf bag free of charge. Golf tourists expect the best of everything. They want to stay in the finest hotel and play on the best course. So they also expect the highest quality service from the airline on which they travel. The superior quality offered by Turkish Airlines in everything from the catering service to the range of destinations they serve means that golf tourists are going to choose Turkish Airlines. A few months ago the Secretary-General of the World Golf Federation came to inspect the preparations. He was so impressed by the service and catering on his Istanbul-Antalya flight that he asked me if it was always like that!

What are the Federation’s targets for the future?
Golf is a new sport in Turkey. Nonetheless we have covered a lot of ground so far. We sold 585,000 rounds of golf last year, which represents 95% of our capacity. The European Tour could easily be held in Turkey today, but everybody is doing that. Our goal is to hold a competition in the nature of a final that will bring the world’s top 20 professional golfers to Belek and make the whole world sit up and take notice. We have to do something different. After a hiatus of close to a hundred years, golf is going to be an Olympic sport again at the 2016 Olympics. Our aim is to send a couple Turkish golfers there to compete. We are already working on that.

Registered Courses of the Tournament:
1.Cornelia Golf Club
2.Antalya Golf Club- The Sultan
3.Gloria Golf Club- Old Course
4.Gloria Golf Club- New Course