Grown up golf in Turkey

Ham&High Series sports editor Pat Mooney finds there are surprises waiting for golfers when they decide to change course. TURKEY may be relatively new to golf – the first course was opened just 15 years ago – but it has grown up fast. And the place to h

Ham&High Series sports editor Pat Mooney finds there are surprises waiting for golfers when they decide to change course.

TURKEY may be relatively new to golf - the first course was opened just 15 years ago - but it has grown up fast.

And the place to head for, especially after our bleak winter months, is Belek, just 30 minutes from the historic city of Antalya in the south-west and less than than four flying hours from London.

Back in 1994, Belek was a sleepy fishing village best known for its pine and eucalyptus forest and the Caretta turtles which lay their eggs on its beaches.

Then, former Ryder Cup star and now television commentator David Fehery teamed up with fellow Ulsterman and ex-tour professional David Jones to design the National Golf Club.

Since then, Belek has become the eastern Mediterranean must-visit golfing destination, on a par with the Algarve and the Costa del Sol, but costing much less.

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And unlike other parts of Europe where development has ground to a halt due to the credit crunch, Turkey is a golf destination still very much on the up.

Belek now boasts 11 professionally run golf developments and almost 50 five-star hotels, following the opening of three new, and diverse, championship courses in the last three months - the Montgomerie course at the Papillon Golf Club, the Carya Golf Club and the Lykia Links.

Europe's new Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie has been gradually shifting his focus towards course design and his latest effort, a par-72 hole course is exciting to play, both visually and as a test of golf.

The Montgomerie is set in 104 hectares of mixed pine forest and blends naturally with both its indigenous trees and age old sandy ridges. The opening hole, a 470 metre par five off the white tees, has large bunkers all the way down the left and need to be avoided - as I found to my cost, carding a quadruple bogey nine.

But, thankfully, my scoring came down as I warmed to the undulating sandy fairways and avoided most of the 11 water hazards dotted round the 5,840 metre course.

In all, there are four more par-fives, including the 485m home hole, which requires five accurate blows to get home, and five par-threes, the longest being the 185m fifth.

There are also four teeing areas, making it a fair test for golfers of all standards and the complex also has a nine-hole floodlit academy course.

The Carya Club, laid out by five-time Aussie Open champion Peter Thomson, is the first heathland course to be built on Turkey's Med coast. Despite being just a few hundred yards from the beach, it reminds me of a little bit of Surrey, with thousands of carefully placed heather decorating every tee. Undoubtedly, inspired by the classic heathland courses in the UK such as Sunningdale and The Berkshire, nearly one million heather sprigs have been planted around the course to give it a distinct appearance.

In fact, the heather was propagated on-site in specially constructed glasshouses. The free-flowing holes are cut through mature pine and eucalyptus forest and built on undulating sand hills, which come into play on numerous holes. The area is heavily forested and the holes run through corridors of trees.

It has been designed to be enjoyed by golfers of all standards. As you would expect from the championship tees (6,570m), the par 72 course is a demanding test of golf strategy. Yet, off the regular tees (5,821m), golfers will appreciate the generous fairways and ample approaches. Oh, there are just the 75 bunkers to be avoided as well.

One of the outstanding holes is the par-3 seventh - a short hole (174 metres from the back) over a stream and hallow with diagonal heather topped bunkers guarding the green. Called Sirens, it is named after the mythological woman whose singing lured unwary sailors onto rocks - and like those winged beauties, it's pretty but dangerous.

It has also a two-storey academy, featuring a 22-bay driving range, two teaching studios and a 150-yard putting green.

But perhaps the most visually contrasting course to open in Turkey is Lydia Links, the only links course in the eastern Med. It is located on a stunning coastal setting, with dramatic rolling dunes, pot bunkers and wonderful views of the ocean. As with most links courses, the prevailing wind is a key ingredient in any round here.

Despite offering five different teeing areas on each hole, this exciting new course, laid out by Perry Dyer, son of the the renowned American designer Pete Dyer, is aimed at the accomplished golfer and will require at times some "punch and run" shots.

There are quilted fairways, pot bunkers guarding the greens, and ship's hull sleepers propping up many of the of the fairway traps that will remind you of some British seaside courses. Every hole is framed by a spectacular view, either of the Med or inland towards the snow-capped Tauras Mountains.

The first hole is a tester. It is a slight dog leg to the right, long par 4 which gives you a true links feel, with dunes on both sides of the fairway, topped with long grass and bunkers waiting for the errant drive on the left. It was to be one of my few pars on a challenging round.

There is one lake - in the middle of the course - providing a single water hazard between the 7th and 8th holes.

The four holes that run along the sea - holes 13, 14, 15 and 16 - are the most exposed and will test the skills of the finest players.

And the closing two holes are also pretty difficult. The short par 3 17th has a small green that's difficult to find, especially in the prevailing crosswind - you can play a short iron or a wood. The home hole, a 370m par 5, has a stadium-style finish with a big waste area on the right. There are mounds on the left and turtle-back green, which players need to approach with caution.

There is also a 40-bay driving range and a nine-hole academy course. And for the non-golfing partners, the facilities at the adjoining Lykia World hotel are numerous, including 11 swimming pools, 14 restaurants, 18 shops, 16 bars and eight tennis courts.

So, if you want to escape the credit crunch then head for Turkey this spring for value-for-money sunshine golf.

o Patrick Mooney travelled with Alternative Travel & Holidays. For more information call 020-7 923 3230 or visit