Turkey: The hot new golf destination

Gloria Resorts
Gloria Hotels and Resorts
Gloria Hotels and Resorts has two championship 18-hole courses on site.
By Mark Aumann

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, February 16, 2015 | 11:46 a.m.

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."

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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.'"