A resort in Belek, just outside Antalya, offers real value for money and quality, heavenly courses, writes Ronan Bagnall
WHEN the Irish think of golfing trips abroad, Portugal and Spain immediately spring to mind. These two countries have dominated the market for golfers searching for relaxation, good food and the all-important guarantee of fine weather.
Traditionalists might head for Scotland to play the courses where the sport began, with St Andrews attracting thousands of golfing fanatics each year.
In fact, there are 45,000 rounds of golf played on the Old Course in St Andrews annually, where golf has been played for 600 years.
The trouble with Scotland, much like Ireland, you never know what the weather gods will bring.
A July day in Scotland, with gale force winds and hailstones sweeping across the links, isn’t a whole lot of fun.
While Portugal, Spain and Scotland all have their own unique selling points, there’s another destination that’s definitely worth exploring.
Turkey offers some of the finest golf courses in the world, combined with superb luxury hotels and eye-popping value for money.
I’ve golfed in Scotland, Spain, France, Australia and all around Ireland, and I’ve never played on more beautifully manicured courses than the ones we found in Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
I travelled with a small band of Irish golfers from Dublin to Antalya on Turkish Airlines, stopping in Istanbul to catch a connecting flight to our golfing destination.
Any flight with Turkish Airlines ranks high on the comfort scale, but we were fortunate to be upgraded to Business Class, opening our eyes to a whole new world of relaxation in the air.
From our onboard chef producing fine dining meals to seats that compare favourably to a hotel bed, the flying experience was so good, you almost hoped the pilots would hover for a few extra hours.
At Istanbul Airport, we spent time in the Turkish Airlines lounge, basically the equivalent of a five-star hotel.
Here we found fresh pastries, breads, wines, whiskeys, multiple hot food counters, games rooms and the ultimate toy for us, a golf simulator.
There we were, inside the Turkish Airlines lounge, competing for the longest drive on a professional golf simulator that measured swing speed, ball speed, total distance and any other statistic you might want.
There are endless hours of fun to be had if your schedule allows it.
Our final destination was the Gloria Hotels and Golf Resort, a five-star complex in the quaint town of Belek, just outside Antalya.
We stayed in Gloria Serenity, although there is also Gloria Golf Resort and Gloria Verde to choose from on the same complex, all ranging in price.
This is a golfing paradise.
The hotel is surrounded by the spectacular and challenging Gloria Old Course, the equally stunning New Course and a nine-hole gem, Verde Course.
Tall trees line the fairways of the Old Course, which is dotted with watery graves.
There are seven lakes on the course, with one resembling the famed 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
Two-time Major winner John Daly holds the course record, shooting a jaw-dropping 63 after a night supping Jack Daniels to 3am, according to local legend.
Around the clubhouse, there are framed pictures of various golfing and soccer icons, who have all come to Gloria to relax and unwind. It’s a favourite spot for Premier League players and ex-pros who see it as a perfect place to escape for a golfing getaway. Great courses, great food, beautiful setting, what’s not to love?
The Turkish Airlines World Golf Final was held here in October 2012 when Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy drew record crowds to the Mediterranean coast.
On the same complex, you’ll find the New Course, another beauty, with tree-lined fairways and eye-catching water hazards.
If it’s a quick nine holes before dinner, then the Gloria Verde is just the ticket. Again, it is immaculately conditioned, offering a friendlier test than the Old Course but not without its own challenges.
After the golf, there was plenty of options to refuel, with six restaurants in the Gloria Resort, ranging from traditional Turkish cuisine to a steakhouse, Japanese food and more.
Most of the all-inclusive deals include one dinner in any of the restaurants while guests can eat as many times as they like at the extensive buffet.
The Sha Japanese restaurant was a particular highlight for our group.
Unlike some places, where only local beers and wines are included in the all-inclusive deal, Gloria goes the whole hog. Whatever your poison — Captain Morgans, Smirnoff, branded liqueurs, Corona, Heineken or Guinness — it’s all included in the upfront price.
Aside from golf, spas and fine dining, the Gloria Resort is growing a reputation as a world-class base for athletes.
The Gloria Sports Arena boasts indoor, outdoor and aquatic sports facilities on 10 hectares, the largest sports arena in the country with the most modern technological developments. Also included on the campus is a 200-room hotel where top international athletes stay, train and recuperate.
The campus includes a Whole Body Cryotherapy Icelab to help injured athletes recover. We decided to give it a go, entering the three-chamber icelab, barechested and brave. The first sealed room which was at freezing point, before moving into a second room after 20 seconds which was at -40°C.
We then stepped into a third room which was set at -100°C. Three minutes at -100°C is the maximum time permitted in the Icelab.
It’s not for the faint-hearted but the positive effects of sub-zero temperatures on performance have become a central part of sports science around the world. It cured my hangover but did little to help my golf.
After four days in Turkey, I had already decided that this was a must-visit place for the travelling golfer, especially for those looking for a good-value getaway during the autumn and winter months.
In summer, it can get very hot meaning outdoor activities — such as golf — are restricted, so it’s best to go from September to April.
Turkey is a nation that is looking forward, with hope for a bright future, after an uncertain period.
The whole Antalya area was on the cusp of a tourism boom, with golf visitors at its core, until a number of terror attacks in Turkey set the entire country back.
Just as visitor numbers declined to beach resorts such as Kusadasi, popular with Irish tourists, so too did the golfing market take a hit.
However, tourism operators for Turkey say the country has moved on from these attacks — the terror threat has fallen significantly, according to the Global Terrorism Index — and they are working hard to repair the damage.
There is optimism for the future and they are rightly confident about their product.
In term of value for money and the quality of the golf courses, few places can compete with Turkey for golf packages.
Turkish Airlines offers return trips to Antalya from Dublin with economy prices starting from €350 while business class trips start at €1,112. If you are travelling business class you get the full use of the Turkish Airlines lounge at Istanbul Airport which was named the best in the world in 2017. If you are travelling to play golf the airline will carry your golf equipment for free.
Three minutes at -100°C is not for the faint-hearted. It cured my hangover but did little to help my golf