Antalya, a resort city on Turkey's southern Mediterranean coast, is rapidly becoming one of the world's most popular golf destinations. If the warm weather, beachfront luxury resorts, and beautiful golf courses weren't enough, Turkey's low cost of living and non-Euro-based economy means a Mediterranean golf vacation there can be up to half the cost of one in Spain or Portugal.
Turkey just may be the best kept secret in golf travel, especially to American golfers. The secret is already out for European players, as Antalya is already one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. I just spent a week in the golf resort of Belek in Antalya, Turkey, playing golf and watching superstars like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy battle it out for a giant $3 million check in the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final.
Where to Play
The golf resort area of Antalya is called Belek, and it's been developed over the past 20 years specifically as a golf destination. It's now home to 15 professionally designed golf clubs and resorts. As Belek is a golf tourism resort, the majority of the courses can be played by visitors. Any courses not directly open to the public (like the Antalya Golf Club) can be booked through hotel concierges.
I think the best course, in terms of professional standards, is the PGA Sultan course at the Antalya Golf Club. I walked the course many times while visiting and found it simple, yet challenging. Long fairways, gentle slopes, and strategic water and sand hazards. Nothing complicated, yet enough to trip up some of golf's best.
Belek sits next to the beautiful blue Mediterranean, and all the beach resorts offer a range of water sports, including jet skis and parasailing. They all have big, fancy swimming pools and several have large waterslides. In addition to golf, the area is a popular beach resort for European travelers.
I highly recommend a trip to the nearby ancient city of Perge and the Roman amphitheater at Aspendos. Both can be visited during a day trip and offer a glimpse into the ancient history of this fascinating country. International flights will connect through Istanbul, so travelers should make sure to arrange to spend at least a few days there, as well.
Where to Stay
The Kempinski Hotel, The Dome, in Belek is probably the most luxurious option. It's designed to replicate a sultan's palace and does a very good job. The hotel, which hosted all the players when I was there, sits between the beach and two amazing courses, the Pasha course and the PGA Sultan course. This is truly a five-star luxury property with all the amenities, and because it's in Turkey, rates start under $200 a night. And that's $200 a night for a seven-night package for two, including buffet breakfast and dinner daily, airport transfers, a special golf massage, and five rounds of golf. I went to several dinners and parties here and was very impressed by what I experienced.
We stayed down the beach at the Crystal TAT Beach Hotel (about $120 per night, all-inclusive food and beverage) and really had a great time. This was a completely all-inclusive resort, and the food was amazing, way above Las Vegas buffet level. The hotel is right on the beach, but we needed to hop in a shuttle for the five-minute ride to the golf course. The hotel's parent company also runs the TAT Golf International Golf Club, which features three nine-hole courses, with 18 traditional holes and nine links holes. I liked the range of terrain and also how the course was fun for both experienced golfers and first-timers.
Turkish Airlines offers comfortable service to Istanbul from four U.S. gateway cities: New York, Los Angeles, D.C., and Chicago. Houston will be added in April 2013. They offer frequent connecting flights to Antalya from Istanbul and also service Antalya directly from several other European cities. A current search shows round-trip tickets from LAX to Antalya via Istanbul for $1,200 and $865 from JFK. American golfers do not need a visa to travel to Turkey, just a passport.
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