Big-thinking Turkey ready to roast the rest

Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood hit balls over the walls of the 2,000 year-old Amphitheater of Aspendos at the launch of the 2014 Turkish Airlines Open. Picture: Ian Walton/Getty

Turkey might be nominally bidding for the 2022 Ryder Cup — their true target is 2026 — but what was once a huge empire is determined to become a major power again with golf and tourism at the top of the agenda.

For a nation with just 22 courses and fewer than 7,000 registered golfers — less than a thousand of whom are active — the thought of Europe and the USA doing battle in eight or even 12 years’ time would appear to be nothing short of a pipedream.

But given its importance to the European Tour as hosts to the penultimate event in the lucrative Final Series this week — the $7m Turkish Airlines Open by the Ministry of Youth and Sport — Turkey clearly has big plans, and deep pockets to match.

Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it now has one of the world’s fastest growing economies, its burgeoning cities dubbed Anatolian Tigers for their flourishing wealth.

It has also become a golfing enclave to rival the Mediterranean for sheer variety and value and with the central government fully behind any bids to integrate a secular Turkey closer to the markets of Europe and the world, you wouldn’t bet against them.

Money, of course, will be no object.

Tiger Woods visited in 2012 and 2013, hitting a drive from Europe to Asia on Bosphorus Bridge in a symbolic publicity stunt that said it all about Turkey’s ambitions.

Woods isn’t here for this week’s Turkish Airlines Open, nor is Rory McIlroy. But there is still an impressive list of stars. teeing it up at the Maxx Royal Golf Club in Antalya, golf’s latest sun-drenched tourist destination on the south coast just over an hour’s flight from Istanbul.

McIlroy was unavailable this year but an appearance fee, believed to be in the $2m range, will entice him back to Turkey in the future.

However, even without a massive financial incentive, it’s not difficult to be persuaded to spend a week at the five-star Maxx Royal Golf and Spa in Belek, which gives new meaning to the word “luxury”.

With the summer Russian crowd replaced in winter by golfers from northern Europe looking for a swish sun getaway with lots for the kids to do while they’re hitting the fairways.

The Maxx Royal is a design phenomenon and a monument to the new Turkey — innovative, smoothly run and hugely welcoming of European golfers who want to get away from the wind and rain from October to April each year, when the golf season is in full swing.

Forming a central part of The Final Series as your first step into the European Tour arena is certainly an eye-catching opening gambit in the Ryder Cup stakes.

Irish golfers have been flocking to Turkey for years now and it’s little wonder given the perfect climate and the quality of the courses in Belek, home to 11 incredible golf resorts with the Maxx Royal arguably the jewel in the crown.

As for the Ryder Cup, there has been much confusion over the last 48 hours and with the Minster for Youth and Sports insisting they hadn’t pulled out of a 2022 bid, contradicting the Turkish Golf Federation Preisdent who said on Tuesday that they needed another four years to build their brand and a new, Ryder Cup course.

“We do not have any shortcomings or doubts in our mind that we would be able to do it,” Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic said at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal. “And there’s always a plus side to take part in a certain bid, which I think is always to a level where we can achieve something.

“Now, I have talked to Mr Agaoglu who is in charge of the Turkish Golf Federation, and there are certain things that might have to be supported by the government. We are more than happy to do that. But I don’t think that it will harm us in any way to pursue our work, which has already been done until today, for 2022.

“But there’s always this is a race. I mean, in the end, it’s a bid. There’s competition. But I don’t think that we will shy away from anything that is put in our way

Hosting the world’s biggest team golf event at one of the existing venues in Belek in the south of the country, would require cutting down between 6,000 and 15,000 trees.

Instead, Turkey hopes to build a brand new, links style Ryder Cup course north of the highways that serve Belek, taking its potential investment to some €120m.

On August 31 last, Turkey was one of seven nations to officially express an interest in bidding for the right to host the 2022 Ryder Cup alongside Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

However, Turkish Golf Federation President Ahmet Agaoglu explained ahead of this week’s Turkish Airlines Open by the Ministry of Youth and Sport that postponing their bid until 2026 is the sensible option.

“The problem is these trees,” he said, gesturing to the thousands of pine and eucalyptus trees that cover the Montgomerie Maxx Royal.

“We calculate that we would have to cut 6-7,000 trees here. At the [nearby Cornelia] Faldo Course it would be something like 15,000 trees.

“All the trees are numbered and licensed and environmentally it is not just hard to get permission to cut them down, it is almost impossible to get the permission.”

The environment is a hot button topic in Turkey with several huge demonstrations staged in Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square over the past two years in protest over the felling of an estimated 2.7 million trees to build the new international airport north of Istanbul — planned to be the biggest airport in the world — as well as the Third Bosphorus Bridge.

Building a Ryder Cup course will add around €30-40m to Turkey’s investment in bringing the Ryder Cup to the Republic for the first time.

“The Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is an MP for Antalya, is a keen golfer,” Mr Agaoglu explained. “So I will be speaking to him about the plan to build a golf course, not on the sea, but north of the road here. If it is there, that will be an open golf course that will be long enough to host a Ryder Cup.

“We cannot accommodate 30,000 or 40,000 people at any of the golf courses in Belek. This is the most suitable one but we can only get a maximum of 10,000 people around. The golf course we are planning to open on the far side of the road will be an open, links style course. It will be specially designed for the Ryder Cup bid.”

Turkey hosted the first Turkish Airlines Challenge on the Challenge Tour last May and the second staging of the $7m Turkish Airlines Open, the penultimate leg of the Race to Dubai’s four-event final series, is underway.

“The Ryder Cup will cost the country between €100m and €120m and the biggest part of this is our commitments to tournaments,” Mr Agaoglu added. “One way or another we will be doing this Final Series event until 2023 or 2024 for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, which is 2023.

“We have nine years and together with the Challenge Tour event, we are already going to spend something like €70m — €85m on these tournaments. Together with the investment in the events, the new Ryder Cup course would be an extra €30m-€40m, not more than that.

If the powers at Wentworth are not already bowled over by the quality of the destination and the level or service and organisation, government backing and deep pockets will be a huge help.

This is big business and Turkey is a big spender with huge ambitions.


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