BELEK, TURKEY | Don’t ever say The Divot doesn’t bring you news nor come from far-flung parts.
Consider this: There are some obvious winter golf destinations – Spain and Portugal in Europe, perhaps Morocco, maybe Cyprus. Even South Africa is neither too far nor too expensive. And in the US, snowbirds fly to Florida, to Arizona, to Southern California to groove their swings where there is more likely than not a warm sun on their backs.
But Turkey? The land of the Blue Mosque and the Topkapı Palace? The country where the Occident meets the Orient? Where the strait of Bosporus separates the continent of Asia from continental Europe? Ha ha ha. Turkey? There’s a war on there, isn’t there? Golf in Turkey is like baseball in Ireland, surely?
Slow your swing down, friend. Put your prejudices back in your golf bag, next to your watch and your wallet. Last year, the Turkish Airlines Open was broadcast for 1,361 hours on 37 channels worldwide reaching 542 million households and generating nearly $130 million of commercial income. You could buy a lot of Pro V1s for that.
This year it was the 45th and third-from-last event on the European Tour’s schedule, followed only by the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City near Johannesburg and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. It was the sixth of the tour’s eight Rolex Series events with a minimum prize fund of $7 million and it offered a first prize of, wait for it, a whopping $2 million.
Think of the sand belt golf courses in Melbourne, Australia, the courses that lie side by side on the north-west coast of England and the nine courses within the resort of Pinehurst in North Carolina. Belek, which is where the Turkish Airlines Open was played last week, has 15 excellent courses next to one another and 65 five-star hotels within 20 minutes of an airport and near the Mediterranean. Last week the temperature averaged a balmy 27 degrees Celsius (a shade warmer than 80 Fahrenheit).
The temptation to introduce puns has been resisted so far but can be resisted no more. Belek is a Turkish delight.