Turkey shoot: Why Antalya is one of Europe's finest golfing destinations

For more than 600 years, the Ottoman empire was one of the true global powers. At its centre, Turkey became the focal point of a cultural cocktail, and remains so to this day. It draws tourists from far and wide with its natural wonders, its splendid architecture, and the archaeological footprint of its great empire.

Recently, though, Turkey has become one of Europe’s finest golfing destinations. Situated on the south-west Mediterranean coast, the Province of Antalya is a perfect region for golf, and 16 new courses have been developed in the past few decades.

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Shielded from northerly winds by the Taurus Mountains, the region’s temperate climate means that its courses are playable year-round, with the natural Bermudagrass capable of withstanding the strong midday sun in the hottest months.

Recently, I visited the Gloria Resort – near the town of Belek – about a 40-minute drive from Antalya airport. Gloria first opened its doors in 1997, and has now grown into a sprawling resort that features three different hotels, two championship 18-hole courses and a nine-hole course that is easily among the finest in Europe.

Though direct Dublin to Antalya flights aren’t available, Turkish Airlines operate twice-daily flights from Dublin to Istanbul (about four hours), with hourly connections available to Antalya, which is just over an hour’s flight.

The newly opened Istanbul Airport has the largest single-roofed terminal in the world, and the Turkish Airlines business lounge has to be seen to be believed. It’s open to business passengers, but fares can be picked up on special offer at times.

The lounge is more like a classy restaurant, and it’s got some amazing leisure facilities too – including a golf simulator to get you into the swing of things, video games area and a model-car racing track. The food is top notch too, so it’s worth stopping off if you have the time between flights.

One big plus for golfers is that golf bags are carried free of charge by Turkish Airlines, along with 30kg of standard luggage, and for those who appreciate the finer things in life, Turkish Airlines’ award-winning business class service offers a level of comfort and opulence that comes highly recommended.

After the short transfer from the airport – which was organised by the hotel itself – we arrived at the Serenity Resort, which is the premier offering of Gloria’s three hotels. Operating an exclusive all-inclusive policy, from the moment you arrive, all food and beverages are complimentary, and the bar and main restaurant operate 24 hours.

The hotel itself is luxuriously decorated in white marble, with a large aquarium in the lobby. The Serenity Resort has four a la carte restaurants, situated side by side, and guests can dine in each of these on one occasion per stay.

As you’d expect with five-star luxury, the rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with all modern conveniences, and there are larger suites and villas available for families, or for those who prefer a little extra space.

The golf club is about a mile away, with regular shuttles ferrying players to and from the three hotels. The clubhouse is a fantastic building, catering for everything, including a large bag storage area to save daily haulage to and fro. Top-class practice facilities are provided, including multiple putting greens, short game areas, and a double-decked driving range.

The facilities are most welcome when you realise that both the Old Course and the New Course are par-72 layouts that measure over 7,200 yards. Both the championship courses and the nine-hole Verde course are lined with full-grown pine trees, and have more than their fair share of water to contend with.

The tall pines make not only for pleasing aesthetics but also determine strategy as the bristly needles scoff at the notion that trees are 90pc air. On the plus side, flat beds of pine straw mean that balls hit into the trees are easily found, albeit with a sideways shot your most likely option.

This is particularly true of the Old Course, which, as the name suggests, was the first constructed at the site. Though similar in length to the New Course, the trees that line its fairways are significantly denser, which means that wayward tee shots are punished more heavily. Opening with a 530-yard par-5 doglegging right-to-left around a lake, gentle starts are not in the Old Course’s vocabulary.

The fairways and greens are in tremendous condition, and though we played in mid-December – the wettest month of the year – and the course was subjected to torrential rain for days in the lead up, the drainage was superb and there was little indication of deluge.

The New Course was added in 2005 and immediately raised the profile of the resort. And with it came the European Senior Tour in 2007, the World Amateur Team Championships and, most recently, the European Challenge Tour. Though a little more forgiving off the tee, danger lurks in the shape of water on no fewer than eight holes. The closing stretch is up there with the best I’ve played, with the island-green par-3 17th sandwiched by two risk/reward par-5s.

And if two championship courses aren’t enough, there is also the Verde nine-hole course to tackle. At 3,200 yards, and a par of 35, the Verde course may play shorter than its bigger brothers, but it is by no means easy. Weaving through the same pine forests, and featuring water on several holes, this course is a proper challenge and every bit as enjoyable to play.

Away from the course, each resort has its own spa area, complete with Turkish baths, saunas, salt and freshwater swimming pools, and a wide variety of treatment packages. In addition to this, there are multiple lounging areas poolside and at the adjoining beaches private to each resort.

Fully lifeguarded water parks offer entertainment for the entire family, and complete crèche services give parents the opportunity to bask in peace and tranquillity should the desire arise.

To complete the experience, Gloria also has a state-of-the-art sports centre – Turkey’s largest. It consists of indoor and outdoor Olympic swimming and diving pools, numerous indoor and outdoor areas to cater for all field sports, and a high-tech sports science lab where athletes can be tested, recover post training and have injuries monitored by top professionals in all relevant fields.

On our final day – basking in glorious December sunshine – we visited Antalya city and took a stroll through the markets where all manner of quality goods could be bought at very low prices. The more you haggle, the lower the price. Turkey is famed for its textile and leather industry, the fruits of which are plain to see. Just be sure to leave room in your suitcase!

So if you like great golf, excellent food and top-class service in luxurious surroundings, then Gloria is exactly what you’re looking for. You’ll be back too. I know I will.

Factfile → Hotels → Tips

⬤ How to get there:

Turkish Airlines fly twice a day from Dublin to the new Istanbul Airport. Return flights from €279 in economy class, with business class fares (offering you an on-board chef, better seating and access to business lounges) often on special too.

The follow-on flights to and from Antalya are short hops, with layovers of about two-and-a-half hours in Istanbul. (turkishairlines.com)

⬤ Where to stay:

Gloria Resort, Belek: Not one but three resorts in one – the Gloria Serenity Resort, Golf Resort and Verde Resort, all close to one another and just 40 minutes from the city of Antalya, and slightly less to the city’s airport. It’s all five-star luxury with plenty of extras for non-golfers, including bars, restaurants, pool areas, creches and sports grounds. Check out its website for special offers at gloria.com.tr

⬤ What to do:

There’s plenty to keep you occupied in the resort for a fortnight, but visiting Antalya is a must too. One of Turkey’s most beautiful resort cities, it’s got a great old town area, with winding streets filled with courtyard bars, restaurants and stores.

⬤ More info:

To get the low-down on the Antalya area, check out the country’s main tourism website at goturkey.com

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