During last month's PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, there were several booths sponsored by national tourism boards, each touting their country as a top golf destination.
Not surprisingly, Scotland, Ireland and Wales were represented, along with Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Spain and Turkey.
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Turkey? If you didn't realize it, Turkey's one of the hottest new golf destinations, especially for Europeans trying to find a warm winter vacation spot. And the country has responded to that demand by offering all-inclusive golf packages that have been welcomed in a big way.
David Clare, a former national coach of the Turkish golf team and current golf director at the Gloria Hotels and Resorts, said it's hard to imagine how quickly Turkey has caught on as a golf mecca -- given that the first course in the Belek region didn't open until 1995.
"The hotels there had no winter business, so there was a market for it," Clare said. "The golfers started coming from Europe because the temperatures in Turkey between November and March are 60 to 70 degrees. There's no snow at all.
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"Couple that with the all-inclusive packages with the hotels -- at about $1,000 a week for lodging and five rounds of golf -- that's the reason it grew so fast in places like Germany, Scandinavia, Great Britain, where the winter weather is bad."
For most parts of Europe, the flight to Antalya is between two and three hours. Because North America has its own winter destinations -- think Arizona, Florida and the Caribbean -- Turkey's not nearly as affordable, or accessible. Still, Clare said he sees a growing number of Americans visiting his resort.
If there's an untapped market for Turkey, it could be Asia, Clare said.
How popular has golf in Turkey become? Clare has some eye-popping stats.
"At the end of 2014, there were 600,000 rounds played on 17 courses from September through to May," Clare said. "We're No. 1, with 85,000 rounds during the season over three courses. No. 2 is Anatayla Golf Club."
That's the home of the Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Course, which hosts the European Tour's Turkish Airlines Open. And where Tiger Woods played in the fall of 2013, a development that caught the world's attention.
Suddenly, everyone in the industry wanted to know more about Turkey.
"What's interesting is what happened after we did the Tiger Woods event and the publicity that received," Clare said. "I had been coming to this show for six years and after that, suddenly people were coming up to the booth and asking us more about it. We've noticed a difference since then."
What makes the golf course industry in Turkey so unusual is that the country owns the land, and the hotel resorts lease the property over a 50-year period.
Clare said the sandy soil is perfect for golf. It drains well, Bermuda takes to it, and it can be overseeded.
The fact that Turkey's golf industry has grown expotentially in two decades is good thing, but it's also created one problem.
"We're actually full," Clare said. "The government isn't giving permission to build additional courses now. And the hotels know building one course in one area just won't do it.
"In order for it to be a destination, you need four or five courses. There's land available elsewhere on the coast. It would just need two or three hotel owners to say, 'Let's throw the money in and create a new destination.'"
Third-round leader Jim Furyk found himself in a rocky situation Sunday at Pebble Beach, literally.
His tee shot on the par-5 sixth hole went right and over the cliffs overhanging the beach. His ball stopped on top of an outcropping about midway down, and Furyk was able to scramble down and assess the situation.
Here's how it looked from the broadcast, and how Furyk was able to extricate himself from it:
Amazingly, Furyk was able to not only escape what looked like a harrowing situation, but save par in the process.
Earlier in the tournament, Ryuji Imada had a similar situation on the seventh hole -- and found a way to get up and down.
On a weekend when most of the country is just dreaming about getting outside to golf, a pair of golfers in Oklahoma recently had consecutive shots you couldn't conjure up in any of your wildest dreams.
Michael Huff and Alex Lane, playing in the same foursome at Oak Hills Golf and Country Club on Feb. 7, made eagle putts on the eighth hole and promptly turned around and made back-to-back holes-in-one on the ninth.
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The amazing event was chronicled first by Huff's cellphone, and then by a piece written by sports editor Jeff Cali in the Ada (Okla.) News. Here's the photo of the two balls in the hole taken by Huff as proof:
So how did this all happen?
According to Cali's story, there's a group of 12 golfers at Oak Hills who play scratch from the gold tees. This particular foursome included local architect Huff, a member of the country club; Lane, a former Ada High golfer and freshman in college; Russell Lowry, who graduated from Ada High in the 1970s; and Justin Powell, son of the current Ada High golf coach.
All four golfers reached the green at the par-5 eighth in two, but only Huff and Lane made their eagle putts, Huff sinking a 30-footer and Lane finding the bottom of the cup from five feet out.
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That brought the foursome to the next hole, a 150-yard par-3.
"The green has a high front, a valley in the middle and a high back, and the pin was hidden in the middle," Huff told Cali. "The right side of the green is also higher than the left, feeding everything from right to left."
Lane hit a pitching wedge that landed, turned left and disappeared behind the ridgeline. Huff's shot followed the same trajectory.
"I've seen that kind of shot a hundred times and somebody always says, 'You might have made that one.' It never happens," Huff was quoted as saying. "We never see one on that hole. They are always maybe a foot short or three feet long. There is a reason that holes in one are rare."
But when they reached the green, only two balls were visible. That's because the other two -- Lane's and Huff's -- were in the hole.
"When the rest of my playing partners saw what had happened, chaos erupted," Huff said in the article. "There was lots of yelling and high-fives and bear hugs.
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"I had a post on Facebook before we even were done with the hole. This was Alex's first ace and my second, but first on my home course."
And just to top off a crazy day, two other golfers made an ace on No. 9, bringing the total to four.
According to the National Hole-in-One Golf Registry, the odds of two members of the same foursome making a hole-in-one on the same hole is 17 million-to-1. So just imagine how astronomical the odds must be for consecutive eagle-aces.
That's one dream every golfer would love to experience in real life.
One of the things about playing a course like Pebble Beach is the amazing coastline views. Unfortunately, that also means the coastline is sometimes in play.
Consider the predicament Ryuji Imada found himself in Friday during the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. His tee shot on the par-3 seventh hole went way left, and somehow stuck in the iceplant on the side of the cliff.
Not only did Imada find the ball, but look what he did next:
Yep, just your routine three. Put down "par" on the scorecard and move along.
Several things come to mind after seeing this. One, Imada must be part mountain goat. Two, that's one heck of a drop (vertical, not golf-related) and one misstep would have been very, very bad. Three, the fact that Imada could calm his heart rate down to make that third shot is perhaps the most impressive thing about the whole episode.
Would you have even gone down there in the first place? I know my answer.
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